28 May 2015

S4M-13158 Peat (Extraction for Horticulture)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Moving swiftly on, the next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-13158, in the name of Rob Gibson, on peat extraction for horticulture. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the importance of peatlands for biodiversity, carbon and water and also toward cultural identity and in serving as historical archives and notes the view that stronger measures are needed to end the commercial extraction of peat for horticulture in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and across the country to ensure the restoration and protection of peatlands and to help develop a long-term viable industry that can provide sustainable soil and growing conditions to help amateur and professional gardeners and growers.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate the champion of the rusty bog moss on securing this debate, and I thank my intern, Shane O’Brien, who did some research for me and provided me with my speaking notes—I did not just conform to stereotypes and ask him to do that because he is from Ireland and I thought that there would be a natural fit.

As others have said, peat is a commodity that we need to protect, particularly in Scotland, where we have vast rural areas that are covered by it. We have about 10 per cent of the world’s blanket bog. With raised bog, those are important parts of our ecosystems.

In global terms, peat is a somewhat rare commodity, which is one of the particular reasons why we should protect it. Others have referred to the very important climate mitigation benefits that are derived from it. Scotland has a special place because of our proportion of peat.

I am a little uncertain—perhaps the minister can clarify this for me—whether the calculation of our carbon impact fully takes account of the contribution that peat makes to the mitigation of the effects of human activity on our climate. That might be a further incentive for us to look closely at the subject.

Originally, peat was essentially a domestic heating product. It is now not a particularly common one. Indeed, I am not aware whether a single house in Scotland is solely reliant on peat for its warmth, but I may find that small numbers of houses are. We can certainly accept that the numbers are not significant. In doing his research for me, Shane O’Brien found that there were certainly none of those on Uist. I am not quite sure why he found that, but he did.

Peat was, of course, a comparatively cheap and available fuel. It was on the doorsteps of many people in parts of Scotland. Along with other primary sources of fuel such as coal, oil and electricity, peat was at one time among our most important fuel sources.

The method of producing peat was through the back-breaking task of cutting out the peat from the peat banks, latterly by using a machine taking smaller slabs as tractors dragged it across, increasing the exploitation and the damage that we are doing to our peat bogs.

Rob Gibson: In this debate, I wanted to focus on horticultural peat and not the extraction of peat for heating homes, because that is a small part of the picture, while extraction for horticulture is a very large industry.

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct to focus on that. It is important that we recognise that peat is used for a variety of purposes. The debate focuses on horticultural peat, which we continue to use long after we have passed on from using peat as a fuel.

The bottom line is that peat is valuable to us. It has effects on our everyday lives. When we take it out for horticulture produce, we diminish its ability to contribute in other areas of our lives. Claudia Beamish referred to its filtering effects and benefits to the water supply. Those of us who enjoy the occasional malt whisky particularly benefit from the use of a small amount of peat in that industry.

More interestingly, the existence of peat bogs touches significantly on natural ways of mitigating the effects of flooding. When we extract peat for horticulture, it has much wider effects than perhaps many of our urban dwellers are likely to be aware of. They will participate in recreational use of peatlands, such as angling and walking, for a uniquely Scottish experience.

I hope that the Government will look to reduce the use of peat in compost. The damaging impacts need to be reduced. We need to substitute peat in our horticultural products. I give all my support to the motion that Rob Gibson has brought to us today.


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