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The evidence is clear. Nitrogen has built up in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and intensive farming. Transport, power stations, industry, farm fertilisers and livestock are all major sources of nitrogen oxides and ammonia emissions.

Deposited directly from the air and in rain, this nitrogen is a form of pollution, creating acidic conditions and causing direct damage to our wild plants, lichens and fungi.

Purple Harebell flowers in a grass field

Over two thirds of our wild flowers, plants like Harebell Campanula rotundifolia and Betony Betonica officinalis require low or medium levels of nitrogen. Only robust species, such as Nettle Urtica dioica, Cleavers Galium aparine and Hemlock Conium maculatum thrive in soils with high nitrogen levels.

Species-rich grasslands, woodlands, heathlands and peat bogs are all under threat from air pollution. This even reaches remote mountain tops and the rainforest of Scotland’s west coast as they have higher levels of nitrogen-rich rainfall.

Alarmingly, 68% of sensitive habitat area in the UK has excessive levels of nitrogen – in England and Wales alone, this figure rises to more than 93% (Trends Report 2022, published on the UK-AIR website).

Reducing air pollution will have huge benefits for biodiversity as well as public health and our climate. Ammonia emissions from farming need particular attention as they have fallen so little in recent decades compared to other air pollutants.

Armed with powerful evidence and practical solutions, Plantlife is ‘talking about nitrogen’ with governments and partners across the UK to drive forward the action that is so urgently needed.


What is Plantlife calling for?

Yellow plant growing on twigs
  • Legally-binding government targets for reducing ammonia & nitrogen oxide emissions with plans of action for meeting these.
  • A joined-up approach to tackling nitrogen pollution in all its forms (air, water & soils) and to benefit public health, biodiversity and climate action.
  • Nitrogen levels to be taken into account in monitoring and management of protected wildlife sites – particularly in Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
  • Statutory action plans in severely-affected areas to reduce local emissions and restore damaged habitats.
  • Effective regulation, incentives, advice and support to enable farmers to reduce ammonia emissions.
  • Greater public awareness of the impacts of air pollution on plants and ecosystems, putting pressure on governments and others to take urgent action.

What can you do?

  • Join Plantlife to support our nitrogen campaign and other vital work to save wild plants.
  • Write to your MP and Environment Minister raising your concerns about this issue and making reference to Plantlife’s reports.
  • Share Plantlife’s reports with local farmers, conservation groups and other environmental organisations that you belong to, raising awareness of the issue.
  • Help monitor the impact of nitrogen on your local wildlife and improve our knowledge through citizen science, for example by joining the National Plant Monitoring Scheme.

Reports and Supporting Information

We Need to Talk About Nitrogen UK Report

This report summarises current evidence and raises awareness of where nitrogen is coming from, the impacts on habitats, plants and fungi, and how it is recorded.

We Need to Talk About Nitrogen Wales Report

A call to protect Wales’ internationally important wild flora and fungi from air pollution. This report focuses on the less well-known issue of ammonia pollution arising from intensive farming.

Cleaner Air for Scotland’s Wildlife Report

This report presents the available evidence on atmospheric nitrogen deposition and its impacts on Scotland’s plants and fungi and the wildlife that depend on them.

Our Work

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Cows in a field of grass by a gate in Greena Moor

A big win for grassland, but farmers need more

After a big government announcement, our experts have been delving into the details on the latest funding changes for farmers.

Government Action for Temperate Rainforests 

Government Action for Temperate Rainforests 

Discover how Plantlife is working with governments to protect and restore temperate rainforest along the Atlantic coast of Britain.

Scotland’s Strategic Framework for Biodiversity Consultation

Scotland's Strategic Framework for Biodiversity Consultation

Learn how you can make an impact on Scotland's new Natural Environment Bill, putting wild plants at the heart of plans for nature recovery.