Sign this post to support the capitalising of English names of species

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 3 February 2022 10:15

Last year I wrote this post. It is by far the most viewed post I have ever written on this blog in 12 years of blogging, with over 3000 views! So I thought we needed to put a little more momentum into it. 

So, if you agree with the following statement, why not put your name to it and ideally, let me know who you work for OR say 'rather not say'. Either comment or message me directly. And please share this post like mad so we can get a big list of names going. Yes, some big organisations are doing it wrong but some are getting right, like Butterfly Conservation, BTO and (now) Sussex Wildlife Trust. And publications like British Wildlife and Adastra also get it bang on. If you can think of anymore, please feel free to comment too.

"English names of species should be correctly capitalised and hyphenated, effectively treated as 'proper names'. This should be mandatory and standardised, as is the format for scientific names. There are many different reasons to do this explained more fully in the above mentioned post but perhaps none are more troublesome than the fact that lower case should be reserved for the generic sense, i.e., we have three species of forester in the UK, one of which is the Forester (above). Without the species being correctly capitalised, there is no way to distinguish species from genus. And there are a many different ways this can go wrong, from Small Blue becoming small blue to Little Ringed Plover becoming little ringed plover. The excuse that "capitals look bad on the page" is not a valid excuse. If you are writing primarily about species, they should be written with capitals. 

  • Little Ringed Plover NOT little ringed plover
  • Mediterranean Gull NOT Mediterranean gull
  • Silver-washed Fritillary NOT silver washed fritillary
  • Forester (or The Forester) NOT forester (or the forester)

The argument that species should be treated as 'proper names' is important. Yes, each species might be comprised of countless millions of individuals but by definition, they are distinct at the genetic level. There is (roughly speaking) one distinct set of code per species. It is this that should be treated as a proper noun/name. If we can be bothered to capitalise the names of man-made dog breeds and models of cars, we owe it to the natural world too."

Organisations, publications and projects that get it right.

  • Sussex Ornithological Society
  • Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland
  • The Species Recovery Trust
  • Wild Ken Hill
  • Buglife (changed due to this campaign)
  • Pelagic Publishing (changed due to this campaign)
  • Butterfly Conservation (BC)
  • British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
  • Sussex Wildlife Trust (changed due to this campaign)
  • British Wildlife
  • NBN
  • iRecord
  • Recorder 6
  • British Birds
  • British Ornithologists' Union (BOU)
  • State of Nature
  • Back from the Brink
  • Adastra (Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre annual publication)

1). Graeme Lyons                  Freelance entomologist and ecologist

2). Tony Davis                       Senior Ecologist, Butterfly Conservation

3). Michael Pannell

4). Graeme Davis              Environmental Correspondent at Love Andover Observer

5). Simon Edwards               Self employed

6). Daniel Blyton                  Amateur entomologist

7). Mark Whittaker               Animal Welfare Assistant

8). Adrian Knowles              Self-employed Ecologist

9). Martin Bell                      Amateur naturalist

10). Mark G. Telfer              Entomological Consultant

11). Marilyn Abdulla           Amateur naturalist & wildlife recorder

12). Malcom Storey            Naturalist and wildlife recorder

13). Louis Parkerson           Amateur naturalist

14). Julian Small                 Peatland Restoration Advisor

15). John Pilgrim                Ecological Consultant

16). Su Reed                       Naturalist and wildlife recorder

17). Mike Wall                    County Moth Recorder for Hampshire

18). Terry Crow                  Amateur naturalist & wildlife recorder

19). Rachel Bicker             Airport Biodiversity Consultant

20). Matthew Oates            Field Naturalist and Nature Writer

21). Ralph Hobbs               County Recorder for Orthoptera, Sussex

22). David Green                Trustee of conservation organisation & Ecologist

23). Rich Billington   Associate Professor of Biology and amateur naturalist, University of Plymouth

24). Darren Matthews         Former wildlife ranger

25). John Lyden                  Biology teacher and amateur naturalist

26). Mariska Hattenburger  Amateur wildlife recorder

27). Jim Ormerod                Amateur birder & naturalist

28). Lloyd Davies                Amateur wildlife recorder

29). Judy Staines                  Amateur naturalist & wildlife recorder

30). Neil Fletcher                 Environment Support Officer, Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Environmental Record Centre.

