OEP launches investigation into DAERA’s advice on ammonia emissions

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) can today announce that it is to carry out an investigation into the advice given by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on ammonia emissions in Northern Ireland.  

 The investigation will seek to determine whether DAERA has failed to comply with environmental law in its ammonia guidance, commonly known as the ‘Operational Protocol’, given to local planning authorities and applicants seeking planning permission for certain livestock developments.

The planning authorities are responsible for carrying out assessments under the Habitats Regulations to ensure planning decisions take into account the environmental impacts of ammonia-emitting developments. These assessments are important for ensuring that environmental considerations are properly addressed in planning decision-making.

The main source of ammonia in Northern Ireland comes from livestock manure and is deposited as nitrogen. This colourless gas can negatively impact the biodiversity of the environment and people’s health. 

The OEP's powers and duties were extended to cover Northern Ireland in February last year. The OEP is able to carry out an investigation into a government department under its enforcement function. This is the organisation’s first investigation in Northern Ireland. 

Natalie Prosser, OEP Chief Executive Officer (CEO), said: “Unsatisfactory ammonia pollution is an important, longstanding, systemic issue and one of the most pressing environmental concerns at this time in Northern Ireland.  From an already unsustainable level the 19% increase in ammonia emissions from agriculture between 2009 and 20191 is a stark illustration of this. 

“This is a complex area and there is already a great deal of work underway to try and tackle the problem of ammonia emissions. Our investigation will contribute to that work by providing clarity on environmental impacts when planning decisions are being made. 

“We do not know at this point what our findings will be. It is possible that it could result in enforcement activity or in broader actions to address any issues found. Our priority throughout will be to protect and improve the environment.” 

If an investigation finds a failure to comply with environmental law the OEP will aim to resolve any non-compliance through co-operation, dialogue and agreement with public departments and authorities.   

However, where a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached through these means, the OEP can use its stricter enforcement powers including, if necessary, through court proceedings.   

This investigation follows complaints submitted by a member of the public in Northern Ireland. 


1 DAERA, Going for Growth - a strategic action plan, n.d., Going for Growth - a strategic action plan | Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (daera-ni.gov.uk)

Notes to editors 

  1. The DAERA guidance that is being investigated is the Standing Advice on Livestock Installations and Ammonia (Issue 02, June 2017) and is often referred to as the ‘Operational Protocol’. 

  1. The OEP’s strategy and enforcement policy can be found here

  2. The investigation announced today (Tuesday, 23 May) is a Statutory Investigation paragraph 7, Schedule 3 Environment Act 2021.   

  3. Under this provision the OEP has powers to carry out an Investigation into whether a public authority has complied with environmental law.  Public bodies have a statutory duty to cooperate with the OEP and provide it with such reasonably assistance as it requests.  An investigation may lead to enforcement action by OEP.    

    Following all investigations (save those where the OEP takes the matter to court) the organisation must prepare a report which it will usually publish. These reports will set out our conclusions on whether a public authority has failed to comply with environmental law.