Protecting children from traffic pollution

A delivery of trees being lined up behind a roadside fence ready for planting

Scientists from Lancaster University have designed a programme to examine which plant species can best be used as a natural shield to reduce the health impacts of traffic-derived particulate pollution on primary school-age pupils.

‘Tredges’ (trees managed as hedges) were planted this week in four Manchester schools as part of an initial trial. The schools only have railings or mesh fencing between their playgrounds and busy main roads in some of the most polluted parts of the city.

Professor Barbara Maher’s research has shown that ‘tredges’ (trees managed as hedges) 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, in a bid to identify the most effective green barrier for school boundaries.

Barbara, from the Lancaster Environment Centre, who is leading the research, 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.”

Air quality monitoring equipment has been installed 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.

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