Air Pollution Is Destroying UK’s Wild Flowers Converting Countryside Into ‘Monotonous Green Badlands’


Major environmental groups have warned, Air pollution is having an adverse effect on Britain’s wild flowers by helping hogweed, nettles and other “thuggish” species turning the countryside into “monotonous green badlands.” A report by the Plant Link UK network, backed by organizations including Plantlife, Woodland Trust, the National Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, found that 90 percent of acid grasslands, heathlands and other sensitive habitats in England were suffering because of nitrogen emissions from fertilizers and fossil fuels. Across the whole of the UK, the figure was 63 percent.

Nitrogen is a fertilizer, but plants fare differently depending on the amount present in the soil. Some 37 percent of Britain’s flowering plants prefer low nutrient conditions, whereas nettles peculiarly thrive when there is a lot of nitrogen in the soil. It is estimated that tens of thousands of people die prematurely every year because of fossil fuel emissions. Nitrogen deposition takes place when emissions from transport, farming, industry and power stations mainly in the form of ammonia and nitrogen oxides are washed out of the air when it rains or if they simply drift down onto the land.

The report, We Need to Talk About Nitrogen, said plants such as the bird’s-foot trefoil and harebell were at risk. Rare lichens used for more than 100 years to gauge air quality such as the beautiful eyelashes treebeard lichen are also suffering, along with liverworts, mosses and hornworts. Soil fungi are believed to be particularly open to attack. They provide valuable functions in the soil and plants like orchids could suffer if their numbers are reduced.

Plantlife said a meeting of scientists, conservation groups, government officials and farmers held earlier this year had concluded that there was a need to tackle “one of the key threats to our ecosystems, biodiversity and soils”. Dr. Dines, who was present at the meeting, said: “It is now important that politicians, landowners and industry come together to urgently address this mounting problem. He further added, “The very fabric of our countryside is changing under this rain of nitrogen and if the damage continues it will harm the ability of our most precious wildflower habitats to cope with other pressures such as climate change.”