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Discovering new life with iSpot

Updated Tuesday, 23rd October 2012
Whether common or rare, making a note of what wildlife we find around us can help monitor the changing fortunes of our wildlife.

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Although we often hear frequent and worrying stories of declines in wildlife, the good news is that in town and country we are still surrounded by many, many species, if only we take the time to stop and look for them.

Last winter, iSpot and the Saving Species series on BBC Radio 4 asked people to look out for wildlife species that they’d never seen or noticed before, and add them to iSpot with the tag “New to me”.

This has (so far!) resulted in around 450 observations of over 300 species, all of which were new discoveries for the people observing them.

And they didn’t necessarily need to travel to some exotic new location to find them: most were from gardens, parks and grasslands, often from people’s home locations or very near by.

The biologist Edward O. Wilson (quoted in Time magazine in 1986) said:

No one knows the diversity in the world, not even to the nearest order of magnitude. … We don't know for sure how many species there are, where they can be found or how fast they're disappearing. It's like having astronomy without knowing where the stars are.

And even in Britain, which probably has the most complete set of data in the world on its native species, no-one knows for certain how many species live here, but estimates run up to 80,000 different kinds.

A large proportion of these (perhaps around 30,000) are insects and other invertebrates, and these groups were the most frequent “New to me” discoveries, with plants in second place.

Thick kneed flower beetle, Oedemera lurida A thick-kneed flower beetle The single species that was picked out as new by the most people was the brightly-coloured Thick-kneed Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis), a species that many people might have seen but not known the name of.

And that’s where iSpot comes in—here are lots of knowledgeable and enthusiastic people on iSpot who can help you learn which species is which.

Getting to know the wildlife that shares your environment with is a good thing in itself, and there is plenty of evidence that spending time in natural habitats is good for body and soul (for more on this see the Outdoor Nation project).

But there’s more to it than that: if you record what you see the information can help in monitoring the changing fortunes of our wildlife.

Many organisations are involved in recording, monitoring and researching wildlife, from local records centres to national recording schemes and academic institutes. Wildlife observations on iSpot are passed on to these recording schemes, but as well as that iSpot can help you build your identification skills, so that you can go on to participate in some of the fascinating survey projects organised by our partner organisations.

Ivy bee, Colletes hederae An ivy bee These range from large-scale surveys that anyone can join in with, such as the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, through to more specialised projects such as the Ivy Bee survey run by the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society—Ivy Bees are fly from September to early November so do look out for them, and add a photo to iSpot if you need help to confirm your identification.

For some people watching wildlife can become a lifetime interest, maybe even an obsession.

How many species can you see in one lifetime? The highest total I’m aware of is from ecologist Jonty Denton, who has seen and recorded over 10,000 different species in Britain and Ireland (for more on this see the “pan-species listing” table, compiled by Mark Telfer).

Not everyone will want to take their recording recording to that extreme, but anyone can contribute by just looking around and making a note of what wildlife you can find, whether common or rare.

And if you’re not sure of your species, iSpot is there to help you learn more.

This article is part of our 'Expert Insights' series.


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