Critical nitrogen load exceedance in natural areas, 2009

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About 60% of nature in the Netherlands is exposed to such high nitrogen deposition that vulnerable plant species are being supplanted by grasses and shrubs.

Decline in rare species due to excessive nitrogen levels in soil

Excessive nitrogen levels in soil are one of the main reasons for the decline seen in rare species. Vulnerable plants disappear when the amount of nitrogen deposited on the soil exceeds the critical load. The higher the exceedance, and the longer it goes on for, the worse the effect. Critical load exceedance is used both nationally and internationally as an indicator for biodiversity loss, and is one of the core indicators in the Convention on Biological Diversity. Two thirds of the nitrogen deposited in the Netherlands is in the form of ammonia, mainly from agriculture. The rest is from nitrogen oxides, for example from traffic and energy generation.

Risk particularly high in intensive livestock farming areas

Exceedance can quickly reach twice the critical load near areas of intensive livestock farming. Therefore the nature in the north west of the Netherlands is best protected against nitrogen, although the dunes are still vulnerable.


  • Velders, G.J.M., et al. (2010). Herkomst en ontwikkeling in de tijd. PBL-rapport 500088007. Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving, Bilthoven.

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Reference of this webpage

CBS, PBL, RIVM, WUR (2024). Critical nitrogen load exceedance in natural areas, 2009 (indicator 1423, version 01,

) Statistics Netherlands (CBS), The Hague; PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague; RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Bilthoven; and Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen.