Social Innovation: An App Called AshTag

Smartphones, an app called AshTag, and the British public, could be the winning social innovation combination to help save the country's 80 million ash trees from a devastating disease that has already wiped out millions of trees on the continent and has led to a ban on imports coming into force this November. The ash trees are suffering from Ash dieback, caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, and has now been found in the U.K. for the first time, raising fears of a repeat of Dutch elm disease which killed 25 million mature elms in the 1970s and 80s. Toby Hammond, one of the team behind the app at the Adapt Low Carbon Group at the University of East Anglia says, "Time is really of the essence, and we're hoping that Apple will support us in rushing any updates through the App store."

To track this outbreak and prevent the disease spreading across the country, a team of developers and academics have worked overnight to create a social innovation app that smartphone owners can use to report suspected cases of infection. People need to keep an eye out for lesions on the bark of the trees, along with leaves turning brown and wilting leaves at the tree's crown. Experts recognise that the arrival of autumn makes it harder to accurately spot brown leaves.

The AshTag app for IOS and Android devices allows users to submit photos and locations of sightings to a team who will refer them on to the Forestry Commission, which is leading efforts to stop the disease's spread with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This social innovation app is similar to other citizen-science crowdsourcing apps for wildlife, such as Pooter! used for mapping bees.

Prof Ian Boyd, DEFRA's chief scientist, has said, "Ecologically .it is going to change the countryside very significantly. Parallels have been made with Dutch elm disease of the 1970s. This is not good news for the countryside." While, the U.K.’s Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has said, "This is a very serious disease that demands action to stop its spread. I have ordered both an import ban and movement restrictions on trees from infected areas. This comes into force immediately." So far, there have been ten confirmed cases in established woodlands and hedgerows in East Anglia in early October and there are a further 12 suspected cases awaiting lab results in East Anglia and Kent.

The knock-on-effects of this outbreak is a serious threat to the U.K.’s forests and woods. A significant loss of ash trees could hit 60 of Britain's rarest insects which live in these trees. The lichens and mosses, which grow on its bark would also be destroyed. Ash trees and hedges an integral part of the British landscape would be scarred and the spread of the disease would be horrific. The AshTag social innovation app is one worth downloading by the British public.

Photo Credit: Ashtag web page

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