The Nitrogen Futures Project
Nitrogen is an important nutrient for plant growth and food production. However, excess nitrogen can be harmful to human health and affect biodiversity and ecosystem services by causing widespread changes to sensitive ecosystems. This excess nitrogen can be emitted to the air as ammonia (NH3) from agriculture and waste management and re-deposited onto soils and plants, and into freshwater bodies. Road transport and industry are also significant sources, via emissions and subsequent deposition of oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
Impacts are felt at a range of scales, from local, to regional, to global. In 2016 more than 60% of the area of sensitive habitat in the UK had more nitrogen deposition than it can cope with effectively (Trends Report 2019).
In response, a partnership project has been initiated between Defra, the devolved administrations (DAs) the country nature conservation bodies (CNCBs) and JNCC. Funded by Defra, the project is being undertaken by a consortium led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) which brings together leading expertise from CEH, Rothamsted Research, Aether, Air Quality Consultants (AQC), Lancaster University and Manchester Metropolitan University, and ran from August 2019 to March 2020.
The Nitrogen Futures project aims to compare current and possible future emission reduction policies to help maximise the benefits to ecosystems and the people that live near them.
The project will quantify the benefits from a range of potential emission mitigation options and develop different scenarios. The scenarios will explore the location for mitigation measures to maximise benefits to ecosystems and protected areas. The project results will be used as evidence to inform policy development at UK, country and local-scale.
- To develop quantitative spatial datasets for emissions of NH3 and NOx in 2030, building on future projections of source activities.
- To develop spatial targeting scenarios up to 2050 based on bundles of appropriate measures.
- To develop a set of metrics for assessing ecosystem benefits for a set of scenarios and evaluating against policy objectives.
- To model the implication of the scenarios developed under previous actions on emissions, concentration, deposition and vegetation effect metrics of atmospheric N (NH3, NOx).
- To analyse the scenarios for the relative importance of NOx and NH3 contributions to reductions in emissions and nitrogen deposition across the UK.
- To test whether local implementation of the optimised mitigation scenarios is effective, using a number of local case studies.
- To qualitatively analyse and assess co-benefits and trade-offs with greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and human health, across UK national, country and local scales.
A report will be produced detailing the methods and results of modelling the different policy scenarios together with the optimisation of the spatial targeting of NH3 and NOx mitigation measures. The report will also discuss how emission mitigation scenarios might interact with other policy areas such as those dealing with climate change.
The Nitrogen Futures project will also produce case studies to demonstrate how scenarios work in practice at local scale. Country-specific and UK-level resource packages to assist with communicating the results to a wider audience will be developed.
The Nitrogen Futures project builds on earlier investment in research with key stakeholders and previous projects such as:
- DEFRA project AC0109 (Ammonia Future Patterns, CEH-led consortium), which requires an update.
- DEFRA RAPIDS Defra Contract AQ0834 (CEH & Rothamsted Research) – measures and delivery mechanisms to reduce atmospheric nitrogen input to designated sites.
- Site categorisation and assessment for atmospheric N inputs and mitigation – Natural England IPENS-49 and IPENS-50 (CEH & Rothamsted Research); NRW AAANIS project (CEH); NIEA EMIND project (CEH).
- DAERA ammonia projects linked to Making Ammonia Visible report (CEH, Rothhamsted Research) – scenario modelling.
- DEFRA Ammonia Futures – investigating feasibility of and barriers to NH3 measures in England through regional workshops, trade-offs and costs (Ricardo AEA).
- DEFRA National Air Pollution Control Programme (NAPCP) 2018-2020 – scenarios on cost-effective achievement of the National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) targets while maximising human and ecosystem health and crop benefits.
Nitrogen Futures Webinars
JNCC hosted a series of webinars on air pollution in March 2020. These are available to view.
- Webinar #1 (4 March 2020) – Nitrogen is in the air... (an introduction to the Nitrogen Futures project)
- Webinar#2 (11 March 2020): JNCC's air pollution work and UK evidence tools; and the effects of air pollution on ecosystems.
- Webinar#3 (17 March 2020): Nitrogen pollution and natural capital.
To learn more about this project please contact us.