31). Andy Musgrove             Ecological Consultant

32). Bill Urwin                      Naturalist, Marauder, Educationalist (retired)

33). Ai-Lin Kee                     Amateur Naturalist

34). Kevin Rylands                Conservation Adviser Fair to Nature & RSPB

35). John Martin                     Retired National Vascular Plant Specialist at Natural England

36). Marcus Lawson               Ex Dorset Bird Recorder & Dorset Bird Club Chairman

37). Mark Skevington             Amateur naturalist, pan-species lister and Naturespot verifier

38). Roman Soroka                 Armchair naturalist

39). Natasha Clark                  Amateur naturalist & wildlife recorder

40). Paul French                     Senior Ornithologist, HiDef aerial surveying

41). Les Evans-Hill                Butterfly Conservation Senior Data Officer

42). Dr Barry Yates                 Ecologist, land manager, studied Zoology at Imperial College in 1970s

43). Clive McKay                   Ecologist

44). Piers Vigus                      Management Consultant

45). Dave Gould                     Amateur naturalist and biological recorder

46). Marc Taylor                    County Recorder of Diptera, entomological field surveyor and trainer

47). Leon Truscott                 Cornwall County Moth Recorder

48). Dave Appleton                Birder, entomologist, all-round naturalist and wildlife recorder. County recorder for Neuroptera and allies

49). Paul Griggs

50). Alastair Rae

51). Alan Miller                     Wildlife tour leader

52). Jon Dunn                         Nature write, wildlife photographer and tour leader

53). Iain Downie                    eBird Developer, Arachnologist

54). Liam Crowlie                  Postdoctoral researcher, University of Oxford

55). Edward Pollard               Technical Director, the Biodiversity Consultancy

56). Steven Falk                     Associate Stickler

57). Chris Gibson                   Freelance naturalist, author, speaker and tour leader

58). Gino Brignoli                  FSC BioLinks Project Officer

59). Dave Smallshire              Retired policy advisor with Defra/NE & retired Naturetrek tour leader

60). Steve Preddy                   Co-author, Ornithological Society of the Middle East regional bird list, County Dragonfly Recorder, Monmouthshire

61). James Emerson                Amateur naturalist

62). Adrian Dutton                  Entomologist

63). Monty Larkin                Writer, retired conservation adviser and founder of Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust

64).  Sean Browne                 Amateur naturalist

65). Seth Gibson                    Amateur naturalist on a mission        

66). Bill Sutherland                Professor of Conservation Biology, University of Cambridge

67). Tristan Bantock               Entomologist

68). Alex Prendergast             Vascular Plants Senior Specialist, Natural England

69).  Adam Rowe                    LERC Manager            

70).  Nigel Wheatley               Author of books on birds      

71). Carey Lodge                    Amateur recorder

72). Hawk Honey                   Visitor Officer, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, amateur Hymenopterist

73). Elizabeth Jude

74). Pete Holdaway

75). Vince Smith

76). Jeremy Dagley

77). Finley Hutchinson          Amateur entomologist

78). Paul Tout                        Naturalist, translator

79). Dan Asaw                       BioLinks Courses

80). Ian Carter                       Naturalist and author

81). Graham White               Ecologist

82). Dawn Balmer                 Ornithologist

83). Mike Hoit                       Ornithologist and field ecologist

84). Richard Mabbut             Amateur botanist recording in VC55

85). Tim Inskipp                    Naturalist and author

86). Dawn Nelson                  Botanist

87). Alistair Shuttleworth       Amateur naturalist

88). Hillary Melton-Butcher 

89). Jeremy Lindsell               Director of Science and Conservation, A Rocha International

