Clean Air Strategy: progress for wildlife and people on ammonia – the ‘poor cousin’ of air pollution

Twelve nature charities, including Plantlife, RSPB and Friends of the Earth, have welcomed new regulations to cut ammonia emissions announced in the Clean Air Strategy yesterday (January 14).

In a statement, the charities say the regulations are ‘vital and long overdue’ given the damaging effect ammonia has on wild plants, woodlands and meadows, and the wildlife that rely on them, and the ‘disastrous’ impact of ammonia on people’s health.

In the strategy it was announced there will be new regulations that will require farmers to use low emission farming techniques as well as regulations that will minimise pollution from fertiliser use, including low emissions techniques for spreading slurries and digestate on land such as by injection.

The group say cutting ammonia emissions by 50% could prevent the equivalent of around an estimated 250,000 premature deaths globally each year.

Ammonia has been likened to the ‘poor cousin’ of air pollution as it has flown below the radar of regulators until now, despite its destructive impacts, and the rising levels of this toxin in the air we breathe. Recent official data shows that ammonia emissions in England increased for the third year in a row in 2016, in stark contrast with all other major pollutants.

Ammonia emissions are higher than at any time since 2005, while levels of other pollutants are largely unchanged or decreasing.

Hannah Freeman, senior government affairs officer at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, said: ‘Air pollution literally doesn’t exist in a bubble. Ammonia in the air over our farmlands dissolves into our wetlands and waterways and wreaks havoc on delicate aquatic ecosystems.

‘The proposed measures are a step forward, but what we really want is government policy that supports farmers to be true stewards, holistically managing our air, soil and water together.’

Frances Winder, conservation policy lead at the Woodland Trust added: ‘Nitrogen deposition and increasing concentrations of ammonia are severely damaging our ancient woodlands. It is imperative we integrate on-farm measures for air quality, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions to protect these precious, irreplaceable habitats.

‘Working with nature can have significant beneficial impacts.

‘Planting new trees downwind of a poultry house fan outlet, for example, can be very effective at capturing both gaseous and particulate pollutants as well as providing shade and water management- a win-win for farm efficiency, reducing input costs and protecting the environment.

‘Any new land management scheme must include effective enforcement as well as support for the development of solutions.’

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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