Nitrogen use efficiency in Scotland: annual report 2023
First annual report under section 5(1)(c) of the Climate Change (Nitrogen Balance Sheet) (Scotland) Regulations 2022, and complements the latest published version of the Nitrogen Balance Sheet for the year 2020.
Post Climate Change Plan Update (CCPu)
Since the publication of Scotland's Climate Change Plan Update (CCPu), further actions with relevance to improving Scotland's nitrogen use have been implemented.
Food Production: Agriculture
Our Vision for Agriculture outlines our aim to transform farming and food production in Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. From 2025, the climate and biodiversity performance of businesses will determine the level of agricultural support payments and we have announced the National Test Programme (NTP) to ensure the right tools and support will be in place. The NTP supports and encourages farmers and crofters to learn about how their work impacts on climate and nature, including supporting farmers to carry out carbon audits and nutrient management plans and works with a focus group of farmers and crofters to understand how sustainable farming can be supported and rewarded in future.
Through initiatives like the Farm Advisory Service and Farming for a Better Climate, we will continue to communicate to farmers and crofters the benefits of improving nitrogen use efficiency along with other climate actions.
Food Production: Aquaculture
Scotland's aquaculture website includes data on annual levels of nitrogen emitted from fish farms, provided by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as part of monitoring and reporting requirements it sets under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) Regulations 2011.
In terms of air quality pollutants (including ammonia and NO2), the Scottish Government in July 2021 published the Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 (CAFS 2) Strategy, which sets out the policy framework for further air quality improvements over the period 2021-2026 to protect human health and the environment, and to fulfil legal responsibilities. It is recognised that NO2 emissions from transport and combustion more generally can have a significant impact on human health, with high concentrations present close to busy roads. CAFS 2 contains a wide range of actions across a number of policy areas which will contribute to reductions in nitrogen emissions.
Humans and settlements (including waste management)
We recognise that delivering a circular economy in Scotland is key to ensuring optimal, sustainable use of nitrogen inputs to the economy, for example re-using and recycling any nitrogen in waste products, and minimising losses of nitrogen into the environment. Our CCPu recognised that progress needs to be accelerated to deliver our ambitious waste reduction and recycling targets, and to enable us to meet updated waste sector emissions envelopes.
To achieve this and reduce nitrogen loss, we must: accelerate action across society to reduce the demand for raw material in products; encourage reuse and repairs through responsible production and consumption; and recycle waste and energy to maximise the value of any waste that is generated.
Forests, woodlands and terrestrial semi-natural ecosystems
Woodland creation and management in Scotland are underpinned by the internationally recognised principles of Sustainable Forest Management – as defined in The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS). The UKFS is the technical standard for forestry in Scotland and sets out the legal and good practice requirements to be followed, and through detailed guidelines it gives considerable safeguards to protect the environment, aspects of which have relevance to the nitrogen cycle.
With regard to water protection in acid sensitive catchments, UKFS requires that where new planting or replanting of existing woodland is proposed within the catchments of water bodies at risk of acidification, an assessment of the contribution of forestry to acidification and the recovery process should be carried out; details of the assessment procedure should be agreed with the water regulatory authority.
The UKFS also requires that forest soil fertility levels should be maintained to safeguard the soil's character and productive potential. To achieve this, one important aspect is to ensure the removal of forest products from the site, including non-timber products, does not deplete site fertility or soil carbon over the long term and maintains the site potential.
In addition, amendments have been made to the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011. These include improving controls on the storage of slurry and digestate to reduce leakage, and more targeted spreading to maximise the nutrient benefit and reduce emissions.
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