2019 Fellowship

The Royal Oak Foundation is pleased to announce the 2019 Damaris Horan Prize Fellowship, a residential fellowship with the National Trust of England, Wales & Northern Ireland focused on using plants grown and cultivated without the use of peat. The Horan Fellow will develop solutions to the conservation challenge of peat-free plant supply, while benefitting from a valuable development and learning opportunity.

Established by The Mudge Foundation and named for Royal Oak’s Executive Director from 1987 to 2003, the Horan Prize provides training and educational opportunities for individuals with a professional interest in the history, management and conservation of historic landscapes and gardens. The Horan Prize Fellowship provides unique opportunities to learn from the National Trust’s extensive resources and expertise.

2019 Fellowship Project: “Peat-free Horticulture in National Trust Gardens”

Since 1999 the National Trust has followed a policy of not using peat in its horticultural activities and of acquiring only plants grown using peat-free growing media. The basis for this position is to directly reduce the unrenewable extraction of peat and to provide an exemplar of, and promotion for, peat-free horticulture.

Peat is industrially extracted from peat bogs causing irreversible damage to one of the most vulnerable nature conservation habitats and historic environments. Healthy peat bogs are crucial carbon ‘sinks’; locking away atmospheric carbon as peat. Extracting peat and damaging peatlands releases locked-up carbon which then contributes to rising atmospheric CO2 levels which in turn speeds up climate change.

Following this peat-free policy has not been without its challenges: the UK’s horticultural industry has shown a reluctance to move away from peat use despite sustained Government and NGO encouragement. As a consequence, the availability of plants grown without use of peat in any part of the production chain remains poor. A number of approaches have been adopted to ensure that Trust gardens have adequate access to the range and number of plants they need to replenish their distinctive plant collections. At the specialized end of the scale, the Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre in Devon provides a customized propagation service for small numbers of highly significant plants. For large orders of single-species or cultivars, contract growing by commercial suppliers such as Hilliers, Hampshire has proved successful. However, problems remain in sourcing low and medium numbers of plants across a wide range of plants that represents an important and characteristic feature of our gardens and parks.


To investigate and report on the barriers and opportunities for peat-free plant supplies to National Trust Gardens.

Project Activities

  1. To carry out a survey of National Trust gardens’ plant requirements
  2. To carry out a survey of current and potential plant suppliers’ attitudes to peat-free production including barriers to peat-free production
  3. Investigate options for the Trust including further developing commercial relationships with suppliers and developing in-house plant supply chains
  4. Investigate means of improving coordination between gardens in plant production and sourcing
  5. Investigate the approaches of other horticultural organisations (RHS, Kew/Wakehurst, RBGE etc.) to consider possible further collaboration in this area
  6. Contribute to development of media for communicating the Trust’s peat-free policy to members, garden visitors and people purchasing plants at our retail outlets
  7. There will also be opportunities to develop technical propagation skills through working at the Plant Conservation Centre