Moor protection is climate protection. Nevertheless, peat from German bogs continues to be mined. Because the raw material cannot be easily replaced. For conservationists, the primary concern is not about mining.
Piece by piece, an excavator scoops away the top layer of green soil and loads it onto a type of truck with a chain drive. What remains is a spacious dark brown lunar landscape in the Göldenitzer Moor southeast of Rostock.
“It will take a good year and a half, two, until the entire area is removed,” says Christian Mann, operations manager at Rostock-based Humus & Erden GmbH. It would then be another year and a half before the actual harvest. The raw material we are talking about here grew much more slowly: peat.
It is rare and its use releases CO2 – there are many reasons to abandon peat. But it also has many advantages for gardening and vegetable growing that make it difficult to abandon.
This is what makes peat so special
For thousands of years, parts of plants in moors have not completely decomposed underwater. Peat was created from this. It is low in germs and its PH value, its very good water storage capacity and homogeneous composition make it the ideal starting material for substrates for plants.
In contrast to sand, for example, peat is not mineral, but consists of biomass and contains carbon. When it dries, it releases it in the form of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas.
In order to protect the climate, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL) is running a campaign to encourage gardeners to use peat-free potting soil.
Research for alternatives
According to Philip Testroet from the Garden Industry Association (IVG), peat makes up an average of 43 percent of the substrates sold in the German hobby sector. The rest now comes from substitutes. In the professional sector it is 77 percent peat. “Research is being carried out everywhere” when it comes to alternatives. “It can be coconut, it can be wood fibers, compost or bark humus.” Nevertheless, it will not be possible to do without peat in the medium term.
Felix Grützmacher from the Nature Conservation Association (Nabu) also sees it that way. “Unfortunately that’s just the way it is.” He refers, for example, to growing vegetables. Given the quantities required, there are not enough alternative materials of good quality available.
Tomorrow, Thursday, the German Peat and Humus Day will be about peat alternatives and the corresponding challenges, when the substrate industry meets in Bad Zwischenahn, Lower Saxony.
Peat is mined here
In Germany, according to the BMEL, peat is mainly mined in Lower Saxony. 90 percent of the areas are in the federal state. Other federal states with peat extraction include Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. In addition, intact moors have not been drained for a long time. Rather, areas that have already been drained and were previously used primarily for agricultural purposes are being degraded. However, the mining and use of peat accelerates greenhouse gas emissions.
The substrate industry assumes that mining in Germany will end by 2040 at the latest due to expiring permits. But from 2030 onwards, Testroet only expects “homeopathic doses”. The amount of peat produced in Germany halves every five years. Currently, between three and four million cubic meters are mined per year.
Warning about peat imports
He warns that imports could replace missing local production in the future. Currently half of the peat used in Germany comes from abroad. At the same time, Germany exports substrates to the Mediterranean region, where peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers are produced for the German market.
Together, Germany and the Netherlands are the largest substrate producers in Europe and together account for more than half of European substrate production. However, our western neighbor no longer has its own peat extraction and relies much more heavily on coconut, for example.
Nabu: Peat use must decrease
Grützmacher from Nabu also says, “I’d rather mine peat in Germany than abroad.” Imports only shift the CO2 footprint abroad, especially since environmental standards are higher here. In general, he prefers to talk about peat use anyway. This must go down. Peat is too good for pansies that are at the checkout in the supermarket or similar disposable products. It doesn’t belong in the home garden either. Instead of “always doing everything the way you would like,” it is more important to look at what soil you have and grow accordingly.
Grützmacher accepts that peat will not work for a certain period of time, but he lacks a strategy and a timetable for the exit. In his opinion, this should involve increasing addition rates for peat alternatives. These should not only be voluntary, but also required by regulatory law. With the current measures, for example as part of the federal government’s peatland protection strategy, the Paris climate protection goals would not be achieved.
According to the BMEL, stopping the use of peat in Germany could save a good two million tons of CO2 annually. According to the information, total emissions from drained peatlands in Germany are around 54 million tons annually.
Companies obliged to renaturate
In contrast to other uses of drained bogs – for example for agriculture – peat mining companies are legally obliged to subsequently renaturate them. According to Grützmacher, how well this works varies greatly. “Every moor is different.”
For example, it worked well in the Teufelsmoor a few kilometers northeast of the Göldenitzer Moor near Rostock. The predecessor company of Rostock Humus & Erden GmbH mined peat industrially until the fall of the Wall. A protected area was then designated. The restoration of parts of the moor had already begun. This continued after the fall of the Wall, for example by flooding areas and closing drainage ditches.
The moor is now growing again and forms around one centimeter of new peat per year. Instead of flying over a lunar landscape, the raised moor bluebird, a rare butterfly, flies over typical moor plants such as peat moss, sundew and common heather.