The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) has developed an online tool to calculate the anti-pollution effect of planting trees in local areas.
Named Pollution Removal by Vegetation, also makes it possible to estimate public health cost savings.
CEH – a research institute under the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – said the tool should encourage tree planting initiatives.
It has been developed with environmental economics consultancy eftec to show the existing amount of woodland in each local authority in hectares, how much particulate matter (PM2.5) the trees remove from the air and the resulting predicted public health cost saving within that area over a 100-year period.
Based on the number of hectares of woodland someone wishes to plant within a local authority area, it can calculate how many kilogrammes of PM2.5 – considered the most serious form of air pollution – would be removed from the air by the extra vegetation.
It can also calculate the resulting public health cost saving within that area over a 100-year period, and estimate the effects of felling existing woodland by calculating the health costs attributable to PM2.5 that would no longer be removed from the air by those trees.
The new tool builds on previous research that CEH and eftec carried out for the Office of National Statistics, which estimated that plants in the UK remove 1.4 million tonnes of air pollution and save £1 billion in avoided health costs every year.
Improving air quality
Professor Laurence Jones of CEH said: “There is a lot of public concern about the potential health risks that pollution poses in many urban areas of the UK. While reducing harmful emissions at source is the best way to improve air quality, the addition of vegetation can play a role in removing pollutants within a local area.”
CEH and eftec said there had been positive feedback from stakeholders at a recent webinar, and that they plan to further develop the tool to calculate the amount of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide that will be removed by altering the amount of woodland within a local authority area.
The announcement has come soon after the Government recently launched its Urban Tree Challenge Fund, which is making £10 million available in grants to support the planting of more than 130,000 trees in England towns and cities.