Published: 20th JUNE 2022

Raising awareness of air pollution around primary schools in East Sussex

Sustrans introduced an air quality awareness programme to develop knowledge and understanding of the wider benefits of the School Streets trials in East Sussex. This project is part of ‘Your Active Journey’, East Sussex County Council’s active travel programme.

Taking the students on an air quality journey.

Students at three schools in East Sussex took part in the air quality sessions:

  • Langney Primary Academy in Eastbourne
  • Southover Primary in Lewes
  • All Saints in Bexhill.

They embarked on a journey to discover what air pollution is and the impact it can have on us and the environment.

They investigated the levels of air pollution around their own school, and then turned their new skills and knowledge into action, encouraging change to improve the air we breathe.


hours of workshops


young people participated

Introducing the science 

To start off, the students learned about the science behind air pollution.

They worked towards answering the question: ‘How clean is the air we breathe?’

They learned that transport is one of the main sources of pollution in the UK.

They looked closely at air pollution and what it is made of.

And investigated the impact that air pollution has on our bodies, and on the natural world around us.

Writing about their experience, a student said: "We have found out that cars aren’t the only things that pollute the air, all vehicles do.

Blockquote quotation marks
Our Earth is in danger to pollution. We need to save our Earth. We can’t live like this for much longer. Blockquote quotation marks
Student at participating school

With that knowledge, the session moved on to coming up with ideas on what can be done to improve the air we breathe.

Blockquote quotation marks
I would like that everyone could use less car journeys and more walking. It would help our bodies and the planet. Blockquote quotation marks
Student at participating school

Exploring the air we breathe

Next up was a Lichen workshop.

The students learnt to use lichen as a bio indicator of the air quality around their school.    

Having learned what the colours of lichen indicated about the air around it, they discussed how clean or dirty the air was around their school based on what they'd found.

microscopic view of yellow lichen.

Lichen, a bio indicator of air quality, under a microscope.

Becoming an Air Quality Explorer    

Produced by our Air Quality Officer, Paul, the Air Quality Explorer videos take the students through various air quality-related topics.

Each video sets a challenge to raise awareness of air quality issues whilst enjoying time outdoors.    

They enabled the whole school community to continue exploring air quality outside of the classroom, as well as with family and friends.   

When the students completed an Air Quality Explorer challenge, they received an 'Air Quality Champion' badge to celebrate.

Testing the air around the school   

The students set up nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes around their school.

Using the results, they were able to identify areas where high levels of pollution are commonly found, and come up with potential solutions for reducing the levels.  

Recounting their findings, a student said: “We have been exploring air pollution by putting up diffusion tubes in three places around the school.

"The results were 15ug/m3, which is not a safe level for our school.”

primary school children look at lichen on a tree

Students used a variety of methods, including nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes and lichen workshops, to research the air quality around their school.

Putting the findings into action    

After testing the air around the school, the students thought through how they wanted to share the information they had discovered to raise awareness of the dangers and improve the air around their school. 

Some students made road signs with air pollution information, inspired by the London campaign group, Choked Up.     

Others researched their local MP and wrote them a letter.

They explained what they had discovered from testing the air, the impact it could have, and what they’d like to happen to make it better.  

They invited their MP to visit to continue the conversation. 

Reflecting on the experience

Students and educators found the project to be a success, and the feedback was very positive.

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Our student leaders were so excited to learn about the condition of the air that we all breathe every day. They felt like real research scientists carrying out a project which could have a serious impact on our lives. Blockquote quotation marks
Headteacher at a participating school

He continued: “The children have told me that they loved investigating their surroundings and looking closely at the trees in our school and the different types of (lichen), which informed us about the air that we breathe. They also loved hearing about the results of the study which made it all so real.    

“Thanks to (this) project, many more families are more motivated to find alternative ways to come to school and not just use their cars.”   

Two school boys cycling in playground with "Clean Air" written in chalk on the ground

The initiative is designed to help school communities consider improvements to the space outside their school gates.

Part of a wider project    

The air quality programme is part of a wider School Streets initiative in East Sussex.

The initiative is designed to help school communities consider improvements to the space outside their school gates.    

Our Designers and School Engagement Officers worked with the children to come up with suggestions for the future, considering the school community and what they'd learned about the local air quality.   
East Sussex School Streets brought together expertise and knowledge from across Sustrans and East Sussex County Council.

It combined collaborative and urban design expertise, with the knowledge and experience of our Air Quality Schools Officers.   

A collaborative effort    

The Air Quality Programme was delivered as part of Your Active Journey East Sussex.

The funding was secured by East Sussex County Council from the Department for Transport’s Active Travel Fund.   

Your Active Journey is an East Sussex County Council active travel programme.

It is delivered through providers Sustrans, Living Streets, Pedal Power, Road Safety and Southeast Community Rail Partnership.


For more information contact Helen, our Programme Manager in East Sussex, at: 

Read about the role walking, wheeling and cycling have to play in improving the air we breathe

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