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Research Questions

  1. What are the impacts of ammonia emissions from agriculture on biodiversity in the UK?
  2. What interventions are available to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture and how effective are they?
  3. What are the costs of the interventions, and how do these compare to the costs of inaction on ammonia emissions, both in terms of impacts on biodiversity and wider impacts (e.g. on human health)?

As levels of other air pollutants have declined, ammonia emissions in the UK have been rising since 2013, with significant implications for ecosystems and human health. The main source of ammonia is agriculture, where it is released from manure and slurry and through the application of manmade fertiliser. The agricultural sector produced 82 per cent of all UK ammonia emissions in 2016. Our review and synthesis of the evidence suggests that the impacts of ammonia on biodiversity can be significant, with certain species and habitats, such as bog and peatland, particularly susceptible. Putting together the costs of this biodiversity loss with the costs to human health and projected emissions, the impact of ammonia emissions in the UK could be equivalent to costs of over £700 million per year by 2020. Many interventions exist to address ammonia emissions from agriculture, though their level of implementation at present is mixed. Policy options to support wider implementation of emission reduction measures are likely to include a mix of regulation, incentives, and education.

Key Findings

  • There is clear evidence that ammonia can have significant impacts on biodiversity, with certain species and habitats particularly susceptible.
  • Quantifying the economic impact of ammonia emissions on biodiversity is challenging and the methods used are subject to debate, however the overall costs to human health and biodiversity are likely significant.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Royal Society and conducted by RAND Europe.

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