“Climate Emergency.” Well, yes. That’s why, whoever we are, when we know with our minds, and feel the conviction in our hearts, we need to work towards the transformations that will allow a better, or less bad, future.  This is top down work, changing systems and methods, and landscapes, and bottom up work, regarding what we consume, tolerate, and accept as acceptable.

So: peat bogs, mushrooms, climate change.  I’m a food blogger, and I want to talk about this.

I read recently a disturbing piece about the mushroom industry in Ireland, the largest horticultural sector in that country and a major supplier to UK supermarkets like ASDA, Tesco, Lidl, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, and Waitrose.  The piece by Friends of the Irish Environment and An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland) discusses the ecological damage resulting from quite astounding lack of regulation around the “mining” of peat, an unsustainable, unrenewable  resource.

This peat is widely used, in Irish mushroom horticulture, as a “casing” — a top level of light soil that holds in moisture yet has so little nutrient value it’s a neutral medium.  I often find myself softly dusting off the small bits as I prepare our supper…

Peat bogs are important stores of carbon in this age when carbon stores are of utmost importance.  Everything we can do to sequester carbon, as part of a much larger project of wide-ranging climate response,  we must do.  These ancient sights are also critical for biodiversity, human health and water purity– read about these issues here.

The importance of protecting peat is understood at a relatively mainstream environmental level. In the UK, Plantlife, The National Trust, and RSPB, for example, all have positions against its use.  Many ethical UK consumers, including vegetarians and vegans, are trying to embrace climate activism through personal dietary practice.  I know for instance that many of our increasingly numerous meat-free meals have been relying on Chestnut Mushrooms, grown in Ireland.  (I am able to buy organic ones in our town; they are also grown with peat casing, although the company assures that it is from a regulated source. Who knows.)

I’d like to support the work of Friends of the Irish Environment.  They demand the Irish mushroom sector:

  1. Reduce its reliance of peat in light of the serious negative environmental consequences of peat use, including climate change; and
  2. Ensure that any peat the industry uses is sourced from companies which have planning permission and all relevant licences for their operations, and whose extractive activities have been subject to environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment in accordance with EU and Irish law.

What can our response be?  Do we insist retailers involve themselves with this issue?  Do we support mushroom growers who source peat, at the minimum, from better sources?  How can we make a loud voice that encourages and enables mushroom growers to find adequate alternatives– surely they are possible in large-scale commercial operations, just as they are on the small scale?

Anybody with great campaigning skills want to take this on?

In the meantime, we can all also be learning to grow some or all of our own, or supporting small scale growers, like this one, with varieties even more delicious and healthful.  Here’s a piece I wrote a while back on that very topic.  But there’s still a place for buying punnets of regular old friendly round mushrooms.

C’mon growers, get on board the peat-free train!  Figure out effective substitutes for peat as a casing in your operations.  Surely it’s not rocket science.

Here’s Emma Cooper on not using peat-based materials in our own gardens.

And here’s an enjoyable, to me entrancing video, just for fun and interest, of a fairly large mushroom operation in (albeit Northern) Ireland, but probably much the visual same: