The state of pan-species listing at the end of 2016

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 31 December 2016 09:14

Well, 2016 has been the worst year and for a multitude of reasons, I am very glad it's over. Natural history was kind to me though, with the find of my career landing in front of me whilst the rest of the pan-species community were having the annual field meeting up at Holm in Norfolk. A meeting I was not able to attend as I had too much freelance work to do wandering hundreds of miles around winter wheat fields when it jumped out in front of me. Oh the irony. Have I mentioned Calosoma sycophanta by the way? Yes? Sorry, didn't think I had.

Anyway, this is my annual post about the PSL community (couldn't help gripping everyone off one last time there). So, last year I wrote this post a few months late after grabbing the data in Tasmania of all places. I'll follow the same format, so here is the top ten from the rankings and the changes that have took place in the last year.

2015 2016 Change
1 Jonty Denton 12240 12399 159
2 Dave Gibbs 11110 11327 217
3 Mark Telfer 7172 7478 306
4 The late Eric Philp 6878 6878 0
5 Simon Davey 6513 6722 209
6 Brian Eversham 6271 6650 379
7 Nicola Bacciu 6074 6515 441
8 Graeme Lyons 6029 6398 369
9 Malcolm Storey 5915 6230 315
10 Matt Prince 5840 6142 302

So there are no actual changes in the top ten rankings order. Last year I added the 100th lister which was Rowan Alder on 903. Now it's Adam Harley on 1183. He might not of updated for two years or more but it shows that the top 100 listers have all seen 1183 species or more, a jump of 280 species! That's really great stuff.  Our youngest lister remains 12 with a new recruit in the form of young lad from Northern Ireland and our oldest is 72. Thanks in part to James McCulloch's excellent article on PSL in Wingbeat about him reaching 2000 species, we had a wave of under 20's joining the rankings with 10 people listed now! The average remains 38 with 75 people having submitted their age now. We have 381 users on the website (up from 300) with 192 on the rankings (up from 154). The facebook group has been quieter this year but it works fine with 288 people (up from 261).

So, what about the site rankings?

2015 2016
1   Wicken Fen 8674 Wicken Fen 8674
2   Esher Commons 7945 Esher Commons 7945
3   RSPB Minsmere 5928 RSPB Minsmere 5928
4   Thorn Moors 5052 Thorn Moors 5052
5   RSPB Abernethy 4735 RSPB Abernethy 4735
6   RSPB The Lodge 4290 RSPB The Lodge 4290
7   Hatfield Forest 4184 SWT Rye Harbour 4274
8   SWT Rye Harbour 3540 Hatfield Forest 4184
9   Northwich Community Woodlands 3118 SWT Ebernoe Common 3708
10   SWT Iping & Stedham 2800 Northwich Community Woodlands 3118

The changes are in bold. The only changes here have been those made by myself in the last week by updating the Rye Harbour list with Chris Bentley and adding the Ebernoe Common list, this is still a part of PSL and the website that hasn't really taken off. My recent work on pan-listing the whole of Sussex Wildlife Trust's reserves is hoped to help reinvigorate this by showing the benefits to maintaining site PSL lists. Watch out RSPB the Lodge, Chris Bentley will have that 6th place slot by the end of 2017!

And now for the top taxa listers. Again changes in bold.

