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      Mapping allergenic pollen vegetation in UK to study environmental exposure and human health

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          Allergenic pollen is produced by the flowers of a number of trees, grasses and weeds found throughout the UK. Exposure to such pollen grains can exacerbate pollen-related asthma and allergenic conditions such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Maps showing the location of these allergenic taxa have many applications: they can be used to provide advice on risk assessments; combined with health data to inform research on health impacts such as respiratory hospital admissions; combined with weather data to improve pollen forecasting systems; or as inputs to pollen emission models. In this study we present 1 km resolution maps of 12 taxa of trees, grass and weeds found in the UK. We have selected the main species recorded by the UK pollen network. The taxa mapped in this study were: Alnus (alder), Fraxinus (ash), Betula (birch), Corylus (hazel), Quercus (oak), Pinus (pine) and Salix (willow), Poaceae (grass), Artemisia (mugwort), Plantago (plantain), Rumex (dock, sorrels) and Urtica (nettle). We also focus on one high population centre and present maps showing local level detail around the city of London. Our results show the different geographical distributions of the 12 taxa of trees, weeds and grass, which can be used to study plants in the UK associated with allergy and allergic asthma. These maps have been produced in order to study environmental exposure and human health, although there are many possible applications. This novel method not only provides maps of many different plant types, but also at high resolution across regions of the UK, and we uniquely present 12 key plant taxa using a consistent methodology. To consider the impact on human health due to exposure of the pollen grains, it is important to consider the timing of pollen release, and its dispersal, as well as the effect on air quality, which is also discussed here.

          Graphical Abstract


          • 12 key allergenic vegetation types mapped across the UK at 1 km resolution
          • Method combines data from the atmosphere, biosphere, and anthroposphere.
          • Different geographical distributions of 12 trees, weeds and grass
          • Maps can be used to study UK plants associated with allergy and allergic asthma.
          • London results show local level detail around the city, relevant for human exposure.

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          Most cited references 74

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          Rapid changes in flowering time in British plants.

          The average first flowering date of 385 British plant species has advanced by 4.5 days during the past decade compared with the previous four decades: 16% of species flowered significantly earlier in the 1990s than previously, with an average advancement of 15 days in a decade. Ten species (3%) flowered significantly later in the 1990s than previously. These data reveal the strongest biological signal yet of climatic change. Flowering is especially sensitive to the temperature in the previous month, and spring-flowering species are most responsive. However, large interspecific differences in this response will affect both the structure of plant communities and gene flow between species as climate warms. Annuals are more likely to flower early than congeneric perennials, and insect-pollinated species more than wind-pollinated ones.
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            Exposure to farming in early life and development of asthma and allergy: a cross-sectional survey.

            A farming environment protects against development of asthma, hay fever, and atopic sensitisation in children. We aimed to establish whether increased exposure to microbial compounds has to occur early in life to affect maturation of the immune system and thereby reduces risk for development of allergic diseases. We did a cross-sectional survey in rural areas of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. 2618 (75%) of 3504 parents of 6-13-year-old children completed a standardised questionnaire on asthma, hay fever, and atopic eczema. Children from farming families, and a random sample of non-farmers' children, who gave consent for blood samples to be obtained for measurements of specific serum IgE antibodies to common allergens were invited to participate (n=901). Exposure of children younger than 1 year, compared with those aged 1-5 years, to stables and consumption of farm milk was associated with lower frequencies of asthma (1% [3/218] vs 11% [15/138]), hay fever (3% [7] vs 13% [18]), and atopic sensitisation (12% [27] vs 29% [40]). Protection against development of asthma was independent from effect on atopic sensitisation. Continual long-term exposure to stables until age 5 years was associated with the lowest frequencies of asthma (0.8% [1/122]), hay fever (0.8% [1]), and atopic sensitisation (8.2% [10]). Long-term and early-life exposure to stables and farm milk induces a strong protective effect against development of asthma, hay fever, and atopic sensitisation.
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              Allergenic pollen and pollen allergy in Europe.

              The allergenic content of the atmosphere varies according to climate, geography and vegetation. Data on the presence and prevalence of allergenic airborne pollens, obtained from both aerobiological studies and allergological investigations, make it possible to design pollen calendars with the approximate flowering period of the plants in the sampling area. In this way, even though pollen production and dispersal from year to year depend on the patterns of preseason weather and on the conditions prevailing at the time of anthesis, it is usually possible to forecast the chances of encountering high atmospheric allergenic pollen concentrations in different areas. Aerobiological and allergological studies show that the pollen map of Europe is changing also as a result of cultural factors (for example, importation of plants such as birch and cypress for urban parklands), greater international travel (e.g. colonization by ragweed in France, northern Italy, Austria, Hungary etc.) and climate change. In this regard, the higher frequency of weather extremes, like thunderstorms, and increasing episodes of long range transport of allergenic pollen represent new challenges for researchers. Furthermore, in the last few years, experimental data on pollen and subpollen-particles structure, the pathogenetic role of pollen and the interaction between pollen and air pollutants, gave new insights into the mechanisms of respiratory allergic diseases.

                Author and article information

                [a ]Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
                [b ]European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, Knowledge Spa, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro TR1 3HD, UK
                [c ]Birmingham Institute of Forest Research, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
                [d ]Devon Wildlife Trust, Cricklepit Mill, Commercial Road, Exeter, EX2 4AB, UK
                [e ]Bluesky International Limited, Unit 3, Jackson Street, Coalville, Leicestershire LE67 3NR, UK
                [f ]School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia
                [g ]National Pollen and Aerobiological Research Unit, Institute of Science and the Environment, University of Worcester, WR2 6AJ, UK
                [h ]Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3DA, UK
                [i ]Environmental Change Department, Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Public Health England, Chilton, Oxon OX11 0RQ,UK
                Author notes
                Sci Total Environ
                Sci. Total Environ
                The Science of the Total Environment
                01 December 2017
                01 December 2017
                : 599-600
                : 483-499

                This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (



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