Growing interest in invasive weeds has seen the UK public becoming increasingly informed about plants like Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam.
Plant Tracker is a smart-phone app which lets anyone post the location of invasive species infestations in the UK. JKSL encourage anyone with a smartphone to make use of Plant Tracker; you can download it on iTunes or Google Play. More information about the app is included below and you can visit the Plant Tracker website here.
Although JKSL don’t ever share the locations of the sites that we work on, we do welcome technology that allows the public at large to produce an accurate, UK-wide database. This will be a helpful tool in the fight against invasive species in the UK.
We look forward to welcoming Dave Kilbey of Plant Tracker to our Seminar “Invasive Weeds – Myths and Legends”, which will be held on May 22nd 2013 at MOSI in Manchester. Enquiries should be directed to Suzanne Hardy on 0161 723 2000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
These plants are spreading quickly across the UK. They displace native species and detrimentally affect the ecology of many vulnerable habitats. Some also pose a considerable threat to human health. In addition, these plants present a large financial cost to the UK economy with the annual cost of all invasive, non-native species totalling some £2 billion.
The first step in tackling this problem is accurately determining where these plants are. In order to do this, we have created an easy-to-use smart phone app and have asked the public to use it and submit records of any invasive plants they encounter. Engaging the public with citizen science in this fashion has multiple benefits: it greatly reduces the costs associated with data collection; increases awareness of, and educates people about, the issues in question; empowers people to make a contribution and increases both the temporal and geographic scale over which data is obtainable.
The PlantTracker app, available free from the iTunes App Store and Android Market, clearly shows you how to identify each species and enables you to easily submit accurately geo-located photos whenever you find one. The app features 14 invasive plant species and also includes a "Confusion Species" gallery for each plant, to help you distinguish similar looking ones you might encounter. For those without a compatible smart phone records can be uploaded via the project’s website: http://planttracker.naturelocator.org/add
Since its release in August 2012 PlantTracker has attracted 7,000 downloads and received some 2,500 correctly identified records of invasive plant species from across the UK. Already a number of these records have enabled rapid remedial action to be taken. These include the identification of and subsequent removal of isolated outbreaks of Himalayan Balsam and Giant Hogweed on a tributary of the Thames and many interventions relating to Floating Pennywort from the Midlands and Greater London areas. By facilitating the early removal of Floating Pennywort in particular, the app has reduced both the expenditure on treatment and the need for herbicides; an encouraging trend which it is predicted will increase considerably in future years.
In spring 2013 a new version of the app will be released with extra functionality including the option to select from a wider list of species and the ability for individuals or projects to login and manage their records. The data collected through PlantTracker is available to anyone and can be accessed via the Biological Record Centre’s online iRecord system: http://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/
The Nature Locator team is also in the process of producing an app called “BatMobile” in conjunction with the Bat Conservation Trust and Professor Kate Jones, UCL. This app, due for release as a prototype in May 2013, will be able to record and automatically identify the majority of Europe’s bat species*, although you will need an ultrasonic microphone attached to the phone. It is hoped that this technological solution will help researchers gather much needed data on Europe[an] bat species.
* Some bat species cannot be reliably identified from their calls due to similarity to other species