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Clean air for Oxfordshire

Oxford Friends of the Earth is a thriving and effective local group that has been active for over 40 years. Our purpose is to work together to promote a healthy and sustainable environment

Oxfordshire has some of the worst pollution problems in South East England, due mainly to heavy traffic. Oxford Friends of the Earth has worked on this issue for five years. Poor air quality is a problem in Oxford and in many other towns across the county. You can see the problem areas on this national Friends of the Earth air quality map

We have an Air Quality working group and welcome new people to work with our campaign. If you’d like to know more email: cleanair@oxfoe.co.uk

In 2018 we launched our ‘Clean Air Charter’: find it here.

As part of our work we support the plans for the Zero Emission Zone in central Oxford although this needs to be linked to moves to cut pollution right across the city.

Clean Air for Oxfordshire: what can we really do?

Cleaning up Oxfordshire’s air needs everyone involved.  Much of the pollution we have to tackle is related to our transport system – cars, trucks, buses, taxis and trains. There are also problems with ‘particulate’ pollution – ultra small dust particles that result from transport and also from domestic combustion – notably fires and wood burners.  If you’d like to understand more about the causes and impacts of air pollution we have a full briefing based on Public Health England information to download here.

In 2021 we have two main projects – Particulates Monitoring and OxSCAN work with schools:

Our ‘Particulates Monitoring Project’ 

In  2021 we set up a new ‘Particulates Monitoring Project’. A note setting this out in more detail is here. The Oxford City Council’s new Air Quality Action Plan recognises particulates as a serious issue.

We can do this thanks to support from people to buy new monitors.  About 20 particulate monitors – from a specialist US company PurpleAir –  are installed across Oxford..  New research, including by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compares their performance positively with that of the expensive official air quality monitors. Data is displayed on an online map (via the Purple Air website).

This work is likely to focus pollution from wood smoke, notably from domestic wood burning, but the monitors may also pick up pollution from other sources, notably diesels.  One important part of this work is to learn more about where the particulate pollution is coming from. The monitors capture data continuously so would, for instance, be able to detect an evening peak on a cold day.  

Three of the new monitors are being co-located for calibration with the Oxford City Council’s monitoring station in St Ebbes (the only other one in Oxford that measures PM2.5 emissions). We will accompany this with an awareness-raising and engagement exercise to help people understand the risks of burning wood and coal and to avoid this becoming a socially-divisive issue.

The Oxford Schools Clean Air Network

Oxford Friends of the Earth is teaming up with Cool World Consulting, a consultancy working on air pollution behavioural change programmes.  They have launched a school air quality programme called Cleaner Air Sooner.

Cleaner Air Sooner, with the strapline ‘Clean Air in the Making’, is a FREE air quality programme for schools with step-by-step guidance and all the resources needed for schools and PTFAs to take action to clean up the air. The 6 project areas are:  Awareness Raising (and monitoring), Active Travel, Anti-Idling, Re-imagining Streets (Play Streets, School Streets), Mapping, and Green Infrastructure.

For further information please go to the OXSCAN webpage

Travel and Air Pollution

How we get around affects our health as well as our climate. Using a car less helps you to get healthy and cut air pollution as well as doing the right thing for our climate.

We need:

  • Action by our councils – to set the local policies and frameworks that will support public transport and encourage more people to cycle and walk where they can.
  • Action by government – to set national policies and invest in clean travel
  • Action by local businesses and organisations – to encourage their staff, customers (and students) to make clean travel choices.
  • Action by all of us – we use the transport and we need to be part of the change (see below).

Oxford FoE is also working on:

  • The Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (we are one of eight partners) – http://cohsat.org.uk/.
  • Our ‘Clean Air Charter’ launched in 2018: find it here.
  • An anti-idling campaign run jointly with Oxford City Council: find it here.
  • Our video on Air Pollution in Oxford is here (3 mins)
  • The Oxford Schools Clean Air Network will relaunch later in 2021– click here for more info.

We also have our own Air Quality Quiz!
How much do you (or your group or school) know about air pollution problems in Oxfordshire and beyond? Access it here: air quality quiz
There are notes to go with it: Air Quality Quiz notes

Other free resources for schools are available via the Clean Air Day website.

Let people know you care!

You can download our ‘Oxfordshire Air Needs Your Care’ window poster here:

OxFoE work on clean air: action so far

Our campaign kicked off with the launch of our Clean Air Charter and a 1400 signature petition to Oxfordshire County Council calling for immediate action to bring pollution down to safe levels.

On June 20th 2019 (Clean Air Day) we held a seminar at County Hall on work by schools on air pollution and active travel.  The presentations from this are on the Oxfordshire Schools Clean Air Network page here.

For Clean Air Day in 2020 (8 October) OxFoE organised various events across Oxfordshire. The main event was a webinar  on ‘Clean Air across Oxfordshire: what can we do?  The speakers were

  • Jenny Bates (national air pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth)
  • Tom Hayes Oxford City Council, Cabinet member for the environment)
  • Lynn Knapp, Head Teacher, Windmill School
  • Felix Leach, Oxford University – the OXARIA project https://oxaria.org.uk/
  • Kayla Schulte, OxAIR https://www.oxair.org/

You can watch the video of the event. For anyone involved in education, Lynn Knapp’s talk starts 12 mins in to the video. It’s on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDyxjfHDxZg&t=145s

 So what can we do?   Action on Transport.

Here’s some actions that we can take, starting now, to help clean up our air. There’s plenty of ways to make a difference!  Choose the ones that work for you.

 Your first action for cleaner air:

  1. Try going without the car– change one journey a week and try cycling, walking or taking a train or bus (Google Maps can usually offer different ways to make journeys).
  2. Turn off the engine – switch off your engine if you’re sat stationary in your car and reduce air pollution immediately, it’s better for you, your passengers and the air outside (as well as your engine!).

    Next steps:
  3. Cycle or walk more:discuss how to use the car less with other people in your household – work out which journeys can be made most easily by other means.
  4. If you have a bicycle, set yourself a target to cycle at least four days a week (this will be good for your health!)
  5. Walking local journeys is also good for your health – set a walking target of 6000 steps a day (apps to measure your paces can be downloaded for your phone).
  6. It’s not just transport that causes air pollution: don’t burn garden waste but use your council green waste scheme
  7. Think before you drive – don’t drive just to shop for one or two items; combine this with journeys for other reasons.
  8. Shop local – do you really need to drive to a supermarket? (support your local businesses!)

    Taking it further – or set your own actions
  9. Could you do without a car by joining a local car club scheme? – some offer electric cars.
  10. Cyclists get sweaty: does your workplace have a changing room and shower for cyclists? If not, ask the management to invest in one.
  11. Do more with your bike – invest in a cycle trailer to help you handle bigger loads
  12. Contact your councillors – ask them what they are doing to clean up Oxfordshire’s air
  13. If you are worried about the safety of cycling for children, why not get together with others and ask for cycle training at your children’s school?
  14. Make your next car an electric car – petrol and diesel are going to be phased out, so look to the future.
  15. Make your next bike an electric bike – you can go further and faster.