Mobile phone technology to tackle environmental threats
Press release issued: 6 September 2012
A mobile phone app developed at the University of Bristol has been rolled out nationally to help tackle a growing threat to the environment.
Despite having exotic sounding names such as Creeping Water-primrose, Parrot’s Feather and American Skunk-cabbage, non-native plants can cause a lot of damage.
They pose a threat to biodiversity, increase flood risk and affect the state of our water environment, costing the British economy a minimum of £1.7 billion per annum.
Tackling the problem in such a high-tech fashion is The Environment Agency which has teamed up with the Nature Locator Project at Bristol University and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).
The national launch of the PlantTracker app, developed by the University’s Nature Locator team, follows the success of a trial in the Midlands where people helped locate Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and Floating Pennywort - three particularly problematic INNS.
The app works by enabling the public to photograph 14 such invasive plant species they encounter and also obtains an accurate GPS location at the same time. The record is then submitted and verified by expert botanists and the results appear on the PlantTracker project website.
Dave Kilbey, the Nature Locator Project Manager, said: "This is a really exciting project which I believe is set to become a core service in tackling invasive plants in the UK, a problem which costs the UK economy hundreds of millions annually.
“Developing such apps through the Nature Locator project is proving to be an effective way to engage the public in scientific research which will ultimately be of great benefit to the environment.”
Previously, data collection was patchy, with records hard to verify 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.
The Nature Locator project team works in the research and development division of IT Services, which explores how the internet and other technologies can aid research, future learning and management processes.
The PlantTracker app is 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/ where people can follow the progress of the project.
Progress can also be followed on twitter using #PlantTracker and @envagencymids, or at www.facebook.com/naturelocator
Further informationWhat are Invasive Non Native Species (INNS) and why are they a problem?
INNS are any non-native animal or plant that have the ability to spread, causing damage to the environment, the economy, our health and the way we live. INNS pose a significant threat to biodiversity, often increase flood risk, and affect the state of our aquatic environment. INNS cost the British economy a minimum of £1.7 billion per annum. Some examples of INNS and their negative impacts include:
- Japanese Knotweed. This plant can grow through asphalt and concrete, contributes to river bank erosion, out-competes our native flora, increases the risk of flooding and is very difficult to get rid of.
- Himalayan Balsam can grow to over 2m high, forms dense stands that leave no space for native plants and also damages river banks by facilitating erosion.
- Floating Pennywort grows on water at a rate of up to 20cm per day, and can completely smother waterbodies in a matter of weeks.
Why did you decide to develop an App to tackle INNS?
PlantTracker was developed by The Environment Agency, the Nature Locator team at the University of Bristol, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to obtain accurate data about the distribution of invasive species. This is very important when it comes to assessing impact and formulating a response to the problem of INNS, 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.
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.
Further information about Nature Locator:
Nature Locator is a project team at the University of Bristol which designs and creates smartphone applications to involve the public with the collection of ecologically related data.
Nature Locator’s award-winning inaugural project ‘Leaf Watch’ was an app designed to collect information on an invasive moth which is threatening horse chestnut trees in the UK. A total of 5,500 records were collected from across the country in a four month recording period.