The NFU has said farmers are working hard to reduce nitrogen emissions following the publication of a report from botanical charity Plantlife which suggested their effects may be a ‘far more immediate threat’ to habitats than climate change.
Dr Trevor Dines from Plantlife blamed nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions from factories, transport and agriculture for fertilising ‘thuggish’ species such as nettles, hogweed and hemlock, which can then out-grow more delicate plants and wild flowers.
Dr Dines added: “Atmospheric nitrogen deposition is silently ravaging our plant communities. We are force-feeding the natural world a diet of nutrient-rich junk food and it is having a devastating impact.
“Once diverse habitats are becoming monotonous green badlands where only the thugs survive and other more delicate plants are being bullied out of existence.”
But NFU vice president Guy Smith said farmers had made real improvements on emissions over the past 30 years and support for new technologies which helped to mitigate impacts would better things further still.
“Nitrogen emissions are down due in part to the fall in livestock numbers and in fertiliser use – application rates have been decreasing since the 1980s. Good practice and regulation have been key”, he added.
“We are importing more and more of our food and if more constraints are placed on UK food production then the net effect is to increase reliance on imports, which could lead to a net increase in nitrogen use globally.
“In England, we have high standards when it comes to mitigating environmental impact from food production.”
“The agriculture sector has committed to further address emissions through industry-led initiatives such as the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan and Tried and Tested. In addition, the NFU, DairyUK and AHDB Dairy recently updated the Dairy Roadmap to highlight the good environmental work dairy farmers are undertaking.”