90). Linda Robinson               VC65 (Botanical) Recorder

91). Thomas Curculio             Author and amateur entomologist

92). Audrey E. Turner             Butterfly recorder for VC95/Moray

93). Sarah Whild                     Botanist and biological recorder

94). Alyson Freeman               VC32 Botanical recorder

95). Peter Llewellyn                Botanist

96). Richard Goldlfinch          Amateur naturalist

97). Ian Bennallick                  BSBI recorder for East Cornwall

98). Mike Crewe                      Tour guide, environmentalist and editor

99). Chris Vincent                    Amateur naturalist and moth recorder

100). Jayne Chapman               Estate and Conservation Manager, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

101). Rebecca Jones                 Marine Ornithologist, Natural England

102). Jason Steel                       Amateur wildlife photographer

103).  Owen Beckett                 Entomologist

104).  Sam Buckton                   Yorkshire Naturalists Union/British Plant Gall Society

105). Sam Stripp                        Amateur naturalist

106). Paul Hopkins                    Amateur naturalist

107). Mark Lawlor                    Guernsey bird recorder and naturalist

108). Steve Smith                      Dorset birder

109). Andy Butler                      Derbyshire birder

110). Kevin Clements                Naturalist and Green Space Manager

111). Diana Spencer                  Bats in Churches

112). Neil Hulme                       Freelance ecologist and wildlife guide

113). Robin Knill-Jones             Retired academic and Lepidoptera recorder

114). Paul Tinsley-Marshall       Conservation Evidence Manager, Kent Wildlife Trust

115). Matt Phelps                       Conservationist and write

116). Savanna van Mesdag        PhD student

117). Chris Glanfield                  Amateur naturalist

118). Denise Wawman               Amateur naturalist, Hippobosciade recorder and bird ringer

119). Sam Bayley                       Consultant Ecologist/Ornithologist

120). Rob Grimmond

121). Tylan Berry                        County recorder for spiders in Cornwall

122). Ian Hartley                        Editor Bird Study, Senior Lecturer , Lancaster University

123). Paul Dolman                     Professor of Conservation Ecology at University of East Anglia

124). Mike Mullis                      Naturalist

125). Tom Simon                       Senior Countryside Officer, Epping Forest District Council

126). Liz Palmer                        Birdwatcher

127). Richard Moore

128). Steph Holt                         Ecologist

127). Bill Honeywell

128). Chris Raper                       Manager of the UK Species Inventory, The Natural History Museum

129). Andy Marquis                   Amateur naturalist

130). Rosemary Parslow            BSBI Recorder, Isles of Scilly

131). Rob Large                         Field Ecologist

132). Steve Dudley                    COO, British Ornithologists' Union

133). George McGavin              Zoologist, entomologist, broadcaster and President of Dorset Wildlife Trust

134). Jake Everitt                      Countryside and Ecology Manager

135). Robbie Still                      Digital Transformation Officer at Kent Wildlife Trust

136). Tom Gittings                    Ecological Consultant

137). Lee Dingain                     Naturalist, ecological consultant, nature writer, conservationist

138). Julian Hughes                  Editor of the Welsh Bird Report

139). Tim Thomas                    Environmental Consultant

140). Steve Elcoate

141). Tony Perry

142). Steve Lister                     Lifelong birder/naturalist, retired county bird recorder and & annual report write, eBird regional reviewer

143). David @the Hall of Einer    Wildlife and nature blogger

144). Warren Maguire              Marine Isopod Recording Scheme and linguist

145). Cath Hodsman                Insect Artist

146). Libby Morris                   Amateur naturalist, student and wildlife artist

