NEWS AND VIEWS (COMMENT): People in the business of making money from plants and gardening have acted unreasonably and in my honest opinion stupidly in criticising Monty Don, the well-known television gardening guru, for advising people not to buy peat in a potting compost or plants that are grown in peat. He also advised garden centres not to stock peat-based compost because if they did so they were actively choosing to do harm to the environment. He said the buck stops at garden centres. His advice is based upon the clear and moral argument that digging up peat in vast quantities from bogs damages the environment and is a threat to global warming. Peat bogs are a great source of carbon capture. To destroy them for commercial purposes is damaging to the environment and the planet. Monty Don’s arguments are pure and decent.
So what happens? I guess you could say the obvious happens. Commercial enterprises push back by making unreasonable and stupid remarks. For example, the director of Alton Garden Centre in Essex, Andy Bunker, said that his business would stop selling up to 100 copies of Gardeners’ World magazine (the magazine in which Monty Don gave his advice). The magazine had given Monty Don an exclusive contract. Andy Bunker said:
How on earth can you be a garden centre that’s advising your customers not to buy from you?
This is ridiculous because Monty Don is not asking garden centres to tell their customers not to buy from them. He simply asking garden centres to take a very small step and stop selling a small part of their stock namely peat-based compost. Why is it so hard to do that? An enlightened garden centre boss might be able to turn it into a public relations exercise to boost their business. They could declare at the entrance that they are doing something to help the planet. They can say with confidence that they are an environmentally friendly business. But all we get is a reactionary, ignorant statement from a person who does not want to make any effort to tackle climate change and biodiversity.
I would hope his customers read the story and stay away from his garden centre as a consequence.
Another foolish comment has been made by Mr Alcaraz, the chairman of the British Protected Ornamental Association, he told Horticulture Week:
I’m very saddened that Monty Don has felt the need to yet again attack the industry that employs him. I should accuse Monty Don of being bad for the environment. All the hot air and carbon dioxide that is omitted from his lips; no amount of treeplanting could balance out his personal carbon footprint.
That’s just a stupid, emotional reaction to what is a very sensible proposal by Monty Don. Shame on them to be honest. This is what environmentalists are up against: businesses who don’t give a damn and who are reactionary and unenlightened.
Postscript: Monty Don has received support from conservation charities in his campaign against using peat. He wants a ban by 2005. The National Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society among others have written a letter to the government arguing that unless they dealt with the matter it would undermine their promises regarding climate change and their targets on protecting nature.
Update: May 17th – Monty Don is winning his battle because the sale of peat compost is going to be banned within three years, the government will say this week. After many years of delay, the environment secretary, George Eustice, will announce a consultation on the restrictions on May 18. Fines will be imposed on garden centres if they continue to sell peat-based compost under the new restrictions. It is proposed that they take effect by May 2024.