Anne Miller

Dr Anne Miller

Associate Director - Research

Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network


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Launch of a truly landmark study: European Nitrogen Assessment


11th April saw the publication of an exemplary continental scale assessment  of reactive nitrogen in the environment.. A landmark because it not only reviews and environmental and societal threats, but also includes the first cost-benefit analysis for different forms of reactive nitrogen and considers future scenarios.

Co-ordinated by Dr Mark Sutton of CEH, with more than 200 experts from 89 different organisations contirbuting to the 600+ page report, it addresses the issues associated with reactive nitrogen at each level from field to farm and city up to national and continental scales, emphasising the opportunities for better management at each level.


It has a really useful technical synoposis and summary for policy makers and is full of useful information and tools for imporving communication: for example just check out the introductory video on You-tube:


The whole book is available as pdf chapters at the European Science Foundation website, since they were one of the major contributors to funding the project.


Chapter 26 is particularly useful for those lookiing at how best to communicate the complex messages in a simple way. Pity that some of the media who picked this story up on Monday did not look more at this rather than just focusssing on the economics headlines, which for the curious are:

 The annual cost of damage caused by nitrogen across Europe is £60-£280 billion (70-320 billion euros).

The cost to each person in Europe is around £130-£650 (150-740 euros).



1 person has had something to say so far

Thanks Anne. Indeed a wealth of information and well presented. So far I have only scratched the surface. I found the farm flow diagrams in Chapter 10 particularly interesting and (partly because it chimed so well with the call for sustainable intensification in the recent Global Food and Farming Futures Foresight Report for sustainable intensification) I was particularly interested to read in that chapter:

"It can be noted that although the typical total losses of N to the environment in the organic system (75 kg/ha) are much smaller than the conventional dairy farming system (Figure 10.14 ) (143 kg/ha), there are also substantial differences in the total products produced. Thus the total animal and crop products of the organic system in Figure 10.15 contain 39 kg/ha N, while those of the conventional system in Figure 10.14 contain 56 kg/ha N. Expressed as losses of N to the environment per unit N in products, the losses are about 30% greater in the organic example (ratio of 2.5) compared with the conventional dairy (ratio 1.9)"

The changes in N use efficiency over time in Chapter 3 also support the intensification and selective improvement argument.

On the issue of communication (Chapter 26) - one of their simple messages really worried me. The "Eat less meat, it's healthier." message (which doesn't have a great deal of evidence to support it - though there may be some which is disputed and open to interpretation) ignores the very important role of meat in the supply of micronutrients. A substantial number of people in the UK (mainly younger females) are actually iron deficient right now and the best way they could rectify that is to eat a little more meat. Their simplification of what are complex issues actually risks harming the health of some people.
Posted on 15/04/11 13:31.