From fog and snow to floods and sunshine, the UK has run the gamut of weather conditions over the last few weeks. And it’s not just the transport systems that suffer –cold, changeable weather, combined with pollution, also puts our health at risk. The European Commission has just sent a final warning to the UK for failing to address breaches of legal air pollution limits in 16 areas - including London, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow.

On January 23, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan issued the capital’s first ‘very high’ air pollution alert, under a new warning system.

The still weather meant pollutants known as particulate matter - caused by traffic and wood-burning stoves - couldn’t disperse naturally, leaving a smog to build up around the streets of the capital.

Khan advised people to use public transport and told vehicle drivers to turn engines off if stationary for more than a minute, warning that: “Everyone, from the most vulnerable to the physically fit, may need to reduce physical exertion.”

How air quality is measured in the UK

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) obtains air-quality data in real time from the Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN), comprising of 133 monitoring points throughout the UK.

Air quality stations measure oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, and particles on an hourly basis. This data is used by various organisations to issue air quality warnings.

Where to check air quality

If you’re worried about air pollution, there are some useful websites with advice for your area. Some smaller or rural areas don’t have real-time monitoring, so look for the closest urban area or region.

1: UK Air

The Defra website has a daily air pollution forecast, with a colour-coded map showing areas in the UK at risk from pollution and a five-day forecast.  

UK Air website

Area search didn’t work for us, but you can use the latest measurement levels to view air pollutant data collated hourly for 16 UK regions.

Visit Defra

2: London Air

The London Air Quality Network (LAQN) is run by the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London. It includes the daily air-quality forecast for the capital and useful explanations of the Air Pollution Bandings. For specific areas you can view hourly data from 14 sites across London.

 Visit London Air

[Read more: Toxic air and pollution: How to stay safe]

3: Air Quality in Scotland

Updated hourly, this website shows air pollution levels across Scotland and includes air quality search by postcode.

Visit Air Quality in Scotland

4: Air Quality in Wales:

Use the map to check air quality levels at monitoring sites throughout Wales, along with area-specific current levels.

Visit Air Quality in Wales


5: Environment Agency

‘What’s In Your Backyard?’ includes interactive maps that show local environment issues, including flood warning and alert areas, drinking water protected areas and air pollution recorded each year from industrial sites.

Environment Agency 'What's in your backyard;

Enter your postcode and zoom in on the map to find air pollution information from your area, coloured dots signify key industrial sites and any levels of CO2, Dioxins, Nitrogen Oxides, Particulates and Sulphur Oxides.

Visit Environment Agency: Air pollution

Read more: What's the weather like? The technology behind today's forecast