Cow's Emissions Threat to Plant Life

Ben McCarthy

Ben McCarthy

Director of Strategy

23rd February 2018

Air pollution is one of the greatest threats to our wild plants, lichens and fungi so when we read this article in The Times last week, we felt we had to respond. Our letter was published in yesterday's Times on page 30. Here is what we wrote:

Sir, Further to your report “Bigger dairy herds push up air pollution” (News, Feb 16), that ammonia emissions rose by 3.2 per cent from 2015 to 2016 is bad news for human health — and for our imperiled wild plants and the wildlife they support.

Most ammonia emissions come from agriculture. At high concentrations, such as from US-style mega-farms that are mushrooming across the UK, ammonia can directly damage plants. In soils “enriched” by air pollution, thuggish species such as nettles thrive while more sensitive wildflowers, many of which prefer less nutrient-rich soil, are crowded out. Plants particularly at risk from pollution include harebell and bird’s-foot trefoil; the latter supports more invertebrates — 160 — than any other herbaceous plant. This loss of plant diversity has harmful knock-on effects for bees, birds and all wildlife.

From Plantlife’s conservation work alongside farmers we know that many farmers want to tackle the spiralling ammonia problem. But they need support in the form of a coordinated UK framework providing effective regulation, incentives and advice. For this reason Plantlife is campaigning for the forthcoming comprehensive clean air strategy to introduce urgent measures to cut ammonia emissions in line with other pollutants. Only then will the government have any hope of meeting its legally binding limits on ammonia emissions by 2020.

Ben McCarthy
Director of strategy, Plantlife

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