147). Joe Beale                         Naturalist

148). Josie Hewitt                     Amateur naturalist

149). Bob Vaughan

150). Kelly Thomas                  Senior Ecologist

151). Howard Vaughan             All round naturalist, RSPB

152). Jane Thomas                    Amateur naturalist

153). Lee Hurell                       Lepidopterist and English teacher

154). Steve J. McWilliam

155). Tim Jonas                         Amateur naturalist and photographer

156). Philip Amies                   Retired estate land manager and ecological consultant

157). Dr Phil Saunders            Ecologist/ornithologist

158). Ben Lewis                      Conservation warden, bird charity

159). Bob Foreman                  Biodiversity Data Lead, Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre

160). Mary Atkinson                Field naturalist

161). Harry Hussey                  Consultant ornithologist

162). Sue Loader                      Amateur naturalist and recorder

163). Ian Lewis                         Retired Biochemical Scientist

164). Tom Derutter

165). Martin Roberts                County Dragonfly Recorder and amateur naturalist

166). Dan Brown           

167). James Lowen                  Naturalist and author       

168). Mark Duffell                   Botanist, botanical lecturer and surveyor

169). Paul Doherty                   York birder and producer of wildlife videos

170). John Moon

171). Samantha Batty               Horticulturalist and wildlife recorder

172). Brigit Strawbridge           Amateur naturalist and author

173). Graham Madge

174). Shaun Pryor                     Ecological consultant

175). Robert Edgar                    Retired English Nature Conservation Officer

176). Tony Stones

177). Dan Chaney                      Birder

178). Ottavio Janner                  Birder and translator

179). Vanna Bartlett 

180). Robin Harris                    Amateur naturalist

181). Penny Green                    Ecologist

182). Joshua Styles                   Botanical Specialist

183). Glenn Norris                    Ecologist, Sussex Wildlife Trust

184). Simon Hedges                 Conservationist

185). John Hancox

186). Andy Brown                    Principal Specialist, Species Conversation

187). James Lowther                Molecular Biologist

188). Phil T                               Lifelong birder

189). Lee Walther                     National Trust Ranger

190). Dr Clive McKay              Ecologist

191). Dr Roger Kendrick          Director, C & R Wildlife, Hong Kong. Founder: Asian Lepidoptera Conservation Symposium series. 

192).  Chloe Edwards                Director of Nature Recovery, Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust

193).  John Burnham                 Amateur entomologist and photographer

194). Tim Dixon

195). Mariko Whyte                  Conservation Officer, Dorset Wildlife Trust

196). Ian Ellis                           Consultant Ecologist

197). Richard Lewington          Wildlife Illustrator

198). Suzy White

199). James Langiewicz           Amateur naturalist

200). Dawn Langiewicz             Amateur naturalist

201). Liam Olds                       Entomologist and organiser of the National Oil Beetle Recording Scheme

202). Stephen Wadsworth        Ornithologist and Naturalist

203). Brian Clews

204). Wil J. Heaney                 Ecologist/entomologist

205). Alastair Forsyth              Retired ecology technician and teacher, now amateur entomologist

206). Alison Cobbing              Amateur naturalist

207). Toby Collett                   Warden

208). Frances Abraham           Sussex Botanical Recording Society

209). Mike Edwards                Entomologist

210). John Boback                  American naturalist

211). Clare Blencowe             Head of Sussex Biological Records Centre

212). Dom Price                      Director, the Species Recovery Trust

213). Stewart Sexton               Amateur naturalist

214). Libby Ralph

215). Anne Donnelly                Data Officer at ERIC NE

216). Nigel Jennings                Volunteer Group Leader, Kent Wildlife Trust

217). Dr Gordon McGlone OBE      Conservationist and campaigner

218). Ian Boyd                         Ecologist

219). Derek Crawley

220). Talya S. Davies


My big fat crazy spider year

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 31 December 2021 17:54

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 2021. The weirdest year EVER that very nearly was a total write-off (apart from several awesome things that happened). One of those was the spider year listing challenge, that ran through 2021 like a thread of fine spider silk, stitching my life together like arachnological punctuation. This is the third and FINAL year that I have done this and I will NOT be doing it next year.

