The anti-idling campaign, known as Oxford Air Needs Your Care, aims to raise awareness of the dangers of toxic air pollution and the impact it has on the health of children. It focuses initially on schools but will also encourage motorists across the city to switch off whenever they are stationary for extended periods.
Oxford Air Needs Your Care will see school children surveying idling engines at the school gate and pupils will learn about the health impact of air pollution. The aim of the project is to encourage parents to switch off their vehicle’s engine at the school gates – or to use cleaner travel methods on the school run, such as walking or cycling.
Oxford Air Needs Your Care is the first formal cooperation between the City Council and Oxford Friends of the Earth.
Oxford City Council and Oxford Friends of the Earth have also launched a competition for school children to design a poster to be used across the city as part of the anti-idling campaign. The poster competition, which runs until Friday 20 April, is open to children aged six to 14 from Oxford.
The competition winner – which will be decided by a panel of judges, including award winning children’s book illustrator Korky Paul – will receive £250 of vouchers to buy a new bike or cycling equipment from Bike Zone.
Entries, which should encourage people to switch off their vehicle’s engines to help reduce air pollution, must be designed by hand in A3 portrait layout and should contain the slogan of the anti-idling campaign, “Oxford Air Needs Your Care”.
Last month (February), the City Council sent educational toolkits to all Oxford’s primary and secondary schools to help schools teach children about the causes and impact of air pollution.
The toolkits fit within existing science curriculums and provide science teachers with a range of interactive activities that are both outdoor and classroom-based.
Children will be able to learn, for example, about lichen on trees (lichen is particularly sensitive to pollution and only certain types live in areas with good air quality); and about the Peppered Moth, which evolved to change colour due to air pollution during the Industrial Revolution.
Oxford City Council’s air quality officer and members of Oxford Friends of the Earth will also visit schools during the campaign to teach about the dangers of air pollution.
The campaign links to the City Councils Schools Tackling Oxfords Air Pollution (STOP) Project which works with schools across the city to install electronic air quality monitoring equipment in schools to allow them to monitor air pollution in real time. Monitoring equipment has already been installed at Wolvercote Primary School and Windmill Primary School.
Oxford Air Needs Your Care follows a similar campaign that was carried out in London in 2014, which saw car travel to the schools involved in the project reduce by 35 per cent.
A 2016 report found that outdoor air pollution causes about 40,000 deaths in the UK each year, and that it contributes to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution.
Despite a 36.9 per cent reduction in levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide across Oxford in the last decade, parts of the city centre are still failing to meet the legal limit on the pollutant. About 75 per cent of air pollution comes from traffic.
Oxford City Council has been leading a range of projects, often in partnership with transport authority Oxfordshire County Council, to tackle air pollution in Oxford. These include installing electric vehicle charging points for residents and taxis, upgrading buses to be electric or ultra-low emission, and proposing the world’s first Zero Emission Zone.
Councillor John Tanner, Executive Board Member for a Clean and Green Oxford, said: ““I’m thrilled that Oxford Friends of the Earth and the City Council are working together on this anti-idling campaign. The message to parents and everyone else is switch-it-off if you are parked anywhere near a school gate. Better still, park further away and walk the last few metres to the school. It’s safer, saves money and keeps you fit, as well as cleaning-up the air.
“We all have a part to play in cleaning up Oxford’s air, whether it’s going electric, cycling or switching off your engine. I hope everyone will support this Oxford Friends of the Earth and City Council anti-idling campaign. Our children most of all have the right to breathe clean air everywhere.”
Fiona Tavner, Coordinator of Oxford Friends of the Earth, said: “Tackling Oxford’s air pollution problem urgently requires a number of different approaches. Turning off your vehicle’s engine when stationary is a simple action. It is one way that we can collectively help to make a difference to air quality.”