Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has published a report outlining its progress on ammonia.

The move is in response to the 'Making Ammonia Visible' report produced by the expert working group which made a series of recommendations on the issue.

'Balanced approach'

David Small, DAERA’s director of environment, marine and fisheries group, said the challenge facing both farmers and the department on ammonia highlighted the importance of a "balanced approach" - supporting a thriving agri-food industry whilst also protecting our environment.

“Ammonia pollution and the associated nitrogen deposition is damaging our environment and our most sensitive wildlife habitats," he said.

In Northern Ireland, agriculture is responsible for 93% of the ammonia emissions, mainly from slurry and fertiliser management and application.

"To prevent further damage and to meet national and international statutory obligations, we must start working to reduce our levels of ammonia.

“As a department, we have a role to ensure business activity does not cause unacceptable environmental damage.

"We do this in two ways - as a statutory consultee within the planning process and as a regulator through the permitting and licensing role for certain activities."

What's the latest?

DAERA has already established an ammonia project board which met with stakeholders earlier this year to discuss the issue.

Further stakeholder forums for agriculture and environment organisations are planned over the next seven months, at which evidence will be gathered to inform the eventual action plan on ammonia.

The next stakeholder forum will take place in June.

As part of the action plan, the department has begun work on a review of its operational planning and permitting policy.

It means the department will begin to work through the 100 planning applications stalled by the ammonia deadlock.

DAERA has also commissioned a scientific research programme into ammonia. The research - led by AFBI - will provide the department with information on how best to address emissions - including through 20-30 new air quality monitoring sites.

Custodians of the land

“Our farmers are the custodians of the land and, as such, we want to work in partnership with them to deliver a win-win for farmers and the environment with improved biodiversity, air and water quality and profitable farm businesses," Small added.

Working together to tackle pollution is nothing new. There is a history of the department and farmers working in collaboration to address key environmental challenges.

"We recognise this good work and hope to build on that progress when it comes to reducing ammonia levels and nitrogen deposition.

"The document we have published today is an initial position on the expert working group’s recommendations."