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Trade import/export nitrogen flow estimation for the UK

This background document records the methodology behind SEI York’s contribution to the WWF-UK’s new UK Nitrogen Balance Sheet. Researchers estimated flows of nitrogen within agricultural and aquatic commodities moving in and out of the UK.

Kevin Hicks, Connie O'Neill, Joe Simpson, Simon Croft / Published on 13 March 2024

Hicks, K., O'Neill, C., Simpson, J., & Croft, S. (2024). Trade Import/Export nitrogen flow estimation for the UK. World Wildlife Fund UK.

Grains of wheat fill the full frame of the image.

Grains like wheat and barley sit within the top five sources of nitrogen in UK exports.

Photo: Amit Lahav / Unsplash

Using data from a five year period (2017-2021), researchers analysed the nitrogen contained in traded commodities in order to develop a new methodology for assessing how the element moves through supply chains. The researchers used statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to complete the study. The report sets out the methodology and highlights the top five agricultural and aquatic imports and exports for the UK in terms of their nitrogen mass.

The authors suggested that further research could investigate nitrogen flows in relation to particular commodities from particular countries. They also suggested that extending the research to look at chemical and forestry commodities could offer a broader picture of transboundary nitrogen movement in global trade.

This report was an intra-centre collaboration at York between members of the Air Quality, Climate and Environmental Change research group and the Sustainable Consumption and Production group.

SEI authors

Kevin Hicks

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Connie O’Neill

Research Associate

SEI York

Joe Simpson

Research Assistant

SEI York

Simon Croft

Research Fellow

SEI York

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