Online calculator shows impact of more or fewer trees on air quality and health costs

A new interactive online tool calculates how much pollution would be removed by planting trees in local areas, as well as the corresponding public health cost savings.

Image: Peter Veenendaal (CC BY 2.0)
Image: Peter Veenendaal (CC BY 2.0)

The Pollution Removal by Vegetation tool makes national data locally relevant and accessible for councils, NGOs, developers and other organisations considering planting trees.

Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) teamed up with environmental economics consultancy eftec to develop the tool, which shows the existing amount of woodland in each local authority in hectares, how much PM2.5-grade particulate matter the trees remove from the air and the resulting predicted public health cost saving within that area over a 100-year period.

The tool can also estimate the impact of felling existing woodland by calculating the health costs attributable to the 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.

The two organisations plan to develop it further to also calculate the amount of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide that will be removed by altering the amount of woodland within a local authority area.

CEH group leader Professor Laurence Jones 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."

Eftec director Ian Dickie said: "We regularly hear political commitments to plant more trees in urban areas – our new online tool will inform and support the efforts by local and central government, NGOs, businesses and individuals in adding trees in our towns and cities."

He added: "We were very pleased with the positive feedback we received about the valuation tool from these stakeholders at a recent webinar and hope it will encourage and support their tree planting initiatives in pollution hotspots."

The tool can be accessed free online, where a method note also explains the model and its uses, while an online webinar launching the tool last month explains its development.

Meanwhile a a new report published yesterday (11 July) by the Government's Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) called for urgent action to address the problem of vehicle tyres and brakes, which are predicted to account for 10% of national emissions of PM2.5 by 2030.

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