Agroforestry systems for ammonia air quality management
Bealey, William James
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Air pollution can lead to environmental impacts. Over the past decades there have been some success stories reducing pollutant emission, namely sulphur dioxide (SO2). However, impacts on ecosystems from atmospheric nitrogen (N) pollution are still seen as a major threat for European biodiversity. Across Europe over 70% of Natura 2000 sites are at risk for eutrophication with over 70% of the Natura 2000 area in Europe (EU28( exceeding critical loads for nutrient nitrogen deposition. Agricultural ammonia is a key contributor to the threat to these sites due to the close proximity of agricultural activities and protected sites. Source attribution modelling using an atmospheric transport model showed that agricultural livestock production in the UK is the dominant nitrogen source for N disposition across the UK Natura 2000 network. Nearly 90% of all sites had livestock as their dominant source, contributing 32% of the total nitrogen deposition across the whole network. 76% of all Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) sites exceeded their critical load for nutrient nitrogen, representing 74% of the entire SAC area. The extent of exceedance is also notable with many sites experiencing depositions of >50 kg N/ha/yr over the critical load. the situation for acidity critical load exceedance is less sever, by 51% of sites are still exeeded. Legislation to regulate pollutant emissions to air and protect biodiversity are often not integrated, and there has been no common European approach for determining the impacts of nitrogen deposition on individual Natura sites, or on conservation status. Off-site sources of air pollution present difficulties in assessing and attributing impacts, because deposition can result from local sources (1-2 km), or very far away sources (>1000 kms). Managing nitrogen losses on the farm and improving the efficient use of nitrogen are key components for overall reduction in NH3 emissions. Many nitrogen management options are available to abate ammonia from agricultural activities. On the one hand, technical and management measures include controlling emissions from manure storage and spreading, livestock feeding strategies, and improving housing systems. Trees, on the other hand, are effective scavengers of both gaseous and particulate pollutants from the atmosphere, making tree belts potentially effective landscape features to support ammonia abatement strategies. Using a coupled deposition and turbulence model the recapture efficiency of tree planting around ammonia sources was estimated. Using different canopy structure scenarios, tree depths and differing leaf area density (LAD) and leaf are index (LAI) were adjusted for a main canopy and a backstop canopy. Recapture efficiency for ammonia ranged from 27% (trees planted around housing systems), up to 60% (under-story livestock silvopastoral systems). Practical recapture potential was set at 20% and 40% for housing and silvopastoral systems respectively. Model results from scaling up to national level suggest that tree planting in hot spot areas of ammonia emissions would lead to reduced N deposition on nearby sensitive habitats. Scenarios for on-farm emission control through tree planting showed national reductions in nitrogen deposition to semi-natural areas of 0.14% (0.2 kt N-NHx) to 2.2% (3.15 kt N-NHx). Scenarios mitigating emissions from cattle and pig housing yielded the highest reductions. The afforestation strategy showed national-scale emission reductions of 6% (8.4 kt N-NHx) to 11% (15.7 kt N-NHx) for 25% and 50% afforestation scenarios respectively. Increased capture by the planted trees also generated an added benefit of reducing long-range transport effects, including a decrease in wet deposition of up to 3.7 kt N-NHx (4.6%) and a decrease in export from the UK of up to 8.3 kt N-NHx (6.8%). Agroforestry measures for ammonia abatement were shown to be cost-effective for both planting downwind of housing and in silvopastoral systems, when costs to society were taken into account. Planting trees was also cost-effective from a climate change perspective. Comparing the cost per kg of NH3 abated showed that planting trees is a method of ammonia emission mitigation comparable with other (technical) measures. The costs for planting trees downwind of housing were calculated at €2.6-7.3/kg NH3. Agroforestry for ammonia abatement offers multiple benefits for the farmer and synergistic effects for society as a whole including i) carbon sequestration. ii) visibility screening around housing units, iii) imporved animal welfare for silvopastoral systems, iv) reducing critical load exceedance on protected sites, v) price advantage of 'woodland chick' productions, vi) supporting the Industrial Emission Directive (IED) requirements for emission reduction, vii) supporting national afforestation policies. The results of this work support the notion that in the emerging discussion about the values of ecosystem services and the role of nature-based solution to tackle persistent environmental challenges, tree planting has a large potential in rural and urban environments.