Falling levels of nitrogen in the atmosphere across Europe may be much more economically beneficial than previously believed, according to a recent study.
Indeed, scientists think the UK alone benefits by around £65 million a year. Levels of atmospheric nitrogen have fallen by around a quarter in Europe since 1990, mostly because of tighter rules on emissions from engines and industry. Scientists are still working to understand the consequences.
This is difficult, because excess nitrogen affects the benefits that nature gives us (known as ‘ecosystem services’) in many different ways – some positive and some harmful. For example, nitrogen is an important plant nutrient, which means services that depend on plant growth, such as crops and timber from woodlands, will benefit from more of it in the atmosphere. Conversely, falling nitrogen levels will harm these services – so cutting pollution costs the economy money.