2015 2016
Algae Jony Denton 288 288
Slime Moulds Malcolm Storey 51 51
Protists Jony Denton 24 24
Lichens Simon Davey 1195 1228
Fungi Malcom Storey 1391 1391
Bryophytes Simon Davey 467 480
Vascular Plants John Martin 2205 2278
Sponges Richard Comont   8 12
Comb-jellies Lee Johnson   2 3
Cnidarians Richard Comont 37 44
Molluscs Jonty Denton 216 222
Bryozoans Richard Comont 23 27
Annelids Richard Comont 48 51
Platyhelminth worms Brian Eversham 17 18
Sea-spiders Richard Comont 4 4
Arachnids Jonty Denton 492 493
Myriapods Keith Lugg 71 77
Crustaceans Brian Eversham 98 99
Springtails Richard Comont 35 44
3-tailed Bristletails Mark Telfer   6 8
Odonata Mark Telfer, Dave Gibbs 48 48
Orthopteroids Mark Telfer 41 41
Hemipteroids Jonty Denton 850 861
Hymenoptera Dave Gibbs 792 809
Coleoptera Mark Telfer 2562 2632
Diptera Dave Gibbs 3123 3146
Butterflies Seth Gibson 62 62
Moths Tony Davis 1617 1628
Remaining small  Jonty Denton 194 195
Echinoderms Richard Comont 19 19
Tunicates Richard Comont 17 22
Fish Richard Comont 95 97
Reptiles Dave Gibbs,  Richard Comont   9 9
Seth Gibson, James Harding-Morris, Simon Davey  
Paul Clack  
Amphibians Jonty Denton 13 13
Birds Dave Gibbs 519 527
Mammals Mark Telfer 64 64
Other animals Jonty Denton 36 36
TOTAL 16739 17051
So lots of new records broken there! It feels like PSL is really starting to reach a wider and much younger audience and this has to be a good thing, I wish I had had PSL when I was 12 I can tell you! It's been so rewarding to see this unfold and to know that I've personally been so involved at making the website happen and promoting the movement etc. 

This year I've done a talk on PSL in pub in Brighton. I'd had two pints before I started and I have to say it's so much more fun doing talks when you can swear like a trooper! It turned in to stand up by the end but I got the message across. I must make an effort to get out more to do natural history for fun, almost all of my ticks this year have been through work again. This is hugely rewarding and I think is when PSL works best but it's not a good way to stay in the top ten!

Anyway, I will try and make the field meeting this year rather than working (did I mention I saw Calosoma sycophanta during the last field trip?) so I can finally meet some of the community, in the meantime, happy listing and let's hope 2017 is a better year than 2016!

So I pan-listed the WHOLE Sussex Wildlife Trust

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 29 December 2016 12:48

Pan-species listing: If you haven't heard of it yet, then where have you been for the last six years? Seriously though, if you need a re-cap have a look at our most excellent website. My own personal pan-species list has took something of a back seat over the last two months and so has entering records. The reason: You see, on the website beyond your own personal quest to see as many species as possible we set up the 'location rankings' too. This way a site can have a pan-species list, collated down the decades by a complementary consortium of naturalists. This, I always thought would have profound implications for wildlife conservation...but the dream of every reserve manager in the UK creating and maintaining a pan-species list for their sites never took off. Yet.

So I felt like I needed to kick start things and show everyone the benefits. Now I'd had a stab at some of our sites before but I hadn't maintained a list, just the species totals. So what better way is there to celebrate all the amazing wildlife I help look after than to know EXACTLY what it is and, to really add some value to it, WHEN (year) it was last recorded. So I started it and I've just 'finished' it. Obviously it will never be finished and it's been designed to be continuously updated. This is the first of a series of posts I'm going to write to explain why I did it, what can be done, what analysis there is and how to come to terms with my life after the list (maybe to get ALL the wildlife trusts to create one mega-list?!). So not too many spoilers yet on the stats, I'm going to drip feed them as I actually figure out new and novel ways to analyse this behemoth of a spreadsheet. So where to start? Perhaps with why. And what I think we'll be able to use it for.

  • Straight off, fun and interesting facts. I can now pretty much tell you anything about the species on our sites. Such as we have recorded 9770 species (expect this to be constantly changing). 5537 of these are insects and 6188 are invertebrates. 63.3% of everything recorded on our reserves is an invertebrate. Vertebrates come in at 406 species (4.2%). And people wonder why I am always banging on about insects? Anyway, this is going to be a treasure trove for the Communications team. Take for example 'unique' species. Species seen on only one of the 32 sites. Of the 9770 species, 3799 have only been seen at one site! (38.9%). Rye Harbour has the lion's share of uniques with 1276 being recorded there (29.9% of what is there has only been recorded there on our reserve network). All the photos in the above collage are of unique species. Perhaps analysing by reserve manager will be the most controversial (i.e. who has the most species on their reserves - and yes I have already done it!).

