Urgent action is needed to address a rise in ammonia emissions which is having a damaging effect on wildlife and natural habitats, according to Englandâ€™s environmental regulator, the Environment Agency.
The Agency has today (27 July) published its first report on the countryâ€™s air quality, which suggests that unlike other major pollutants, emissions of ammonia â€“ which are largely associated with agricultural activities â€“ have increased since 2013.
And, in a bid to tackle the problem, government â€“ in partnership with farming industry bodies â€“ has launched an industry guide to limiting the release of the pollutant.
According to the Environment Agency, the vast majority of the UKâ€™s ammonia emissions â€“ around 88% – come from the agricultural sector as a result of activities such as fertiliser use and slurry storage.
Higher concentrations and deposition levels are associated with areas of intensive livestock production, especially dairy and beef. Ammonia deposition can overload land and water with nitrogen; acidifying soils, natural habitats, and freshwaters.
This can reduce biodiversity in sensitive habitats, the Agency says, creating a knock-on effect for wildflower species, aquatic and insect life.
In order to address the rise in emissions, governmentâ€™s good practice guide sets out â€˜simpleâ€™ steps farmers can take to reduce the release of the pollutant.
This includes using a nutrient management plan, changes to slurry storage, spreading equipment and infrastructure, or techniques such as slurry and digestate acidification and separation.
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: â€œUrgent action is needed if we are going to tackle the hidden blight of ammonia emissions. These emissions are having a detrimental impact on the environment, precious habitats and wildlife. As custodians of the land, farmers must take the lead by changing their land management practices.â€
The voluntary code â€“ known as the Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP) has been written by Defra in collaboration with the National Farmers Union (NFU), the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the Agricultural Industries Confederation.
The guide includes information on how to reduce emissions when storing and applying organic manure, applying manufactured nitrogen fertiliser and feeding and housing livestock.
Environment Minister ThÃ©rÃ¨se Coffey said: â€œAir pollution is not just an urban issue and with 88% of ammonia emissions coming from farming, the government is taking concerted action.
â€œWith clear new guidance and financial support we will help farmers across the country to take action, reduce emissions and help improve air quality.â€
Mark Pope, chairman of the agricultural body NFUâ€™s environmental forum, has welcomed the Code, adding: â€œFarmers have recognised there is a need to reduce their ammonia emissions and the sector has made improvements with levels dropping by 10% in the past 30 years. However, further reductions are required from the industry in order to meet targets set under the Governmentâ€™s Clean Air Strategy. We urge Defra to continue to offer farmers guidance on this issue alongside targeted financial support where necessary.â€