The rules: See as many spider species as you can in the UK between 1st Jan and 31st Dec 2021. You have to see it yourself in the wild (but you don't have to find it yourself). Now I wasn't going to do it again in 2021, in fact I didn't even go out in the field until late March and even then I wasn't going to take part. But by the end of June, simply through so much varied and complementary field work, I had amassed a big list and this included some real megas. Many of which were from the baseline monitoring I am setting up at Blean for the Wilder Blean project. So suddenly I thought, this might be the foundation for a really big list this year. I had reached 392 in 2019 and that was a mission. Was 400 possible?

Well, yeah. The final score was 473! I reckon that 500 would of been possible if I had managed to get to Scotland in November but due to weather, the pandemic and work commitments, I called it off. And I was lucky to not be trapped in a pub for a whole weekend with an Oasis cover band. So the season finale was a trip to down to see Tylan in Devon and Cornwall where I added 18 new spiders for the year, eight of which were lifers. I REALLY wanted to get to 500 to stop me from trying to do this again. 

So, 473 species is just under 70% of the UK's spiders. Of these, 53 species were new to me in 2021. There are only a further 38 species that I have seen on top of this (meaning I have now seen 511 spiders in the UK - almost 75% of all our spiders). Here are some of the highlights from 2021. 

A massive thanks to ALL the people that helped throughout the year but especially Tylan who was a great sport to compete with and did amazing to get to 400 species without living in the south east (I definitely have an advantage here). |Here is the mighty Arctosa fulvolineata. Which involved an epic dash across Devon and some frantic stone-turning, only to find four under one stone. It's big. It's beefy. And it has a dreamy creamy stripe. It's also a saltmarsh obligate which is well cool and quite unusual for spiders like this. A great December record too.

Perhaps he highlight for me though was Pistius truncatus at Blean. Not seen in the UK for 20 years, I found two immatures two months and less than 50 m apart. It has since been found in two other areas within Blean.

Even rarer and also at Blean was the novelty-headed bead-knob spider, Walckenaeria mitrata. Behold it's knob! Last seen in UK in 2004!

And Tylan took me to see these new aliens in Plymouth. What a brute of spider and what weird webs they have. Like fake Halloween webs. Badumna longinqua.

I added a couple of nice jumpers in 2021. Calositticus floricola has to be my favourite. Found this new to Staffordshire.

And also Calositticus caricis at a known site in Surrey.

Back to Staffordshire, thanks to Joshua Styles I was able to see Gnaphosa nigerrima at its two known sites in one day.

And in Surrey, the rather attractive Cheiracanthium pennyi. Phwoar.

Back to Sussex, Eratigena picta from Amberley Chalk Pit. On the second attempt. 

But on the first attempt, I picked up Centromerus albidus. The first UK record since...1969!!! And a new county record. This is probably spider of the year but it was very small and very dull and very dead by the time I looked at it. So it's not really a 'front cover' species. But I mean. Phwoarrr! Right?

A trip to Sherwood Forest with Richard Gallon and Tylan Berry produced an epic haul. The highlight being a male Mastigusa macrophthalma! Look at those palps!

Earlier that day, a walking Malteser. Meta bourneti in a drain!

An after dark trip to Surrey to see the incredible Alopecosa fabrilis with Mike Waite. What an incredible beast. Mike that is, LOL ;) (this spider is also featuring on the front of this post).

And also from Surrey. A myrmecophile money spider with a comb-over and tiny eyes. Acartauchenius scurrilus. As unpronounceable as it is weird.

I mean. I could just put picture after picture up now it was such a good year but what I think I will do is post the whole list. Here are all 473 species in alphabetical order with the species new to me in 2021, highlighted in bold. But as I suspect this is where I will lose all but the most hardcore arachnologists, I'll summarise this as follows (in terms of spiders and then in terms of other stuff): Spiders first. It was insane year. 473 is unlikely to be beaten easily BUT if time (and to a lesser extent money) were no issue, it could easily be done with a bit of prep. Scotland is probably essential. 

