Ammonia emissions in Northern Ireland are hugely damaging to the environment. Levels here are 4 times higher than the rest of the UK per person, and 98% of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) have levels above the amount that causes ecological damage.
The Office for Environmental Protection’s (OEP) first investigation in Northern Ireland will be to look at the guidance given to farmers and planners on ammonia emissions by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to see if it breaks environmental law. Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland welcomed the news of the investigation, as we continue to campaign to protect our precious habitats from these harmful emissions.
Plans to lower ammonia emissions from farming far too weak
Excess ammonia emissions are largely produced through animal farming. They damage our most precious places, pollute air, water and soil, and are a risk to people’s health. Over 98% of our protected habitats are negatively impacted by high ammonia emissions, but the agricultural model for Northern Ireland continues to promote growth of industrial-style farming.
Planners processing applications for factory farms rely on guidance from DAERA about the potential damage to the environment caused by emissions, called the Operational Protocol.
After years of delay a Draft Ammonia Strategy Consultation was launched in January 2023 with plans to lower ammonia emissions, but the impact of the proposals were extremely weak. Our response to the consultation showed that even at its most optimistic, the Department estimates the strategy would only reduce ammonia emissions by about 25%. And just 2 SACs would see environmental improvements so they were no longer above damaging levels.
Nearly 200 people responded to a Friends of the Earth action telling DAERA the strategy was too weak and not fit for purpose.
The investigation by the OEP shows how important it is for DAERA to urgently update the Operational Protocol with much higher targets for reducing ammonia emissions.
Ammonia is also a major cause of air pollution. In September 2023 we responded to a call for evidence on the Future Operational Protocol to Assess the Impacts of Air Pollution on the Natural Environment. Our response shows that because agriculture is the biggest contributor to poor air quality from ammonia emissions, and is also the biggest source of greenhouse gases, public policy should be focused on reforming agriculture.