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NEWS: Planting healthy air in schools

Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Mike Edmonstone, Trees for Cities

St Paul’s CE Primary School in Hammersmith has been rated among London's worst schools for air pollution, but now an innovative new programme is set to improve things. The environmental charity Trees for Cities has teamed up with Mapping for Change and Lancaster University to launch 'Planting healthy air in schools', to help improve the air quality and outdoor experience of children and teachers in some of London’s most polluted schools.  

Trees for Cities will test green infrastructure, design and planting techniques to screen airborne pollution. The project will redesign parts of the playground where air quality is particularly poor and, by planting trees and other vegetation to filter out airborne pollutants, as well as creating woodland shelters and wildlife areas, the projects will create greener, healthier playgrounds for outdoor learning and play.  

Kate Sheldon, Deputy Chief Executive at Trees for Cities, states, 'Planting healthy air gives schools the tools to take positive action, so that they can help protect their pupils from the devastating health effects of exposure to air pollution whilst in the playground. We're under no illusion that trees will solve the problem, but they certainly help, and bring a whole host of other benefits besides'.  

With help from the pupils, Mapping for Change and Lancaster University will monitor how pollution levels change over the course of 12 months by measuring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter. Lancaster University will also advise on the type and location of green infrastructure such as vegetation screens, planters and trees, and evaluate the effectiveness of the planting in reducing pollution.

Mapping for Change will deliver a behaviour-change citizen-science programme within the schools. The children will play an active role in collecting the NO2 sample tubes, mapping and tracking pollutant levels, and will learn more about the positive impacts of urban greening through a range of workshops and assemblies delivered by Trees for Cities. This will empower the children to make changes in their playtime behaviours and routines to reduce their exposure to pollution.  

Following a pilot at St Pauls, this year the programme will work with three more primary schools in London, all situated near busy roads where air pollution levels are known to exceed EU standards. Planting healthy air projects this year are funded by the Mayor of London, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Tower Hill Trust and MOJU. 

Trees for Cities is well known to Countryside Classroom for their Edible Playgrounds programme.

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