  • It has value in its own right as an inventory of what we have and when it was last recorded. Using the conservation statuses, you can do all sorts of analyses on site quality. You can also use this to inform the management plans. The biological site description is going to be rather effortless from now on. The plan from now is to only update each site from the records that come in to the SxBRC when the plans are up for renewal or mid-term renewal, every five years basically. This is only then a few hours work. In the mean time...

  • A copy of the spreadsheet will be given to anyone that wants it: Reserve managers, volunteers, keen naturalists. They can then update and fill in the gaps but the deal is EVERYTHING has to be submitted to the SxBRC, putting it in the spreadsheet doesn't count other than as a guide for these people on the ground as it is the records that are put in to SxBRC that will be used to update, by me, every five years. The plans are all on a rotation, three or four come up each year. Only three staff are going to have access to the master list though.

  • You can run the invertebrate data through a resource database to tell you more about your sites that way.

  • It highlights gaps. And there are some huge gaps that I would never have realised if I hadn't gone through this process. I'll be talking about these briefly at Adastra. Two of our big sites have not a single fly record!!! In one case, this is already being addressed in 2017.

  • The whole thing is modular. You can say pull out just the moths and do a talk to Sussex Moth Group, which is already happening by the way. It works the other way too. Imagine what the WHOLE wildlife trust network species list would look like?! Then you could like at the unique species to Sussex!
These are just some of the reasons that I have always believed pan-species listing is such a good thing for nature conservation. It's an approach that leaves no stone unturned and favours the little guys as much as it does the big obvious ones. 

So what's next? Some talks coming up and various articles to go out on this. I'm keen to run a series of blogs on it over the next few months, the next might be on uniqueness but it could be on the beetles of Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves, I'm open to suggestions. I feel like I have created a monster/a thing of beauty and I am yet to know quite how to realise all of its potential. I'm looking forward to getting on with other stuff again though.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to all the people that have helped particularly Bob Foreman, Chris Bentley (for compiling Rye Harbour's species list), Frances Abraham and many many more.

My top ten natural history highlights of 2016

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 18 December 2016 12:05

What a year. I started with the first month in the southern hemisphere, then had possibly the busiest and often most stressful year of my life but I found some great stuff on the way, Including what I think is the highlight of my career so far. As ever, natural history and conservation has been my rock. So, in reverse order...

10. I don't do slugs but back in February I went all the way to Wales to see a whole slimy bunch of them. Here is the Alsatian Semi-slug.

9. I've wanted to see these freaky Tompot Blennies for years and was pleased to find loads off Saltdean in September.

8. It wasn't my first record of this as I had one last year but it was the first for West Sussex and the first for one of our reserves (Levin Down). Here is the awesome Platyrhinus resinosus.

7. Resurveying the ditches at Amberley was great as there was such positive changes. Like this Marsh Cinquefoil appearing in of our ditches after it was cleared.

6. Surveying the Murray Downland Trust's sites with Mike Edwards produced lots of surprises, such as this Villa cingulata at Heyshott Down.

5. I don't often see new longhorn beetles but the beetle season started with a bang with this Mesosa nebulosa found at Sheffield Park on a BMIG meeting by Nathan Clements in April.

4. The repeat of the big farm surveys in 2016 showed one of the farms in East Sussex become internationally significant for arable plants. I stumbled across three species I had never even seen before, like this Stinking Chamomile.

3. New Zealand was an incredible place. Perhaps the best memories are of the amazing seabirds. I'll never forget the first time an albatross flew right over our heads!

2. Sometimes a hunch pays off. An early morning start and we bagged the first records for Columbus Crabs in Sussex off Brighton Beach, all the way from the Sargasso!

