Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medic. (shepherd's purse) has been tested as a possible biomonitor of heavy metals in the city of Bradford, UK and compared with Poa annua L. (annual meadow-grass), a species with a similar ecology that had previously been studied for biomonitoring potential. Forty-two sites turban roadside, urban, urban park, suburban and rural in and around Bradford were investigated. Concentrations of Pb, Cd, Zn and Cu have been determined in soils and in washed and unwashed plant leaves. Differences between the washed and unwashed samples, reflecting airborne and soil entry routes, respectively, varied according to the metal pollutant. There were significant relationships between the heavy metal concentration in samples of surface soil (depth 0-10 cm) and washed leaves, the concentrations being greater with progressively increased urbanisation of the sites. Capsella bursa-pastoris has been found to be a useful biomonitor of the four heavy metals studied, and it may be a particularly useful species since it could monitor short-term changes in pollution in urban areas. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.