DAERA to consider recommendations while Union raises its own concerns

PACEMAKER BELFAST  08/09/2017'Barclay Bell from the Ulster Farmers Union speaks to the News Letter.'Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 08/09/2017'Barclay Bell from the Ulster Farmers Union speaks to the News Letter.'Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has said it is carefully considering recommendations made by the Expert Working Group on Sustainable Agricultural Land Management in its publication “Making Ammonia Visible.”

A spokesperson for DAERA said: “This report makes a series of recommendations on how to address the topic of ammonia emissions from agriculture and the subsequent impact of this air pollutant on the environment, including deposition of nitrogen onto important nature sites.

“The recommendations highlight the need for Government and the agri-food sector to work together to enable farmers to achieve significant mitigation of ammonia emissions. The report also seeks action from government on addressing knowledge gaps, increasing monitoring of ammonia emissions, reviewing the regulatory approach to ammonia emissions, encouraging ammonia mitigation measures and working in partnership with stakeholders.

“We are examining each of these recommendations in detail and some relevant actions are already under way.

“The response to this report will be led by the DAERA Project Board on Ammonia Reduction as it develops a DAERA Action Plan for Ammonia. The Project Board is to include representation from right across DAERA, its agencies and arms-length bodies, and will work closely with industry and environmental stakeholders.

“The Action Plan will propose steps and measures designed to deliver tangible and sustained reductions in ammonia emissions, reduce the impact of nitrogen deposition on nature and habitats and in particular, designated sites and also encourage uptake of ammonia mitigation measures on farms. Reducing ammonia emissions is also necessary for us to play our part in contributing to the UK’s international commitments in relation to air pollution and its impacts on human health and the environment.

“The Action Plan will also strengthen the evidence base around the ammonia emission baselines and emission factors highlighted within the report. However, it is important to note that DAERA is currently using the best science available, through the UK-wide monitoring and modelling programme (National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory). The Department is taking on-board the confidence limits associated with the current estimates of ammonia emissions to make informed, evidence-based decisions.

“The Department’s key objective is to deliver both a short-term response and a long term solution which achieves both a sustainable agriculture sector and a protected and improved environment. We are committed to working in partnership with the agri-food and environment sectors to address the challenges presented by ammonia.

“The Department would like to thank the Group for dedicating their collective time and experience to produce this report.”

Meanwhile the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has issued a strongly word statement, which claims that the Expert Working Group is, essentially, promoting a message that is based on “flawed science”.

The organisation’s president Barclay Bell believes that both DAERA and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) have a lot to answer for when it comes to the approach taken to tackle ammonia emissions.

He said: “The report largely vindicates our views that department have got it wrong when it comes to mapping ammonia emissions in Northern Ireland. We cannot understand how they have arrived at the decisions they have. There has been a complete lack of transparency and communication with industry has been poor. It is no secret that a number of planning applications and Tier 2 Farm Business Improvement Scheme applications are being held up as a result of issues with ammonia.”

Mr Bell added: “We have been critical of the way DAERA and NIEA have dealt with the issue. We want them to clarify and explain why the measuring of ammonia emissions is different here than in the rest of the UK. We believe the science they are using in Northern Ireland is flawed and that a more robust evidence baseline is needed.”

The UFU is considering the report in full but believes it clearly shows that there are still many unknowns in relation to ammonia issues in Northern Ireland and more research is needed.

“Farmers are the custodians of the countryside. We recognise the importance of protecting the environment and have demonstrated a commitment to tackling water quality issues and greenhouse gas emissions through a partnership approach. DAERA and NIEA need to recognise the actions farmers have already taken,” said Bell.

“A meaningful partnership approach between the government and industry would go a long way in helping to tackle this serious issue.”

In a follow-up statement, issued to Farming Life, the UFU makes it clear that further research in to the ammonia emissions’ issue should be carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences’ Institute (AFBI), in tandem with its UK partners. The Funding required is to be made available by DAERA and the farmer-supported body Agrisearch.