Posted 21st Jun 2018 by Peter Byrne
Plantlife has said air pollution is threatening to cause environmental damage and wildlife loss across Wales
In a hard-hitting report released today (21 June), the British Lichen Society and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales is raising alarm to the rising ammonia emissions, primarily from the boom in intensive poultry and dairy farming.
The report has revealed that ammonia emissions are steadily rising, with almost all of the emissions that cloud the Welsh skies coming from fertilisers and intensive poultry and dairy farming.
The colourless and putrid smelling ammonia is damaging wildlife, but is also having an impact on human health, something which is only now being fully appreciated. The gas plays a major role in creating an urban smog, as well as nitrogen deposition that is rapidly decreasing plant diversity.
In Wales, 89.4 per cent of sensitive wildlife habitat is suffering from excessive nitrogen levels that are resulting in unnaturally nutrient-rich conditions. With almost 90 per cent of Britain's wildflowers preferring lower-nutrient soil, it is proving to have a devastating impact.
Rare and threatened wildflowers, including harebell and bird's-foot trefoil are getting crowded out of the countryside as 'nitrogen guzzlers' such as bramble, stinging nettle and cow parsley outcompete their more delicate siblings. This includes Welsh grasslands, woodlands, heaths and bogs which are all becoming colonised by these nitrogen-loving plants.
Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Botanical Specialist, said: "Air pollution, much of it from intensive farming practices, is threatening wildlife. As nature's balance is being distorted by excess nitrogen we are seeing many wildflowers and the wildlife they support pushed to the edge of extinction. The knock-on effects of habitats overly enriched with nitrogen are chilling: marsh fritillary butterfly feed almost exclusively on Devil's-bit scabious, a plant that cannot survive in nitrogen-rich soil."
The charity is calling for urgent regulations to tackle the spiralling ammonia problem. As it stands, the largest Welsh pig and poultry farms (those housing over 2,000 pigs or 40,000 poultry) come under direct regulation. Smaller and yet often sizeable units are not obliged to apply for environmental permits, with Plantlife especially concerned that dense clusters of these units could house thousands of animals yet be falling under the threshold are cropping up, causing damage to wildlife.
Dines said: "The ammonia problem has been flying below the radar for too long and it is high time real action was taken to stem the flow of this gas to protect people and wildlife. It's of great concern that, when 86% of emissions are known to come from farming, only the most intensive of pig and poultry farms are properly regulated. One need only look at how excess ammonia can turn lichens - historically an indicator of clean air - into sickly algal slime to know it is time to act."
"Current trends of rising ammonia demonstrate that government intervention is needed to strengthen regulation, monitoring and enforcement, as well as providing advice and support to farmers."
Measures such as slurry store covers and improved housing floor systems in farm units will all dramatically reduce ammonia emissions - without the rapid roll-out of such measures, it has been warned Wales will fail to cut eight per cent of ammonia emissions by 2020 and 16 per cent by 2030, in comparison with 2005, as the UK's legally-binding targets under EU and international law say.
These emissions could even exceed the 1990 baseline, resulting in even greater damage to wildlife, people and our climates.
Image courtesy of (c) Trevor Dines / Plantlife