Other stuff. It was an insane year. I lost a dear friend, Tony Gowland. Mum has been really unwell too and is back in hospital again now as of Christmas Eve (get well soon Mum) and this very soon after Dad passing away in Nov 2020 has been tough. Six months of something weird in my leg from a Lincolnshire cornfield is still, two biopsies later, undiagnosed. But just when you thought it was a total write-off, something unexpected happened at the end of 2021. I got my act together and after a four year hiatus, started dating again and now have a girlfriend and she's awesome! Here's to a better 2022! Happy New Year ya'll. Now eat my list.

450 spiders in a year IS possible!

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday, 5 November 2021 17:06

This is Clubiona rosserae. It's a nationally rare/vulnerable species known from a handful of fens in East Anglia only. It's an important spider for me as I reached two significant milestones yesterday at the same time. Firstly, this is my 450th species of spider this year. That's 58 species more than 2019 and with nearly two months to go. There are lots of trips planned before the challenge ends on the 31st December. Is 500 possible? I doubt it. But 475 surely is. It's the 44th new species of spider I've had this year too.

It's also my 500th species of spider ever in the UK. Which bizarrely means that there are only 50 species of spider I've ever seen that I've not seen this year.

Yesterday, I went to Chippenham Fen and met up with Mike Taylor, Helen Smith and Alan Thornhill. It was very wet underfoot, so suction sampling was a struggle and sieving very messy. The other new species for the year was Hygrolycosa rubrofasciata. There were lots of spiderlings of these, the only place I have definitely seen this species before.

I might also have found Walckenaeria alticeps at last but the specimen ended up in someone else's pocket. That will be a lifer if it is that species.

So next up, I have some trips planned out to furthest West Sussex looking for a couple of Centromerus species and then Sunday it's Dungeness to look for Apostenus fuscus.

Pretty pleased with 450 species, especially as I didn't think I was going to do it this year! Only need about six species to get two two thirds of the UK fauna in a year.

Here is a shot Helen took of a fen creeper.

Pretty as a picta

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 21 August 2021 18:30

I went back to Amberley Chalk Pit today but this time, Tylan was with me. We got one of the target species. This is the first record of Eratigena picta in the UK since 2009. It was first found in the UK at Amberley Chalk Pit in 1982, but it hasn't been seen there since 1997. Now I am pretty sure I have been rearing a tiny one for the last two months since I first went there in early July, it's shed its skin twice but is still way smaller than all the ones we saw today. It's a nationally rare/vulnerable species only ever known from four hectads, and last recorded by Scotty on the North Downs in 2009.

As an adult, this thing is maybe just a little bigger than Tegenaria silvestris (which is abundant here but more tied to the scree).

Tylan was really good at finding them and it soon became clear it wasn't in the scree (like the one I found in July was) but on the slopes around the roots of the plants. The gentle rain helped highlight the webs.

Here are some more shots. I really like the speckled cephalothorax. It's really unlike any spider I have seen and the epigyne looks more like a big liny's, such as a Neriene. Here are some more shots.

And a fungus-infected Amaurobius ferox. What a strange looking thing. I have retained the specimen and will hopefully get it sent to the county specialist for identification.

That's 345 species for the year. Great to see Tylan after nearly a year. A nice distraction from everything else that's going on. He's closing on me now though, so it's still all to play for, for 2021!

A big thanks to Amberley Heritage Museum for their help too!

Why English names of species should ALWAYS be capitalised

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday, 19 August 2021 15:59

So this has been a pet hate of mine for years. And after a rant on Twitter recently, I thought it was best to put all my thoughts down on this in one place. Firstly, this is not a rant at inexperienced naturalists,  those with a passing interest or those new to the subject. This is very much directed at those who are intentionally spelling the names of species in lower case. It's mainly nature conservation charities, natural history writers and journalists. And of course, Wikipedia! New nature conservation projects that start up are now incorrectly following this trend and there isn't really a resistance pushing back on this. Just because its written like this on Wikipedia, it really doesn't mean it's right!