1. Do I need to say anything other than CALOSOMA SYCOPHANTA!!!

Saprotrophy hunting

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 12 November 2016 14:41

It's been a funny year for fungi. Nothing was growing on the ground in the woods or on the grassland but the fungi growing out of dead and decaying wood are going bananas (I bet this is out of date now with the rain we've finally had in the last week). It's clear why, we've had a dry summer and autumn and dead and decaying wood holds water for longer than soil does. It got me thinking about what the difference between saproxylic and saprotrophic is. I realised I didn't know other than the former refers to how invertebrates consume the resource of dead and decaying wood and the latter, fungi. A bit of research shows that the difference seems to be in how the nutrients are processed. Internally for invertebrates and externally by the fungi. Anyway. Lots growing in and around trees at the moment including this young Spectacular Rustgill. I tried to turn it into a rare webcap but fortunately Clare Blencowe had a look and passed it on to Nick Aplin. I should of realised as there were some open ones around the corner which were the biggest typical shaped mushrooms we saw all day on my fungi course at Ebernoe but I didn't connect the dots.

Here is Yellow Shield at The Mens a few weeks back. Thanks again to Clare Blencowe and Mike Waterman from WWFRG for clinching the ID.

And here the much larger and commoner Deer Shield also at the Mens. A quarter-pounder of a mushroom.

And from Knepp we have Ganoderma resinaceum. Unusually for a Ganorderma, the cap was slightly squidgy and yielded slightly upon compression .

Back to Ebernoe and my course last week and moving away from the trees. We spotted these Lilac Fibrecaps in the churchyard at Ebernoe. I was surprised to see I'd seen this species before but I had no memory of it, I think it must have been a washed out specimen as this was a right little stunner.

We had a look at the cricket pitch too and added a few waxcaps but very low numbers compared to last year. We did find a ring of these odd 'foamy' mushrooms. Quite like the texture of those shrimp sweets you used to get and not waxcap like at all. Any ideas?

Black Teeth and Purple Stockings

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 13 October 2016 17:00

That's my Halloween outfit sorted then! No, in fact I went out looking for some new species the other day for the first time in ages. Thanks to a tip off from James and Dawn Langiewicz, I was off to an undisclosed site in West Sussex to look for not one but two tooth fungi. I'd not seen any tooth fungi (other than Wood and Terracotta Hedgehogs) so was pleased to be on a quest for two of these BAP species. It didn't take long before I spotted them growing close together. Above is the Black Tooth. Quite an odd looking thing. Especially this stunted one that does actually look like a rotten tooth.

Growing close by was the much more numerous Zoned Tooth.

My Coolpix hasn't been working quite so well since I dropped it in a rock pool (last time I blogged actually - it's been my usual end of summer burn out) but you can still see the teeth these fungi have instead of gills. Nearby I saw some Terracotta Hedgehogs too, so three tooth fungi in one small area.

And who doesn't love a Trumpet Chanterelle?

Finally, I was also directed to some Purple Stocking Webcaps. Quite a slimy-capped species for a webcap. You can see the purple stype. Right, this has got me in the mood to go out with the WWFRG this weekend...

Even the sea creatures have gone hipster in Brighton

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 21 August 2016 12:04

You can't walk far in Brighton without being confronted with an array of outlandish novelty beards these days. Except perhaps when rock-pooling. Or so I thought. Olle found this Bearded Mussel under a stone at a Shore Search event. So even the shellfish have turned hipster. What's next? Anemones with tattoos? Crabs with dungarees? Fish with over-sized glasses, daft hair-cuts and weird moustaches?

Precisely my point, look at this idiot. Who does he think he is?! You don't have any of this nonsense with a Shanny. No the Tompot Blenny is a true hipster. That moustache is ridiculous. Take a look at yourself mate.

In all seriousness I was totally stoked to find Tompots at Saltdean just off Brighton beach. We also found:

Rock Goby (2) - new to the site.
Tompot Blenny (2) - new to the site
Shanny (1) - always the commonest fish, can't believe we saw (well caught) only one.
Five-bearded Rockling (many young ones)
Long-spined Sea Scorpion (1 young one)
One unidentified fish that I think was a small Sea Bass.

In the past I have also had there:
Sea Bass
Corkwing Wrasse
Narrow-headed Clingfish
Garfish (dead)

So it's proving to be a great spot for fish. I always get really carried away with fish rock-pooling. So much fun.

