Tighter control measures must be brought in to stop the spread of a toxic plant
Tighter control measures must be brought in to stop the spread of a toxic plant that has left schoolchildren and dog walkers with "life-altering" injuries, an expert has said.
At least 10 people - including a seven-year-old girl - have said that an accidental brush against giant hogweed has led to large rashes and blisters.
Schoolgirl Annie Challinor went to A&E after coming into contact with the plant in Salford and has a large scar on her arm.
She said it did not hurt at first but after a while "there were massive blisters and they were popping. It felt like a bee was stinging me 28 times".
The large perennial herb originally from southwest Asia was first introduced in stately gardens in the 1800s as an ornamental plant but has since spread across the UK and grows freely, often near water, in derelict gardens, neglected urban places and on waste ground.
Dr Mark Spencer of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland said the plant is "at its most dangerous in the summer months when it is hot and sunny".
"This is when it is at its full growth and it is undoubtedly increasing in abundance and has been spreading for the last few decades which means more and more people are coming into contact with it."
Experts suggest bringing in an insect that feeds off the plant
Under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to plant or promote the growth of the plant and landowners must have it removed by specialists if it is found.
However, it is so widespread that experts say it is highly unlikely it will be eradicated completely.
But Dr Spencer said more can still be done.
"This plant is not only a danger to people but it's also a very aggressive plant competitor that's wreaking havoc to our plant life," he said.
"The most sensible control measure which is cost effective is investigating bio-control. This is where you find an insect or other organism that is a predator of giant hogweed then introduce it to the wild.
"This has been done with other non-native invasive species like Japanese Knotweed and is beginning to show positive signs."
Gardener Dean Simmons also ended up in hospital after his leg brushed against a plant in Bridgwater.
"I was in agony, so I dread to think how painful this is for all the kids getting injured by it. It's been weeks but I'm still very sore. Something needs to be done to stop this happening to others," he said.
Many of the incidents in recent weeks have occurred in or around public parks.
The Local Government Association told Sky News: "Councils take the maintenance and management of their parks and public spaces extremely seriously, and treat the safety and wellbeing of visitors and users as the highest priority.
"Council staff are alert to the potential harm hogweed can cause and will destroy it whenever it is found."
Dr Spencer said a public awareness campaign needs to be put into place to warn people not to touch the plant.
"This thing is a huge plant and we should be telling people to stay away from it. There was no need for these people to have life-altering injuries. We need to educate people," he said.
If you do come into contact with the plant, experts advise covering up the area of skin immediately to prevent sunlight reaching it - that is what sets off a reaction on the skin - then wash the area thoroughly.