Plants cleaning up our air

© Ben Hall - 2020VISION

New figures are showing the benefits of vegetation to our health

If you're reading this blog, the chances are that you already see plants and green places as more than just beautiful backdrops. We know that communities of plants are the vital foundations of the habitats we work so hard to protect. Perhaps we don’t always appreciate the role that these same plants play in protecting us from ill health.

The many emerging links between our environment and our health are the subject of much discussion at the moment, particularly in light of the challenges currently faced by both. Recently the Office of National Statistics published data revealing the role of vegetation in reducing the levels of air pollution across the UK.

Aerial photograph of A-road

Aerial photograph of A-road © Highways England

This new analysis makes for astonishing reading as it estimates the amount saved in healthcare costs resulting from pollution being removed from the air by vegetation at around £1 billion a year in the UK.

Among the other figures reported were an estimated 7,100 fewer lung and heart-related admissions to hospital and even 1900 fewer premature deaths that the study attributes to the often overlooked and undervalued presence of trees and green spaces. It seems many of us have our woodlands and other wild places to thank for our good health.

Among the five regions with the highest avoided health damage costs are our very own Southampton and Central Hampshire. It was calculated that £20 per resident was saved in Central Hampshire due to the pollution-lowering effect of vegetation. Not all of the areas within our two counties can say the same though. In Portsmouth, the total amount of pollution removed by vegetation is just a 5th of the UK average, suggesting that people in Portsmouth are benefiting far less from the pollution reducing power of plants. We’re hoping to raise awareness of this issue and enable everyone to access nature and enjoy its associated health benefits.

Find stats for your street

At the Wildlife Trust, we all believe in the intrinsic value of nature and that we should conserve our wildlife and wild places for their own sake. However, here is an example of one of the many compelling arguments for the value of nature to people and to society. In reminding people of how important nature is to our health and wellbeing, hopefully we can inspire them to value and take action for it.

So next time you visit one of our nature reserves, your local park, your child’s school grounds or even your very own garden, remember that as well as providing much needed habitats for our wildlife and people, these beautiful places are also performing an important service in reducing the pollution in our air, helping to keep us healthier for longer.