Today’s Write Club 2011 post comes from VP, aka @Malvernmeet; she blogs at Veg Plotting.

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Ever since I first spotted the signs of damage on the horse chestnut trees by my house a few years ago, I’ve been keeping my eye on the seemingly inexorable increase of the culprit: the horse chestnut leaf miner. This year I’ve counted just 14 conkers on my local trees and the damaged leaves look worse than ever.

I picked a couple of the flatter leaves from my nearest tree and placed them on the small light box I have at home. The above picture is the result. The brown areas are the now dead leaf tissue eaten through by previous generations of the moth earlier in the year. The yellowy green almost circular ‘splodges’ are where the current generation reside. Look closely and you can just see a slightly darker larva shape within.

I cut open the leaf and managed to extract one of the larvae. It’s hard to imagine how such a small creature – impossible to photograph with my point and shoot camera and about 1cm in length – is exacting so much harm on one of the stateliest of our trees, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in numbers.

I was feeling quite depressed about this until I found out about some research being carried out by Bristol and Hull Universities. They’re mapping the extent of the leaf miner population and have developed a couple of smartphone apps – one for the iPhone and the other for android – to enlist your help. All you need to do is download the appropriate free app to your phone and then complete the simple form to load your data up to the project.

Don’t have a smartphone (like me), but would still like to help with the project? Don’t worry, you can register and submit your information via the Our Web of Life alien moth survey website. It’s very easy to do, though it helps if you know the postcode close to where the tree(s) are. A zoomable satellite picture helps you pinpoint your tree and you then just simply click on the appropriate picture to record your estimate of the damage, then another to say what the ground’s like underneath. Simple!

NB recording undamaged trees is just as important as recording those that are, not only for monitoring the spread of the leaf miner, but possibly also pinpointing any trees which may be resisting an attack in some way.

I think this is a brilliant use of technology which helps to gather far more data than could be managed by the researchers working on their own. Over 8,000 people have added their contributions already and you can see some of the preliminary results on the Leaf Watch blog. How about joining me and adding yours?