Last month Jim Densham, RSPB Scotland’s Senior Land Use Policy Officer, blogged about climate change and ask you all to sign this petition from our partners at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, calling for strong climate targets from the Scottish Government. One of the things the petition is calling for is a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland and here Jim details more about this.

Stopping invisible pollution – why we need a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland 

More than ten years ago I co-wrote an RSPB report titled ‘Force-feeding the Countryside’.  The report showed that overuse of chemicals containing nitrogen, especially fertilisers, pollute some of our most sensitive habitats and kill wildlife. We highlighted Loch of Strathbeg as one of RSPB Scotland’s reserves where this type of pollution was causing major problems for the plant communities, and for grazing wildfowl, coots and dabbling ducks.

It wasn’t an easy environmental problem to communicate then and it still isn’t. That’s because the pollution and impacts are widespread, largely invisible, and need to be tackled by many parts of society. Also, and perhaps critically, the problem largely comes from a use of fertilisers which farmers rely on to grow the food we all eat. As with growing food, nitrogen is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing.  

The problem of nitrogen pollution has never gone away but it is being talked about again as we look for new ways to tackle climate change. Nitrogen is bad for the climate - huge amounts of climate-damaging emissions are released to the atmosphere when fertilisers are made, and when fertilisers are spread on the land in an inefficient way they release nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.  

Farming is the source of nearly a quarter of all of Scotland’s climate-damaging emissions and is the leading source of nitrous oxide pollution. Arguably farmers and land managers have most to do but we all need to change our behaviour. We can buy organic food where possible, reduce and recycle food waste, compost what we can, and use compost instead of chemical fertiliser in our gardens. As a society we use and waste way too much nitrogen – we must cut back and do much better at recycling biodegradable wastes.

To make this happen we are calling on Government to introduce a Nitrogen Budget in Scotland within the new Climate Change Bill. It would help Government to understand how much nitrogen is used and where it is lost, throughout Scotland. This knowledge could be used to design fair policies which cut emissions and pollution, and promote recycling. Government Ministers would then have confidence to set national targets for reducing our overall use of nitrogen and make us more self sufficient in growing our own food.  

A Nitrogen Budget would help Scotland address a pollution problem which has been affecting our climate, and precious habitats, like at Loch of Strathbeg, for so many years. Join us and our partners in the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition in calling for a strong and ambitious Climate Change Bill which includes a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland – add your voice today at  


For more detail on why a Nitrogen Budget is important and how it works, read this blog by our partner Nourish Scotland.