Although most air pollutants are decreasing or at the same level from five years ago, ammonia emissions are on the rise, according to the UK's Environment Agency's new report - which also highlights a reduction in other harmful pollutants since the 1970s

Air pollution

The damaging effect ammonia emissions are having on the UK’s wildlife and natural habitats has been highlighted in a new report by the Environment Agency.

While main air pollutants have either stayed the same or decreased since 2013, the study shows ammonia has increased by 10%, with the agricultural sector accounting for 88% of the total.

Ammonia, a type of pollutant, is a colourless gas with a pungent smell.

The loss of its particles from the atmosphere – ammonia deposition – can flood the environment with nitrogen, which acidifies soils and freshwater sources.

In England, 95% of natural habitats have been negatively impacted by this, according to the report, titled The state of the environment: air quality.


Urgent action needed on ammonia emissions

Environment Agency chairwoman Emma Howard Boyd said: “Urgent action is needed if we are going to tackle the hidden blight of ammonia emissions.

“These emissions are having a detrimental impact on the environment, precious habitats and wildlife.

“As custodians of the land, farmers must take the lead by changing their land management practices.

“More broadly, poor air quality is bad for the environment but also people’s health and wellbeing.


ammonia emissions
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency,

“This report also shows the need to tackle the high levels of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter that persist in certain areas.

“Improvement to air quality is going to require action from nations, government at a national and local level, organisations, and communities – but just as importantly – individuals.”

The report found that, if no action is taken, ammonia emissions will continue to rise over the next decade.


Improvements in air quality over the last 50 years

While ammonia has increased in recent decades, the report also shows the progress made in reducing air pollution since the 1970s:

  • Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions have reduced by 72%
  • Particulate matter (PM10) has reduced by 73%.
  • Sulphur Dioxide (SO2 ) has reduced by 97%
  • Non-methane volatile orgafossilnic compounds (NMVOC) have reduced by 66%

The harmful emissions are due to a range of causes, including vehicle emissions, as well as various industrial processes.

While some progress has been made, the study indicates that under current projections, emission reduction goals for 2030 will not be reached for ammonia, NOx, NMVOCs, SO2 and PM2.5 without additional action.