Consultation on how to cut ammonia emissions from the use of solid urea fertilisers to better protect human health and the environment has been launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Ammonia emissions are harmful to natural habitats and rivers and lakes, as well as to human health, with 87% of the UK’s ammonia emissions coming from farming.
The government has committed to reducing ammonia emissions by 8% of 2005 levels by 2020, and a 16% reduction by 2030.
Environment Secretary George Eustice commented on the announcement: “Ammonia emissions from agriculture are causing harm to sensitive and important habitats by making soils more acidic which damages the growth of some plant species, impacting on biodiversity.
“They are also harmful to human health, and we welcome views on how we can address their use in agriculture so that we can all breathe cleaner air.
“Any changes will need to be made in a way that is realistic and achievable for farmers, but which help us to achieve our ambitious targets for better air quality. We are committed to working with farmers to help them do this.
“This will build on the comprehensive action we are already taking to tackle air pollution – with emissions of fine particulate matter down by 9% since 2010 and £3.8 billion invested in ensuring our air is the cleanest in decades.”
Taking action on solid urea fertilisers has the potential to reduce pollution caused by:
- Ammonia reacting with other pollutants – nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide – to form particulate matter (PM2.5) which is harmful to cardiovascular and respiratory health.
- Nitrogen deposited on sensitive habitats such as peat bogs. This leads to excess nitrogen in soils that damages the growth of certain plant species.
- Nitrogen leaching through the soil and surface run-off which pollutes water courses, causing harm to plants and animals and impacting on water quality.
Jenny Hawley, Policy Manager at Plantlife, added: “Concerted action from landowners, industry and government to flatten the curve of rising ammonia emissions and start bringing them down is urgently needed to arrest the effect ammonia is having on wild plants, lichens and fungi and the wildlife that rely on them.
“Rising ammonia emissions – much from agricultural fertilisers – are also contributing to unnaturally nutrient-rich soil conditions: over a third of Britain’s wild flowers prefer low nutrient conditions and are therefore losing their roothold.
“Species like harebell and bird’s-foot trefoil are being crowded out by more ‘brutish’ species like brambles, hogweed and hemlock that revel in excess nitrogen, with knock-on effects that can be lethal to the habitats and the wildlife they support.”
The consultation seeks views on three policy options that give the greatest ammonia emission reductions from regulating the use or sale of sold urea fertilisers.
The consultation presents the following options:
- A total ban on solid urea fertilisers
- A requirement to stabilise solid urea fertilisers with the addition of a urease inhibitor – a chemical that helps slow the conversion of urea to ammonium
- A requirement to restrict the spreading of solid urea fertilisers so they can only be used from 15 January to 31 March While each of these options will support the government’s commitment to reducing ammonia emissions, a ban on solid urea fertilisers would achieve around 31% of the ammonia reduction target by 2030.
The consultation closes at
As well as this consultation, the government is also continuing work to tackle ammonia emissions from other agricultural practices through a range of measures, including the use of low emission agricultural spreading techniques by 2025, requiring slurry stores to be covered by 2027, and setting standards for new livestock housing.
More information about the consultation and submitting comments is available on the DEFRA website.