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Published on Friday 22 July 2022

Kate Salter (second left) with Teachers and Pupils at Canford Heath Primary School in front of their Anti-Idling display
Kate Salter (second left) with Mark Wilson head teacher (far right) and pupils at Canford Heath School in front of their anti-idling display. Jeff Jobling (far left) is from Men’s Shed who provided the materials for the installation.

BCP Council, Public Health Dorset (PHD) and walking and cycling charity Sustrans have joined forces to run a campaign to teach children (and their families) about air pollution, what causes it and how it can be reduced. The main focus of this campaign is to raise awareness of the impact of leaving a car’s engine running when parked (idling), especially outside schools, with the aim of improving the quality of local air.

A pilot campaign is now underway at six local schools to teach children about how their travel choices can influence how clean our air is. Pupils at Christchurch Infants, Christchurch Juniors, Winton Primary, Bethany Juniors, Canford Heath Infants & Canford Heath Juniors have been involved in the pilot, which has included classroom workshops, idling counts and science investigations, poster competitions, art installations*, home learning activities and active travel days.

The project is also developing a ‘Clean Air Schools’ toolkit which links into the national curriculum. It will help other schools across the BCP area to learn about what air quality actually means, what components can make it dangerous for our health, why children are more vulnerable to air pollution and most importantly what we can do to make our air quality better. The toolkit will also provide resources and ideas for local schools to run their own air quality awareness and anti-idling campaigns.

It is also hoped that this new behavioural change campaign will encourage parents and other drivers to switch off their engines when their cars are parked or waiting in traffic, particularly when near to, or outside schools.

Cllr Nicola Greene, BCP Council’s portfolio holder for education said: "People idling their engines, particularly outside schools, is already recognised as a problem. Many drivers do not realise that it is against the Highway Code to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road or to leave a parked vehicle unattended with the engine idling.

"We hope that this grass roots initiative will not only teach our children about the issues associated with air quality and car-idling, but they in turn will tell their parents about what they learned, which will hopefully encourage drivers to turn off their engine when their cars aren’t moving and lead to improved air quality outside our schools."

Kate Salter, Bike It Plus Air Quality Officer from Sustrans said: "We’ve been really impressed by how enthusiastic local school children have been when learning about the air they breathe and the negative impact of engine idling on air quality. Parents have told me that their children have reminded them to switch off their engines and even insisted on walking or cycling more. They’re fascinated by facts such as one minute’s worth of engine idling equating to 150 balloons filled withcarbon dioxide, toxic nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter."

Rachel Partridge, Deputy Director at Public Health Dorset, said: "We know that exposure to air pollution, including from vehicle emissions, can lead to increased risk of several short- and long-term health conditions including asthma, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. The longer someone is exposed to this pollution, the more damage can be done, and the effects of air pollution on someone’s health may not become apparent for many years.

"Children living in environments with higher levels of air pollution, the majority of which comes from vehicles, can be particularly susceptible to developing these health problems. That is why it is really important to work together on a range of initiatives to improve air quality, including reducing vehicle emissions and promoting active and sustainable travel, around schools and school routes."

The anti-idling campaign is being funded through a £30,000 grant secured by BCP Council through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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