The Devil's Jumps

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 20 August 2016 09:42

Somewhere along the South Downs Way in deepest West Sussex is a small and isolated yet rich and diverse site managed by the Murray Downland Trust called the Devil's Jumps. So named for the sequence of five Bronze Age barrows that rise up from the site and have a rich chalk-grassland flora. Last weekend I started the fifth of sixth surveys there with Mike Edwards and it wasn't long until I swept what I initially though was a washed out Sphecodes. Then Mike became REALLY excited and shouted that's Andrena marginata! We hadn't even got close to the barrows at this stage and as we approached I saw the grassland was so dominated by Small Scabious that it only took seconds to find another two females. All in all we saw five females in total. Although currently considered nationally scarce (Na) this bee is one of the most declined bees in Europe and is therefore a hugely significant find for the survey. As the bee is only taking pollen from Small Scabious, its pollen baskets are white. Quite unlike the other rare bee on scabious, Andrena hattorfiana, which has pink pollen baskets from the Field Scabious/Greater Knapweed that it feeds on.

We went on to Heyshott Down itself and despite masses of Small Scabious, there were very few bees there at all. However, almost every flower of Wild Carrot had one of these wasps on it being Tiphia femorata. We also saw several Nomada flavopicta. Three new aculeates for me in one day! I'm up to 330 species for the survey so far and I still have all Mike's idents, my idents and this month's notes to write up!

Can you think of a better name for this amazing fungus?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 19 August 2016 07:23

During an invertebrate survey of Ebernoe Common yesterday, we stumbled across this amazing fungus just starting to grow out of a decaying Beech tree. It's big too, each of these fruting bodies is about fist-sized. It took a little while to identify but I am happy this is the Silky Rosegill (Volvariella bombycina). Another fungi that looks like some kind of dessert. I'm thinking coconut ice cream or white chocolate Ferroro Rocher. I love the scaly cap and the presence of a volva is quite odd for a species growing out of a tree. I think the scientific name is therefore more descriptive than the English. Here are some more shots.
This last one inspired me to come up with the alternative name of Forest Knockers. I'm sure in a few days it will look even more spectacular as it opens up fully. So, I think Silky Rosegill is a rubbish name for this species (I can't see the gills and it's not really silky) so I ask you, what would you call it? Please leave your comments on the blog.

Anyway. A few invertebrates from the survey. Here is the rare but expanding Episinus maculipes which I recorded new to Sussex last month at Ebernoe too. I've since also found it at Heyshott Down.

And this one was new for me. Cassida vittata (my 8th Cassida) and I wasn't expecting to see this one in the woods. Everyday is made better by a tortoise beetle. Especially one with metallic bits on it!

Botanical wonderland

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 30 July 2016 09:18

I've been at Amberley Wildbrooks all this week with Mark Gurney, Andy Skinner and Vivienne Booth from my old department at the RSPB. Also yesterday Shaun Pryor came out to help too. What a week! The weather was really well behaved, five years ago it was just way too hot and the increased grazing out there means that getting about was mostly a lot easier too. The rare plants have certainly increased in number. Marsh Stitchwort for example is in loads more ditches and in some places is even in the field centres.

As more ditches are in the early state of succession, there are more ditch slubbings. This is where you find Small Water-pepper.

Great Water-parsnip is slightly up on last time too. I should add we still have many ditches to survey next year so the picture could change somewhat.

Marsh Cinquefoil returns to the SWT side after ditch clearance!

Everyone's favourite Unbranched Bur-reed does well in early to mid-successional ditches.

But it's Cut-grass that's the thing we were most interested in and that seems to have a shown a big increase. Last night when I closed my eyes I could still see it. I get this sometimes when you have to pay close attention to spot something. Whenever I show anyone this grass, I usually state first: "Prepare to be underwhelmed!" Yet in hindsight, I actually love this plant. Every time I spot it it releases a little bundle of endorphins. Jesus, did I say that out loud? Here it is growing out in the open on bare mud.

And here it is holding its own against dense Water Horsetail in a clogged ditch!

And more Whorl-grass than I've ever seen!

The survey simply took the form of presence or absence of all species in each ditch and amazingly we covered 83 ditches in 4.5 days. Cut-grass, Great Water-parsnip and True Fox Sedge were GPSd too. Here is a lovely open ditch with Sharp-leaved, Hair-like, Shining and Broad-leaved Pondweed, Frogbit, Amphibious Bistort and Cut-grass on the bank!

