The government’s air quality consultation, closing today, focuses on ‘tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities’. That issue deserves urgent action – but it’s not enough. Air pollution is a problem in both rural and urban areas, for people and wildlife. We need government strategy to tackle the sources and solutions as a whole.
Nitrogen in air pollution acts as a fertiliser, making conditions too rich for many wild fungi and plants. That’s why you’re more likely to see nitrogen-tolerant species, such as common orange lichen, nettles and hemlock, on road verges and field margins – rather than bird’s foot trefoil, harebells or orchids, which are more sensitive. In 63% of Special Areas of Conservation, our best wildlife sites, nitrogen levels are already too high. This has dire consequences for animals, including pollinating insects, that depend on wild fungi and plants for food, nutrients and shelter. That affects us all, as biodiversity is vital to our health and wellbeing, our culture and our economy.
Measures to cut air pollution from transport and other sources need to be extended across the country – not just urban areas. These include better green spaces, public transport, walking and cycling routes. In particular, much faster action is needed to cut ammonia emissions, which have not reduced in line with other pollutants. Ammonia is a precursor to particulate matter, affecting human health as well as nature. The main source is farming – livestock and fertilisers – requiring concerted action by farmers, industry and government.
Today is the last chance for us all to respond to the government’s consultation. Let’s have an air quality strategy that delivers for people and for wildlife.
Ian Denholm, Chair, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland
David Minter, President, International Society for Fungal Conservation
Allan Pentecost, President, British Lichen Society
Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive, Buglife
Marian Spain, Chief Executive, Plantlife
Stephen Trotter, Director, Wildlife Trusts England