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Kevin Hicks speaks to BBC Countryfile on air pollution and agriculture

Kevin Hicks spoke to presenter Charlotte Smith on a recent episode of Countryfile, a long-running BBC programme, reporting on rural and environmental issues in the UK. Kevin appeared as part of a feature on the problematic relationship between agriculture and air pollution: he shared his expertise on the issues caused by ammonia.

Anjali Vyas-Brannick / Published on 8 January 2024
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Ulrika Lamberth /

A small herd of ten or so cows in a large green landscape in the Yorkshire Dales. Most of them are looking at the camera.

Ammonia released from livestock slurry is a serious problem for air pollution in rural and urban areas.

Photo: Jakob Cotton / Unsplash

According to the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 87% of ammonia released in the UK comes from agriculture.

The primary cause is when livestock manure and urine combine into slurry, releasing the chemical. Ammonia causes problems when it rises into the atmosphere and reacts with other pollutant gases, creating particles, which we then breathe in. This particulate matter, finer than a human hair, can cause respiratory problems, but is also related to heart disease, strokes, and forms of cancer, said Kevin.

As a gas, ammonia can travel tens to hundreds of kilometres in a day. However, when it combines with other pollutants to form particulate matter, its ability to travel through the air increases dramatically: Kevin explained to viewers how these particles could travel hundreds to thousands of kilometres in a day, and the feature showed that up to 38% of fine particle pollution in urban areas comes from farming.

Kevin also discussed how the intensification of farming is exacerbating the issue:

because we've taken the animals into intensive housing units, etc, where the manure can mix with the urine [... it increases] the amount of ammonia that's being produced.

Kevin Hicks, Senior Research Fellow, SEI York

Kevin’s work on air pollution extends beyond the UK: he has led, co-authored and contributed to multiple publications on air pollution problems around the world, including work on air pollution and climate change mitigation strategies in Africa, and cooperation on tackling the problem across borders in Northeast Asia. He was also the European Director of the International Nitrogen Initiative for two terms between 2016 and 2022.

See Kevin in action

The air pollution feature begins at 18:38. The episode also covers Blakeney Nature Reserve and its seal population.

Watch on BBC iPlayer


Kevin Hicks

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

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