Hottest day brings health concerns
Parts of the UK have experienced the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures soaring across the country.
Londoners benefited from today's highest temperatures, with St James's Park reaching 21.9C (71.42F), Kew Gardens 21.7C (71.06) and Heathrow Airport 21.3C (70.34).
But with the heat came high levels of air pollution - Eastern, South East, East Midlands, Greater London, West London, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside areas were all affected by poor air quality throughout the day.
The problem was caused by a build-up of pollutants from local sources such as traffic fumes which were not dispersing in the still weather, combined with dirty air blown from the continent and a small amount of Saharan dust.
Asthma sufferers, people with heart problems and older people were advised to "reduce physical exertion", particularly while outdoors.
Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis, head of the air pollution and climate change group at Public Health England's Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: "While most people will not be affected by short term peaks in air pollution, some individuals, particularly those with existing heart or lung conditions, may experience increased symptoms."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warned air pollution could reach very high levels in areas of south east England.
Fresher, cleaner air from the Atlantic is expected to arrive tomorrow, although pollution levels will remain moderate for many areas over the weekend, Defra said.
But the latest spike in dirty air has prompted renewed calls from environmental and health campaigners for more action to tackle the problem of air pollution, which leads to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of people a year.
It comes as the country basks in above-average temperatures, with some places having enjoyed the warmest day of the year so far.
Met Office spokesman Dan Williams said the very still weather which has led to the high levels of air pollution would be replaced by gradually breezier conditions as a weather front came in from the Atlantic this evening.
The warm weather will be replaced by fresher and cooler conditions over the weekend, with temperatures around 13C to 14C (55F to 57F) - much closer to the average for the time of year. Most places are likely to see a drop of 5C (9F) on current highs.
Mr Williams said: "The front coming in from the west will effectively strip all of that pollution out of the way as it comes through. There will be a change of wind direction and become breezier, which will take all that pollution away."
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said the latest pollution episode was "troubling", coming soon after the last such event, and could put people living with respiratory conditions at risk of worsening symptoms.
"To reduce the impact, people who find their health affected can take simple steps such as avoiding busy roads, especially during rush hour, and refraining from strenuous exercise outside.
"Those who use a reliever inhaler should always carry it with them and, if symptoms continue to intensify, contact their GP."
"That said, people living with lung conditions shouldn't have to take such steps simply to avoid being made ill by the air they breathe.
" With periods of high pollution often resulting from a combination of domestically-produced pollution and that coming from mainland Europe, we need urgent action from government to clean up the air we breathe, across all government departments at home and at a pan-European level."
Friends of the Earth's South East campaigner, Brenda Pollack said: "Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people prematurely in the UK every year, and puts extra pressure on our overstretched NHS.
"Ministers must protect our health by acting urgently on the main cause of air pollution, which is too much dirty traffic. Plans for new roads will make things worse.
"We need to see less traffic and more walking, cycling and public transport use. This will improve health and enable us all to breathe more easily.
"Action on air pollution will also help us to stop dangerous climate change - the UK should focus on this rather than giving its support to dirty oil and gas projects that threaten our climate and pollute our air."
The West Midlands has been experiencing high levels of air pollution with the director of public health in Birmingham, and health chiefs in Warwickshire both issuing warnings to residents.
Dr David Spraggett, NHS South Warwickshire Clinical Commissioning Group chairman, said those with asthma and other lung or heart conditions should take extra care with the high pollen count.
In Stratford-upon-Avon, the promise of the morning's fine weather evaporated somewhat after an outbreak of rain showers.
Couple Jane Legge from Banbury, Oxfordshire, and 34-year-old Keith Jones from Birmingham were left huddling under a blanket on the riverside when the heavens opened.
Ms Legge said: "It's a bit of a let down - we came out especially, brought the sunglasses, and a nice picnic rug.
"We're both off for the Easter holidays, and it's the last day - it's typical."
However, teachers Sarah Harris-Watkins and Katie Glover were more pragmatic about the rain shower, as they sat munching strawberries near the theatre.
"It'll pass, it's just the British weather isn't it?" said 25-year-old Ms Glover.
Ambulance services in the affected regions have been urging people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma to take care in the face of the high pollution levels, but have not seen an increase in the number of calls relating to respiratory problems.