Legionella outbreak in Scotland

The Growing Media Association (GMA) is aware of the recent outbreak of Legionella longbeachae in Scotland which is reportedly from contaminated bagged growing media.

We are in contact with NHS Lothian and have offered our full support with the investigation into the source of the contamination, which has not yet been determined.


Until the most recent outbreak, there had been only 12 reported cases of Legionella potentially connected to the longbeachae microbe in Great Britain since 1990.  Only three of those cases are thought to be related to gardening.  In the same period, the UK public has used well over a billion bags of compost.   Nevertheless, the growing media industry is committed to acting in a responsible manner and has conducted a global analysis of the situation to inform the appropriate policy on handling and labelling advice.  This analysis was assessed by an independent microbiologist in April this year.  The conclusion was that the extremely low incidence rate would make it disproportionate to apply warning labels to bagged growing media.  Instead, labelling should promote good hygiene practice, including the importance of hand washing after all gardening activities, particularly before eating and drinking.  This is standard practice for GMA manufacturers.


release date: 16/09/13


Industry Support for a Responsible Future for Growing Media

The Sustainable Growing Media Task Force met on 11 September, along with other industry representatives, to provide feedback to Defra and to Task Force Chairman, Dr Alan Knight on his report and proposed roadmap of actions that were published in June.

12th September 2012

In the meeting, chaired jointly by HDC, NFU and HTA, there was broad agreement that the report provides a pragmatic and balanced summary of the environmental, social and economic factors in the complicated debate on the sustainability of growing media.  During the course of the last year, the Task Force has identified several project streams which will help deliver the optimum result, i.e. a competitive and prosperous UK horticultural industry that is based on a responsibly sourced and resilient supply of growing media.  Fundamentally the Task Force has taken the opportunity to broaden its original focus on the single issue of peat, to include an assessment of the environmental, social and economic credentials of the whole range of growing media materials.  By doing so it is possible to assess all growing media without disproportionately focusing on peat and ensures the industry is provided with the most effective outcome for its long term sustainability, while also delivering environmental benefits.

Alan Knight’s report provides a roadmap of actions over the next decade that will help drive change for both the amateur and professional market.  The Task Force believes these can be successfully implemented provided that all stakeholders work in partnership.   Growers, retailers, manufacturers, government and research providers all have a role to play in taking this work forward.

Key actions will include:

  • Development of a performance standard for amateur bagged media
  • Completion of the RHS-led work on defining sustainability criteria for all growing media ingredients and integration of this into an auditable industry scheme (potentially via the Growing Media Initiative)
  • Strengthened links and co-operation with European partners to ensure a level European playing field
  • Development of a five year R&D plan to address commercial horticulture’s technical concerns
  • Promotion and transfer of information generated by nursery growing media trials
  • Raising awareness of the issues around growing media sustainability with the landscape specifier and contractor sector
  • Development of procurement guidance for public sector landscape tenders
  • Further retailer and consumer education through funded programmes and improved labelling
  • Working with Environment Agency to remove blockages that exist for using waste materials within growing media
  • Establishment of a working group to oversee progress against the roadmap


The Task Force has endorsed the Chairman’s conclusion that economic sustainability needs to underpin any viable solutions.  UK horticulture makes a significant contribution to GDP and is an important provider of employment.  In a competitive European market, it is therefore imperative that the commercial viability of the UK supply chain is maintained whilst seeking the optimum environmental solutions.  This approach would safeguard the UK’s commercial interests whilst achieving Defra’s goals of leading the debate on sustainability of growing media in the EU market.

The Task Force will submit some minor comments on specific actions in the detailed roadmap, but in general it endorses the proposed way forward. The Task Force calls on Defra Ministers to provide a similar echo of support when they issue their formal response by the end of the year and to ensure that Government supports the broader approach to a sustainable future rather than a pre-occupation with peat and reduction targets.  This will then provide the necessary impetus to put the roadmap into action, and open an important chapter in securing the industry’s long term future.

Commenting on the meeting Tim Briercliffe, HTA Director of Business Development, said “We have established clear industry agreement on a route towards sustainable growing media.  With peat now put within its proper context, alongside all growing media ingredients, we can make progress in a way that makes the industry more sustainable without damaging it in the process.”

Neil Bragg, HDC Chairman, added “This whole exercise has really galvanised the whole industry to seek and develop materials for the responsible use of substrate ingredients whilst maintaining the viability of the industry as a whole.”

Chris Hartfield, NFU Horticultural Adviser, added “The work of the Task Force has produced a comprehensive and evidence-based way forward. The work proposed under the roadmap will be ground-breaking and will enable professional growers to demonstrate and improve their sustainability credentials in the area of growing media. We look forward to getting the full support of Government for this new way forwar”


release date: 20/02/13


Progressing the path towards peat reduction

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), along with representatives from some other institutions and businesses, met this week at Defra with Richard Benyon, the Minister responsible for progressing the recent peat use consultation.

We were pleased to hear that Government intend to continue with a voluntary target based approach, which protects UK growers from the threat of immediate regulation and for which the HTA have been lobbying for some time.

Defra had reviewed all the responses to the recent consultation and are now finalising policy plans for the Minister. It is clear that Government is still committed to reduce peat use although the consultation has highlighted the difficulties that some professional sectors will face in making the transition. It is likely that these difficulties will be taken into account when Government lays out its final policy.  

Defra are keen to continue to work closely with the HTA-run Growing Media Initiative (GMI) to make the voluntary peat reduction route successful and to avoid the need for regulation. 
Not wanting to export the carbon problem abroad, assurances were also made that the issue is to be addressed at a European level. Defra are also to investigate resources for the industry to research alternatives, including, at the suggestion of the HTA, the use of current agri-environment schemes for funding this. 

HTA Director General, David Gwyther, commented “It is now clear that Government will stand firm in wanting to reduce peat use.  Our meeting with Defra has re-assured us however, that they have listened to our concerns, encouraging a voluntary approach and protecting the position of UK growers.  The HTA will continue to support the garden industry – both growers and retailers, as well as growing media suppliers - in dealing with peat reduction policy. In particular we will continue to support both the Growing Media Association (GMA) and the GMI, both of which have been vital in establishing a sensible way forward for the entire industry.”

Details of Defra’s proposed policy will appear in the Natural Environment White Paper to be published in June. 


release date: 07/06/11