Environment Agency
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New PlantTracker app to track problem plants

 A new app to help combat the spread of three problem plants has been launched.

Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and Floating Pennywort are three particularly problematic Invasive, Non-Native Species (INNS) that are spreading quickly across the Midlands region. Using a smartphone app called PlantTracker we would like anyone who is out and about to record where these plants are so that we can more accurately assess the situation.

An INNS is any non-native animal or plant that has the ability to spread causing damage to the environment, the economy, our health and the way we live.  INNS pose threats to biodiversity, increase flood risk, and affect the state of our water environment. INNS cost the British economy a minimum of £1.7 billion per annum. 

Japanese Knotweed can grow through asphalt, contributes to river bank erosion, increasing the risk of flooding and is very difficult to get rid of.  Himalayan Balsam can grow to over 2 metres high, and also damages river banks.  Floating Pennywort grows on water at a rate of up to 20cm per day, and can completely smother waterbodies.

The Environment Agency, the University of Bristol, and NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have teamed up to help combat the spread of these three INNS. 

The PlantTracker app, available free from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store by searching for planttracker (one word), or from the website http://planttracker.naturelocator.org/ shows how to identify each species and enables users to easily submit geo-located photos whenever they find one.

Claire Quigley from the Environment Agency said: "Invasive non-native plant species are a threat to native wildlife in the Midlands. We would love everyone to help us to track them down.  We will be able to use the information to determine the extent of the problem, find out where the worst cases are and provide evidence for Local Action Groups to develop project funding bids to tackle INNS in their communities."

The app has been developed as part of the NatureLocator project, led by the University of Bristol, to enable members of the public to take part in biological survey work via their mobile phones.

This is a pilot project and the app is being trialled in the Midlands region to begin with.  However, it is hoped that in subsequent years the project will be expanded to cover the whole of the UK.  Records can be submitted from outside the Midlands but they may not be analysed straight away.

You download the app and then follow the progress of the project and the reports that are coming in via a blog on the project website 
http://planttracker.naturelocator.org/,

on twitter using #planttracker and @envagencymids,
or at
www.facebook.com/naturelocator 
High quality photos of plants available on request
or on flickr at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/environment-agency - look for 'INNS Images'.


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MORE INFORMATION Contact Press Office on 0121 711 5829 / 5855 / 5842
(these numbers can also be used during an emergency to contact a duty press officer)

Notes to Editors:

PlantTracker FAQs:

What are Invasive Non Native Species (INNS) and why are they a problem?
An INNS is any non-native animal or plant that has the ability to spread causing damage to the environment, the economy, our health and the way we live.  INNS pose threats to biodiversity, increase flood risk, and affect the state of our water environment. INNS cost the British economy a minimum of £1.7 billion per annum.

Which INNS is PlantTracker tackling?

Japanese Knotweed -  Common in urban areas, particularly on waste land, railways, road sides and river banks. Tall herbaceous perennial with bamboo-like stems.  It contributes to river bank erosion and so increases the likelihood of flooding.  It can cause structural damage (eg it can grow through asphalt). Spreads rapidly in the wild. 

Himalayan Balsam - Found mostly on river banks and in damp woodland. Easy to identify when in flower with showy pink flowers.  Can exceed 2m (6ft) in height and often grows in dense stands. It outcompetes our native plants, especially on river banks. 

Floating Pennywort - Found in still or slowly moving freshwater. Kidney-shaped leaves often appear round and are up to 7cm (3 inches) across.  Leaves either float on the water or are held slightly above it.  Plant grows in mats that spread across the water surface. It can grow up to 20cm per day and smother waterbodies.  Can outcompete native waterplants.


Why did you decide to develop an App to tackle INNS?
Obtaining accurate data about the distribution of invasive species is of paramount importance when it comes to assessing impact and formulating a response.  But data provision is often patchy and records are usually unverifiable and lacking accurate geographic reference.

The PlantTracker project has addressed these problems by combining the development of a smartphone application with the power of crowd-sourcing data collection.  Critically, each record collected is verifiable since it is comprised of a photograph along with other relevant metadata.  Records are also accurately geo-located since the app utilises the phone's inbuilt GPS capabilities.

Where has funding come from for the Planttracker App project?
70% of the funding has come from the Environment Agency, and 30% has come from the University of Bristol.

What we are going to do with the data that is submitted via the App?
We will be able to use the information to determine the extent of the problem, find out where the worst cases are and provide evidence for Local Action Groups to develop project funding bids to tackle INNS in their communities.

What if I don't live in the Midlands? Can I still use the App?
If you are visiting the Midlands you can submit records while you are in the area.  Records submitted from outside the Midlands will be analysed, just not as quickly as those from the Midlands.  It is hoped that in subsequent years the project will be expanded to cover the whole of the UK.

What are boundaries?
The boundaries are the Midlands region which includes the counties of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and West Midlands.

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