A multinational fertiliser company has been accused of making “factually inaccurate” claims in support of its attempts to extend peat extraction in south west Scotland.
Peatlands have been desrcribed as “Scotland’s rainforests” because of the large quantities of carbon they store.
However, when peat is dried, damaged or extracted, it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Everris/ICL is currently applying for permission from Dumfries and Galloway Council to continue extracting peat for an additional five years at Nutberry Moss.
In support of its application, the firm claimed in a letter to the council that “the process of milling (mechanically extracting) the peat of these “old peat bogs” does not result in the emission of any additional CO2 or other greenhouse gases.”
In correspondence with the council, Everris/ICL’s agent argued that continued extraction is justified, “especially now that the CO2 ‘myth’ has been debunked.”
However, in response to Everris’ claims, a spokesperson for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) told The Ferret that research has “demonstrated clearly that greenhouse gas emissions do arise from drained, industrial peat extraction sites like the one proposed at Nutberry Moss.”
They added: “We have maintained an objection in principle to the proposal. Our position is in line with policy and based on legislation and scientific evidence.”
The way we were – Tomas Coohill turf (peat) cutting in Connemara in the West of Ireland. Picture by Heather Greer.
‘No basis in reality’
Dr Janet Moxley, a soil scientist who co-authored a report on peatland emissions for the UK Department for Business, said that the claims made by Everris/ICL on emissions were “just not true” and had “no basis in reality.”
She pointed out the report found that “industrial peat extraction sites had CO2 emissions of 12.6 (tonnes per hectare per year),” adding that “emissions from hand cut peat extraction sites are a bit lower at 6.8 t/ha/y, so clearly milling increases emissions even beyond traditional peat cutting.”
Everris/ICL also argued that the peat it extracts is necessary for the production of trees by forestry organisations.
In its letter to Dumfries and Galloway Council, it states that “Everris Limited supplies the Forestry Commission. There are three Forestry Commission nurseries: Delamere, Wykeham and Newton…According to Forestry Commission Scotland its nursery at Newton, Elgin produces 7 million trees.”
However, Forestry and Land Scotland (previously known as the Forestry Commission Scotland) has described this as “factually incorrect.”
In a statement provided to The Ferret, FLS said that “The company [ICL/Everris] might supply the Forestry Commission but this is now an England-only organisation that operates the Wykeham and Delamere nurseries. FLS runs the Newton nursery near Elgin but Newton only uses bare root stock and no growing medium is used.”
FLS added: “The only peat-based material we use is contained in the cells (generally 25mm in diameter and approximately 150mm deep) in which a small proportion of the trees we buy-in for planting are grown.
“When tendering for stock to plant, we reference the UK Government buying standards (under Section 8: Environmental Standards) which specifies that neither soil improvers nor growing media should contain peat.
“It also specifies that ‘From 2015 plants must not be supplied in or with growing media containing peat’ but acknowledges that ‘a residual amount of peat may remain from its use in the original propagation of a plant.’ Bidders must confirm that they will meet this criterion.”
“The decision period for the application to extend peat extraction at Nutberry Moss was due to end on 23 December, but Dumfries and Galloway Council has not yet published any outcome.
The Council recently rejected a similar attempt by Everris/ICL to extend peat extraction at another site, Lochwood Moss. The company is now appealing to the Scottish Government to reverse the decision.
When contacted for comment by The Ferret, a spokesperson for ICL referred us to a statement it provided in September.
The statement said: “ICL continues to strive to help meet Government targets to phase out peat usage in UK professional growing media by 2030.
“The company remains at the forefront of exploring sustainable alternatives to peat and, as an industry partner, has committed resources in the recently completed 5-year Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board project: Responsible Sourcing and Manufacturing Scheme, part-funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“ICL has an ongoing multi-year R&D program researching peat alternatives and has already committed significant investment to the production of professional grade peat alternatives.”