But before anyone says it, I am 100% pro scientific names. This isn't about that. This is about having a standardised, scientific and useful structure to how we write about species in English. Quite often, I would find any scientific names would be kicked out of any writing I did BUT on top of this, the correctly capitalised English names would be written in lower case. It's infuriating. I'm also not talking here about globalised names like Eurasian Nuthatch. It's a Nuthatch as far as I am concerned. But that's a different argument. 

Since I started this blog over eleven years ago, I have only ever displayed just the English names, ONLY when they are in regular use. So, for macro moths, butterflies, dragonflies, crickets etc. Beyond that I tend to use English names with the scientific name or just the scientific name if there is no standardised/regularly used English name at all. Many people new to entomology will not know that many English names have been created in recent years and are not in wide use by entomologists. This can lead to a difficult situation where newcomers are talking a different language to specialists. For this reason, I am not condoning using English names over scientific names at all and I encourage beginners to not be afraid of scientific names and to embrace them even. 

This is is simply about having a standardised approach to how we write these common names. The dumbing down of English names and the resistance against using scientific names are connected though. They are both areas we are failing in our nature writing, assuming people can't cope with anything complex. We are pandering to the lowest common denominator and it's a big part of why so many complex issues in conservation are so poorly understood by the general public. 

But get this, the natural world is REALLY, REALLY complicated. Simple solutions to complex problems do not work. In fact they are really harmful. So we should be embracing complexity and nuance.

I digress. Here's why it's a bad idea to write species names in English in lower case.

It's confusing

I once wrote a piece about Scarce 7-spot Ladybirds. The name was reduced to scarce 7-spot ladybird and an image was sourced of a 7-spot ladybird with the adjective scarce put in front of it. As you know, 7-spot Ladybird is not scarce. In fact, it's my most frequently recorded invertebrate. While Scarce 7-spot Ladybird is indeed quite scarce. A totally different species with a very different ecology.

But this works the other way around too. I once had my adjectives in front of scientific names mistaken for species names in a report. Well, if your house style is to do this, why would you assume any otherwise? Another reason to not have such a ridiculous 'house style' in the first place, especially when you have limited knowledge of the species you are publishing information on. It went like this. I had written something like "the scarce deadwood click beetle Ampedus elongantulus". Now the scientific name was discarded to find the text now talking about the 'scarce deadwood click beetle' as if it were a species name. This was done to a number of species from some text I had written. Infuriating!

There is more info in these capitals than some people realise

We have three species of forester in the UK (metallic green day-flying moths). Yes, you read that right. It's lower case because I am not referring to a species here, in fact I am referring to three species from two genera. They are; Cistus Forester, Scarce Forester and the Forester. It's very easy to get the Forester in the strict sense of the species confused with forester in the generic sense. There's the rub. There is meta data in those capitals telling you that it's a species. Distinct from being a genus, family or some other way of grouping things together. They are all shown at the top of this post but here is the Forester, perhaps the hardest one to find in Sussex.

And not far behind the lower case names is the abandonment of hyphens

Not always the case but if hyphens are going to be dropped or used incorrectly, it's often when species are written in lower case. Take for example the plant White Beak-sedge. In lower case it reads white beak-sedge and if you drop the hyphen, it's now white beak sedge. Now how can you tell what genus that's in? Is it a sedge (Carex) or a beak-sedge (Rhynchospora). There is yet more more meta data here. And you know what? No one should get to take that away and leaved behind some reduced form of a name that has less information in it, in the name of 'style' or easy reading. 

