EXPERTS are on the trail of aliens in Dorset.
‘Alien’ species of plants such as Japanese knotweed have been investigated since they first became a pest in the twentieth century.
Now the stalkers are closing in thanks to new software for logging sightings.
The Dorset Environmental Records Centre adopted the Living Record software to log sightings of native species from butterflies to buttercups. Now, in a project with Dorset County Council, the programme is also being used to log alien species.
Once the software identifies the sites, highways engineers can concentrate their verge weedkilling programme on the hotspots in an attempt to stop the plants spreading further.
Plants such as Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam crowd out native species. Japanese Knotweed can damage buildings and roads, while Giant Hogweed produces toxic chemicals which can cause severe burns.
Ecologist 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. I am putting on all the old records and verifying the new ones as they come in.”
She said members of the public who recognise the plants can help by logging on to derc.org.uk/general/livingRecord.htm. Dr King added: “We are concentrating on Japanese Knotweed first but the full list of plants we’re interested in can be found at the link above.”
People can also email sightings, including what they have seen and a description of where they found it, to firstname.lastname@example.org.