So I am currently in the process of compiling a UK pan-species list for myself, for those who aren’t aware of what such a thing is then let me enlighten you. Basically, it is one great big huge list of every single species you have seen and identified in a certain geographical area (in my case the UK), that includes EVERYTHING from plants to earwigs to birds to fungi to slime-moulds and all that falls between. This is something which is becoming increasingly popular with amateur and professional naturalists alike, largely because the core concept of it is to expand your knowledge and appreciation of ALL types of organism, especially the tricky, smaller ones that don’t get as much love as more charismatic and ‘easy’ things like birds and mammals.
I realised that I had lists for the birds, butterflies, dragonflies and moths which I have seen in Britain, so I thought that I might as well combine them all onto a big spreadsheet and include all the other organisms as well. The problem I have encountered is diversity, there are so many different groups of organism that exist beyond birds and butterflies – in my mind I thought ‘oh there’s not that many’ but when I sat down to enter all the different categories of life that I needed to make lists for I realised with dawning horror the enormity of the task I had set myself.
For example there are the bugs (Hemiptera), then the beetles (Coleoptera), then the grasshoppers (Orthoptera), the molluscs, the crustaceans, the fish, the fungi, the trees and the flowers, the Cnidaria and the Neuropterans and the Echinoderms and even the Raphidioptera. Trying to remember which species I have seen already, as after all I am 23 and have seen quite a few plants and animals that I was able to identify, seems nearly impossible without going through a field guide of each group and trying to recall what I have seen and what I haven’t.
Even the ones I have lists for already took ages to input all the species into the pan-species list spreadsheet – I thought to myself several times if this was really worth it. I mean, doesn’t sifting the beautiful diversity of the natural world into neat computerised columns and numbered lists rather take away from the emotional, spiritual, aesthetic enjoyment and connection I get when I have an experience or encounter with one of God’s creations? It can do I think, if all you end up seeing in nature is numbers on a list; rather than living, breathing, fighting and struggling pulses of beautiful life.
But I think for me, so far, the list is working. I have now identified the particular groups of organism that I have either neglected or ignored completely and I have realised how poor I have been with recording what I see and how little effort I have put into learning how to ID certain species groups. The list has also really made me think how incredibly varied life in just this one country is, how many different life-forms inhabit it and how different they are from each other. It has made me wonder anew at the complexity of creation and how special the many, many non-human creatures that share this Earth with us are – and that is a good thing.