Chat Moss saved as government upholds ban on peat mining

Article published: Wednesday, November 14th 2012

Environmentalists fighting a two year battle to protect Chat Moss have hailed a victory against “unnecessary vandalism” as government minister Eric Pickles upholds peat extraction ban in the vulnerable wetlands.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has dismissed an appeal by agricultural firm William Sinclair Horticulture Ltd against a Salford City Council ban on the company mining peat on the land, owned by commercial property giant Peel Holdings.

The ruling followed a public inquiry held in March. It agreed with the findings of a previous inspection by concluding that “the use of peat in horticulture is unsustainable” and needed “to be set against the consequences of peat extraction on climate change and biodiversity.”

The decision, made last Friday, came days before the launch of another public inquiry on 13 November into a proposed biomass incinerator planned for Peel Holdings-owned land by the Manchester Ship Canal.

Peat bogs are formed of decaying plant matter and actively soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leaving them a noted resource against climate change. While an estimated 97 per cent of the UK’s lowland bogs have been destroyed, mosslands are home to many rare species and have been dubbed the UK’s “rainforests” by campaigners.

Hard-fought campaigns have been waged for years against peat extraction in Chat Moss, ranging from inquiries to direct action in 2010 when two activists from Manchester Climate Action and Earth First! chained themselves to machinery at one site. Environmentalists have welcomed the verdict.

“The Secretary of State has today made absolutely the right decision and we congratulate him”, said chief executive of Lancashire’s Wildlife Trust Anne Selby. “This government is now leading the way in Europe against the environmentally damaging and unnecessary practice of peat extraction.”

“This historic decision will be a major step towards meeting the Government’s targets to reduce peat usage in the amateur sector to zero by 2020, and will pave the way for similar decisions across Europe in the coming months and years.”

Activist Iain Hilton, who was acquitted of accusations that he harassed peat miners by locking himself to a JCB digger in 2010 to prevent it from unloading peat into a delivery lorry, said he was “overjoyed” at the decision.

Hilton told Mule that he felt that ”the population of Salford have won an important battle against those who are determined to take over this site of immense natural beauty and carve it up for profit.

“It is important that this land be returned and restored for the people of Salford to enjoy, along with the wonderful wildlife that make it their natural habitat.”

He added, “The struggle for a better future requires many different people with different approaches to come together for a common cause and this campaign certainly embodied that spirit.”

Friends of the Earth’s North West Regional Campaigner Helen Rimmer added, “It beggars belief that in 2012 companies still want to destroy British peat bogs. These are important wildlife sites that ‘lock in’ carbon and reduce flood risk.”

“The Government has rightly set targets to end the use of peat in horticulture and there are plenty of peat-free alternatives – digging up bogs for our gardens is unnecessary vandalism and must be stopped.”

In a statement William Sinclair CEO Bernard Burns indicated the company would now consider alternatives to peat, saying “I am disappointed at the Minister’s decision and view Government policy on peat as incoherent. Nevertheless William Sinclair is in an ideal position to take advantage of the move toward non peat growing media.”

A Wildlife Trust spokesperson added that their hope was now to assist Sinclair in its obligations to restore the affected sections of the bog in accordance with the company’s “Section 106” agreements with Salford and Wigan councils.

Richard Goulding

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