Here is Narrow-leaved Water-plantain (left) compared to regular Water-plantain (right).

And here is a shot that says it all. Amberley is clearly doing very well and I'm looking forward to completing the picture next year.

Oh and yesterday, after the RSPB lot left, Shaun and I stumbled upon this. Sorry Mark, we'll have to go and look for one of these next year! Another 13-spot Ladybird! Other non-botanical highlights included Lesser Cream Wave, Dotted Fan-foot, Water Vole, Crarabus granulatus and may more!

A Field in England

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 23 July 2016 07:18

I've just finished a repeat of the farm surveys I did last in 2010/11. This time it was just the four summer visits but it still ends up being 288 miles! Each one is about 11 or 12 miles and it's a relief to have finished. Now begins the write-up! It's too early for me to say what the differences in the bird life are but in terms of composition of the assemblages, there is little change. In terms of oddities and rarities, this year lacked the Black Kite and Honey Buzzard of 2011, I suppose the oddest was Grey Plover and Turnstone flying over my most easterly site just north of Bishopstone and three singing Quail just north of Brighton and one just north of Worthing were also great to hear (I haven't heard Quail since summer 2011).

Obviously, you must have heard about Calasoma sycophanta but I had a few exciting arable plant finds that day that were rather eclipsed by the excitement of the beetle. In the June and July visits I stumbled across three plants I had never seen before, something that just doesn't happen these days. Usually if I want to see something new I have to twitch plants so this was great. First up was Field Gromwell (EN - 8). By this time I began using Plantlife's arable plant index to assess the farms quality for arable plants (the rarer the plant, the higher the index).

Th other endangered plant I recorded there five years ago and is Narrow-fruited Cornsalad (EN - 8, running total 16).

And masses of Field Woundwort (NT - 6, running total 22) growing among Phacelia (where if anything, there was so much it was suppressing the Phacelia!). This area of the farm was more acidic. I didn't record this on any of the others farms last time and I've only ever seen it once.

Others that day included Prickly Poppy (VU - 7, running total 29).

Rough Poppy (3, running total 32). A score of 30 is needed for county importance, so that's in the bank.

Dwarf Spurge (NT - 6, running total 38).

Others not photographed in June were:
Small Toadflax (1, running total 39).
Grey Field Speedwell (2, running total 41).
Henbit Dead-nettle (1, running total 42.)
Round-leaved Fluellen (3, running total 45). A score of 45 is needed for a site of UK importance. So that's in the bank!
Sharp-leaved Fluellen (2, running total 47).
Dwarf Mallow (2, running total 49).

And the these Common Broomrapes (2, running total 51).

Great. A site of UK importance. And there I thought it would stay until things got really exciting on the July visit!

First up I refound a few Night-flowering Catchfly (VU - 7, running total 58) scattered about the farm.

I found what I thought may have been the exceptionally rare Upright Goosefoot but closer examination of the seeds proved this to be Nettle-leaved Goosefoot (VU - 7, running total 65). New for me, not seen this on any of the other farms.

In the same field as the Narrow-fruited Cornsalad, yet another life. Stinking Chamomile (VU - 7, running total 72).

And then in the Field Woundwort area, another plant new to these surveys (as it's more an acid soil thing) Corn Spurrey (VU - 7, running total 79).

So two EN and five VU species! I thought it was possible I might actually get to 90, the threshold for European significance. So I mopped up a few more species to get it.

Slender Parsley-piert (1, running total 80).
Black-grass (2, running total 82).
Annual Mercury (2, running total 84).
Black Mustard (2, running total 86).
Upright Hedge-parsley (3, running total 89).
Field Madder (1, running total 90) WAHOOO!!! European significance!

It continues though...
Cornfield Knotgrass (3, running total 93).
Fig-leaved Goosefoot (2, running total 95). Thanks to David Streeter for pointing this out to me, I've been spotting it on almost all the farms since.

What a great result. I look forward to writing this up properly and getting some comments from Plantlife!

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