The arguments for using lower case are utterly unconvincing

They are: it's too complicated. Rubbish. Is it too complicated to write your name, a book, a film or a place correctly? Of course it isn't. It is only confusing because we now have two systems (and some other variants in between these two systems) working concurrently. It's no surprise when newcomers reach for Wikipedia that they start writing them incorrectly in lower case. It doesn't read well. Again, total nonsense. Just look up and see if it reads badly. Or read British Wildlife or any of the other publications that get it right. No one ever died from reading a capital letter or two in the middle of sentence. Capitals are going out of fashion. Yeah this one really doesn't wash with me for all the reasons under 'it's too complicated'. I'm aware language can change but not all change is good or should be embraced. It's grammatically incorrect. And finally we get to the real sticking point. They are not proper nouns (apparently). Hence why we end up with the hideous chimera of naming styles, such as Cetti's warbler and Mediterranean gull. Yuck! And here I will explain why I believe it is perfectly correct to think of these names as proper nouns...

There can be no better use of proper nouns than to denote species names

When we talk about species, we are not talking about individuals. We are talking about genetically distinct life forms, each with a near enough UNIQUE genetic code. It's the code we are really talking about. This is therefore a more than adequate reason to use proper nouns when referring to them. It would also draw the naming inline with the scientific nomenclature to some extent. It would result in less confusion.

These names mean a lot to naturalists

I have met very few recorders, naturalists and entomologists who actually like the lower case names, literally less than five people I've encountered have ever strongly stuck up for it. While I have met hundreds of naturalists who detest it. To me, it is a significant part of the name, in many cases taken away from us by people working outside of the field. And as said above, there is a reduced name left behind, with considerable margins for error. I just can't keep quiet about it any more. So I decided to get organised.

I mean how can a Subaru Forester be seen as a 'compound proper noun' but a Cistus Forester isn't? Yet more examples of how the natural world is seen as inferior to things that have been created by people. OK, I see why Subaru is a proper noun, it's a make. Fair enough but the Forester part? Each of those vehicles coming off the production line follows a blueprint that makes them similar to one another but different to other models of that make. So how is that any different to what I'm talking about here? The grammatical rules are not clear cut and as mentioned above, can you think of a better example than to use them? Language is fluid and flexible. We should use a set of rules IF they work in favour of bettering that area of language. There is a clear case for that here.

Having a standardised and structured approach to English names would therefore benefit recording and the natural world. With less ambiguity on how names are written we can bring some of the rigour that we have from scientific names into the English names of species. There is no better time to be having this conversation as so many new people are getting into wildlife recording and ecological restoration and as mentioned above, they are usually hungry for English names of species at first.

What can you do?

Well if you're having this thrust upon you by your organisation or boss, tell them that you're not happy with it and why. Try and push them in the right direction. Feel free to send them this blog.

When you write an article for someone, tell them how the names are going to be written. Use it as a negotiating point for giving someone the work. You can only use my photo or text if you spell the name correctly etc.

If these things don't work, just write them correctly and see what happens. If enough people have to spend ages putting names into lower case then surely they will get the message one day. It's the naturalists providing the content, I really think we have some leverage here.

When new projects are set up, give people a steer in the right direction. There is a tendency to reach for Wikipedia. But you would be better reaching for a field guide, British Wildlife, the NBN gateway species accounts or the JNCC Taxon Designations spreadsheet.

Let's properly get organised. If there is anyone out there that feels as passionately about this as I do, drop me a message or a comment and you can join a growing number of us who are proper fed up with this.

You might also detect a little anger in my tone here. You'd be right! To have this inflicted upon you from the very first piece of writing you ever did for years is utterly infuriating. But we did work on Sussex Wildlife Trust over the years and they have brilliantly switched to writing species in capitals, a really positive move and this shows how much this particular wildlife trust puts recording, wildlife and science over style and trends. A really progressive step forward. So it can be done! 

Who would you rather be on the side of? The style gurus and the grammar police or the passionate naturalists who actually write the content and know what they are talking about? 

I really don't think this should ever have been a 'choice'. We should have one system.

The Revolution Starts Here!

Nature Blog Network