School seeks help to install pioneering ‘green’ pollution barrier designed by University of Sheffield researchers

  • 60m long plant barrier, designed by University of Sheffield researchers, will filter air pollution
  • Help sought for ground-works and survey of playground
  • Project findings could provide a clean air solution for inner-city schools

Hunters Bar pupils

A Sheffield school is appealing for businesses to help it install a pioneering barrier of plants and shrubs, designed by researchers from the University of Sheffield, that will filter pollution from passing traffic and improve the air quality of inner-city playgrounds.

The innovative screen, which is being designed by academics from the University of Sheffield’s BREATHE project, will wrap around the playground of Hunter’s Bar Infant School at the busy intersection of Sharrow Vale and Junction Road.

Planting of the 60m barrier – made from a custom mix of plants designed to deflect and absorb pollution – is due to take place in late summer 2019.

The school is looking for businesses who can help provide essential equipment, surveys and ground-works ahead of its installation.

While air pollution levels at Hunter’s Bar Infant School do not register higher than other schools in the local area, the school hopes that this work will raise awareness of the challenges faced by inner-city schools and that the BREATHE barrier could provide a simple and affordable solution for other schools looking to counter air pollution.

Head Teacher Catherine Carr said: “Air quality around schools is still a relatively young topic, although increasingly we find it making headlines, particularly in London, as school communities are becoming more vocal about its effects.

“While air pollution levels at Hunter’s Bar Infant School are not any worse than other schools in the city, we don’t want to be complacent. We believe that by partnering with the University of Sheffield’s BREATHE project in this research, we can help other schools find workable solutions and be part of real change for children locally, nationally and even internationally.”

She added: “Our school has a long history of being proactive when it comes to environmental initiatives and advocating the health and wellbeing benefits of green spaces.

“We have an active eco team in the school and fantastic support from parents who are championing the vision to green our school playground.”

The one-of-a-kind barrier is being designed by PhD researcher Maria del Carmen Redondo Bermúdez, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture and the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.

By carefully trialing different combinations of plants, Maria will design a green barrier that acts as a sophisticated filtration system for air pollution.

Maria said: “Different plants have different capacities to reduce air pollution, depending on the characteristics of their leaves and bark. By using a mix of plant types – trees, shrubs, climbers and herbaceous perennials – we will try to cover all the mechanisms for pollution mitigation.

“Planted together they will form a barrier against the wind that brings contaminants to the playground.”

If we can show that our green barrier makes a positive difference to air quality and children's health and wellbeing, there's great potential to involve other schools locally, nationally and internationally.

Professor Anna Jorgensen

As well as providing cleaner air within in the school’s playground, Maria aims to assess the wider wellbeing benefits the plant screen will have on the Hunter’s Bar pupils.

Previous research has shown a link between green space and improved psychological wellbeing and Maria will work with some of the school’s 270 infant pupils to find out how the transformed playground affects them.

Following air quality monitoring tests, the plant barrier is due to be installed in summer 2019.

Parents and staff have already raised £10,000 to help buy plants, seedlings and equipment and pupils from the school are looking forward to ‘planting parties’ to help transform their playground.

The school is using the slogan #GoGoGreen to raise awareness of its campaign and to appeal to local businesses for support.

Green walls have become increasingly popular in recent years, with high profile examples springing up on the sides of buildings around the world.

Despite the benefits they have on air and environment quality, these types of plant walls commonly rely on complex irrigation systems, which can be costly and energy inefficient.

The plants in the BREATHE barrier will be grown naturally – in a narrow strip around the perimeter of the playground – reducing costs involved in both installation and maintenance.

The first experiments will be carried out on honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), jasmine (Jasminum officinale), ivy (Hedera helix), red cedar (Thuja plicata), red robin (Photinia × fraseri) and laurustinus (Viburnum tinus).

The BREATHE project, which is funded by the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, involves academics from the University of Sheffield’s Departments of Landscape Architecture, Geography, Animal and Plant Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering, as well as the University of Buenos Aires.

The researchers hope their work at Hunter’s Bar Infant School will provide a blueprint for similar barriers in other playgrounds.

Research has shown that air quality in the UK and in playgrounds regularly exceeds legal levels.

Head of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture, Professor Anna Jorgensen, said: “If we can show that our green barrier makes a positive difference to air quality and children's health and wellbeing, there's great potential to involve other schools locally, nationally and internationally.

“We are already working with a team in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to develop the idea there.”

For more information on the BREATHE barrier, contact maria.redondo@sheffield.ac.uk

To help donate services or equipment to Hunter’s Bar Infant School, contact headteacher@huntersbar-inf.sheffield.sch.uk

Additional information

The academic team for the BREATHE project is comprised of several members of the University of Sheffield and one member from the University of Buenos Aires, who have different background and expertise knowledge.

The multidisciplinary approach of the project contributes to the creation of a holistic solution for the specific needs of Hunter’s Bar Infant School.

The team members are:

Professor Anna Jorgensen – Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield
Dr Ross Cameron – Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield
Dr Juan Miguel Kanai – Department of Geography, University of Sheffield
Dr Maria Val Martin – Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield
Professor Beverly Inkson – Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Sheffield
Ing. Agro. Verónica Fabio – Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, University of Buenos Aires
PhDc. María del Carmen Redondo Bermúdez - Department of Landscape Architecture and the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield

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Hannah Postles
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0114 222 1046
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