Photo: RHS Images/PA
Have you ever thought that playgrounds should have more fences? A group of urban schoolchildren will participate in a scientific study to see what effect a fence can have.
A project by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) aims to find the best types of hedges to plant in urban areas so they can spread to public schools suffering from air pollution and a lack of green space.
RHS chief scientist Dr Tijana Blanusa decided to conduct her research in schools after realizing that her two children had little access to nature in urban state primary schools.
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Blanusa and his team planted a broadleaf mix and 60 evergreen hedge plants on the school playground at the Hoe Valley school in Woking. Approximately 90 10th graders will be involved in the experiment, which was funded by the Royal Commission for the 1851 Exhibition.
“I am a school principal. I have school age children. I really wanted to get involved with schools if possible because many schools I know of, including where my kids go, are not particularly green,” he explained.
Having children opened her eyes to the lack of green space in many city schools and disappointed that things could have been different. “Maybe I’m in a position where I can help kids in those schools or other schools do better. I think I was pretty impressed with it.
“We looked at fences because they’re linear, they’re cheap, they’re pretty common, people can relate to them, and we think they can do some good things in the urban environment for relatively little money in terms of improving air quality, reducing the risk of flooding, and perhaps reducing noise.”
He is working with schools to examine the hypothesis that mixed conservation has more environmental benefits than just planting one species throughout the year. Next spring, Hoe Valley students will engage in further research to understand young people’s perceptions of the role of plants in improving the environment.
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The scientist said: “They generously allowed us to choose a plot within their school’s grounds, and we planted it with a mix of roadside hedges. We set up a weather station and we’ll take measurements of the position of the particles on the leaf surface, their ability to influence soil moisture, which is a proxy for flood mitigation and “We’ll be looking at temperatures around the fence. We’re doing baseline studies and taking more measurements as time goes on.”
Children will be involved in learning more about the role of plants in reducing flood risks, improving air quality and cooling in the summer, either using a new online tool made by RHS or through science-led hands-on science sessions at school. set. However, there will be a control group of children without access to the fence to see the difference that having a green space makes.
Blanusa holds sessions where she teaches kids how to take measurements and what it means, so that some of the science is run by the kids themselves.
They will gain an insight into what it takes to work as a horticulturalist – planning and taking measurements on the fence and in the soil, and then analyzing the data collected. Results from the Perception piece will be available in late spring.
Blanusa did not expect to finally do such social experiments: “I am a practical applied scientist. My master’s is plant physiology, my PhD is about biochemistry. This project opened my eyes to the complexities of the larger scheme when you put the science into practice. I really believe that this is very important.”
But it’s just a way of making his research and science really useful and applicable. He hopes the project can be rolled out across the country, and RHS is figuring out how. “We really want to make it as easy as possible for other schools to do. But since you’re working with live things, it’s still going to be some work. These eco-friendly interventions will have benefits, but they need maintenance and that needs someone who knows how to take care of it in the field. Scaling is something I see as the next step. Maybe technically that’s not my job as a scientist, but in a way, that’s how I feel.”