Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere & Forest (LEAF) Centre

Air Pollution Garden

The UK’s first Air Pollution Garden has been established at Sheffield Botanical Gardens through a collaboration between the three White Rose universities of Leeds, York and Sheffield.

What is an Air Pollution Garden?

An Air Pollution Garden contains plants that are particularly sensitive to damage by pollutants in the air. These plants can help us identify regions that experience high concentrations of dangerous pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).

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Despite efforts to improve air quality over the past few decades, air pollution levels in the UK remain high enough to have significant impacts on the natural environment.

In many UK cities the concentration of pollutants in the air often exceeds European Union regulations, posing a serious threat to human health.

How does pollution affect plants?

High ozone levels in the air can limit plant growth and seed production in sensitive species. Tiny pores called stomata on the leaf let gases, including ozone, in and out.

Inside the leaf, ozone reacts with chemicals in the plant cell walls and causes damage. When the cells are damaged the leaf becomes discoloured, leaving spots of colour around the affected area. Trees and plants are not able to grow as effectively when their leaves are damaged.

The Air Pollution Garden will contain species that are particularly sensitive to ozone pollution such as snap beans, wheat, clover and perennial plants, such as common milkweed and cutleaf coneflower.

If you think you’ve spotted some pollution damage on plants in the garden, take a photo and send it to us here.

How does poor air quality affect us?

Being exposed to poor air quality can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. On days when ground levels of ozone and nitrogen dioxide are high, people can experience lung irritation, while those with existing diseases such as asthma, may experience more severe symptoms. Worldwide it is estimated that exposure to poor air quality causes around 3.7 million premature deaths per year, including 29,000 deaths across the UK.

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What is the air quality like in the garden now?

Air quality is monitored using scientific equipment at Devonshire Green in the centre of Sheffield.

Check out Twitter for the latest updates from the Air Pollution Garden using the hashtag: #SheffAPG

The UK’s first Air Pollution Garden has been established by the University of Sheffield, the University of York and the University of Leeds, together with the Air Aware team at Sheffield City Council. The project is led by Dr Maria Val Martin at the University of Sheffield, along with Dr Alison Dyke, Dr Patrick Bueker & Prof Mike Ashmore at the University of York, and Dr Steve Arnold & Dr Cat Scott at the University of Leeds. The project has been funded by the White Rose Collaboration Fund.