Ecologist Annabel King is on the trail of aliens at large in Dorset and is asking for help. Plants like Japanese knotweed have been stalked since they first became a pest in the 20th century – but now the stalkers are closing in, thanks to new software for logging sightings.
The Dorset Environmental Records Centre has already adopted the Living Record software to log sightings of native species from butterflies to buttercups.
Now, in a project with Dorset County Council, the program is being used to log alien species too. Once sites are identified, highways engineers can concentrate their verge weedkilling programme on the biggest areas in an attempt to stop them spreading further.
Alien species such as Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam crowd out native species and have a variety of disadvantages. Japanese knotweed can damage hard structures such as buildings and roads, while giant hogweed produces toxic chemicals which can cause severe burns.
Ecologist Dr Annabel King is leading the hunt for the aliens. She said: "Highways engineers, rangers and others used to record sightings on paper while they were out and about, but this proved time-consuming and it was hard to see the big picture across Dorset.
"Living Record uses an online map to log sightings, which makes them much easier to see. Now staff can enter records via a hand-held console as soon as they see them, or online when they get back to the office – and members of the public can easily join in too.
"Anybody who can recognise these plants can help us by visiting www.derc.org.uk, registering and telling us where you found them."