The boss of one of Britain’s biggest compost makers has said government attempts to stop peat extraction in the UK will lead to an environmentally-damaging increase in imports. 

Chief executive of William Sinclair Horticulture, Bernard Burns, lashed out after MP Eric Pickles refused to grant his firm a new 15 year licence to harvest peat at Chat Moss bog in greater Manchester.

The decision by Eric, who is secretary of state for government and local communities, comes despite William Sinclair, which makes J Arthur Bower’s compost, investing £7million in facilities to develop peat-free compost.

Bernard said: “The decision will make no difference to William Sinclair’s peat use or its commitment to developing viable alternatives.

“However, it will certainly lead to the increase in peat import, some of which is coming from as far afield as Canada, with the massive increase in carbon footprint associated with that distance.”

Bernard said that if ministers wanted compost to be peat-free, they should ban it at European level: “Any measures taken at local level to reduce CO2 emissions will have the opposite effect,” he said.

“Disappointingly, government bodies are still buying plants grown in peat, so the government will fail to meet its own target of peat-free purchases by 2013.”

Bernard summed-up: “I believe current government policy is incoherent and unworkable and is damaging employment and industry at a point when the country can least afford it.”

Editor of Amateur Gardening magazine, Tim Rumball, said: “Did anyone talk to William Sinclair Horticulture before blundering ahead with this peat extraction ban?

“Importing thousands of tons of peat from abroad will be far more damaging than harvesting local resources responsibly.

“And what about the UK jobs put at risk by Pickles’ decision? It’s just another knee-jerk reaction from MPs desperate to polish their green credentials by giving in to the ranting of green pressure groups,” Tim argued.

Environmental groups still want a total halt on peat use in gardening, but celebrated a victory at Chat Moss.

“It is a huge relief that common sense has prevailed and Eric refused to allow more peat extraction,” said Friends of the Earth campaigner Helen Rimmer.

“It beggars belief that in 2012 companies still want to destroy peat bogs. These are important wildlife sites,” she added.

Paul Wilkinson, of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “This is an important test case that sends a signal to the horticulture industry that the planning system will restrict this damaging activity.”