Tree programme to tackle air pollution outside Manchester schools begins

A programme has begun that will study which plants shield primary school children best from traffic-related air pollution.

This week, scientists from Lancaster University have planted ‘tredges’ (trees managed as hedges) outside four schools in Manchester. The schools have just railings or mesh fencing separating them from busy main roads.

Previously, Professor Barbara Maher’s research has shown that tredges consisting of selected species can act as a natural filter, capturing substantial amounts of the particulate air pollution generated by passing traffic.

The ‘Protecting Playgrounds’ project will test the use of instant tredges with different species, density and leaf shape, to identify the most effective green barrier for school boundaries.

Scientists have also installed air quality monitoring equipment at the participating schools and the trial is set to run into the autumn.

Pollution levels will be monitored in both playgrounds and classrooms to observe what reduction in air pollution levels the hedges can achieve.  A final report on the project’s findings is planned to be submitted to Manchester City Council in late 2019.

Barbara Maher said: ‘Traffic pollution is associated with delinquent behaviour in adolescents, and stunted brain development in children who attend highly polluted schools.

‘Young children are among the most vulnerable because their brains are still developing. Many schools are located close to major roads, so substantially reducing air pollution is necessary. Planting specific plant species that are good at capturing particulates along roads and around schools could help.

‘This project has the potential to deliver some of the most ground-breaking and important evidence delivered to date in recognising the importance and value that green infrastructure can play in terms of reducing airborne pollution. It could quite literally be a lifesaver for the children of Manchester and of this country.’

The four schools are:

·  Abbott Community Primary, Collyhurst (on Rochdale Road).

·  Manchester Communication Academy Primary (Rochdale Road)

·  St Ambrose RC Primary, Chorlton (Princess Parkway)

·  Medlock Primary, Ardwick (A6).

Last month, a leading UK environmental research centre has published a new interactive calculator to raise awareness of how trees can help remove air pollution.

Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) teamed up with the environmental economics consultancy Economics for the Environment Consultancy (eftec) to develop the online tool, called Pollution Removal by Vegetation.