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Protecting UK’s conservation sites from nitrogen pollution - UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Research led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is exploring options for protecting habitats and species that are vulnerable to increases in atmospheric nitrogen pollution.

The Nitrogen Futures project is being carried out for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the public body that advises the UK’s Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation issues. Funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the findings will inform policy development at UK, national and local scale.

The project aims to address the environmental impacts of nitrogen pollution from the air, which is a major driver of biodiversity loss in the UK. Around 60% of the UK’s protected conservation sites and 17% (42,400 km2) of the UK’s total landmass are threatened by damaging levels of excess atmospheric nitrogen.

A variety of human activities such as fertiliser use, livestock rearing, road traffic emissions, waste processing, and energy generation release nitrogen into the air, in the form of either ammonia or nitrogen oxides, depending on the source. It is then subsequently dispersed and deposited on land, lakes and rivers and the sea.

Dr Ulli Dragosits of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), who is lead scientist on the Nitrogen Futures project, says: “Nitrogen pollution has a cascading, negative impact on biodiversity, and the decline of sensitive species on land and in water ecosystems results in a series of knock-on effects on plants and the animals that rely on them for food.”

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