Several years ago I read Patrick Barkham’s ‘The Butterfly Isles’ and was struck by a particular thought. What he achieved was seeing fifty-nine species of the most colourful, visible and well-documented insects in the UK. A feat, I may add, that has been achieved by at least two people I met on a single day on a nature reserve this past July, i.e. a lot of people have done it.
Aren’t I critical? I haven’t even done it myself. Perhaps that’s where all my vitriol stems from – I’ve never had the time or money to try it.
How about ‘Dragonflight’ then, where Marianne Taylor attempts to see all forty dragonflies and damselflies in Britain? On one hand, I have more admiration for this – our Odonata is less well cataloged than our butterflies, sites for certain species are less well-known etc., On the other hand, forty species? That’s nineteen less than Barkham and, hang on, she didn’t even see all forty, clocking in at thirty-seven – over two years! That’s a cruel-sounding eighteen-and a half species a year.
I jest, of course. Both Barkham’s and Taylor’s books were not about achieving something that had never been done; not simply races to a determined finish line. They were both journeys that sought to share the author’s personal passion with a wider audience and, in a time of global biodiversity decline, more champions for nature can only be a positive thing. They’ve certainly stimulated me to write this, haven’t they?
In 2015 I will be attempting to see every terrestrial snail in the UK. Or Britain, if that turns out to be significantly easier (curse your restricted range Semilimax pyrenaicus!). I’m still undecided about where I draw the line with native/introduced species; a huge proportion of our snail fauna is introduced, including some of our most common and distinctive species, and I certainly want to see them – but will I go so far as to include species only resident in heated greenhouses? I remain unsure.
As for my suitability for this task… that’s questionable. I’m no conchologist (macologist? I’m not even sure of the correct terminology), my major qualification being that I bought Robert Cameron’s ‘Land Snails in the British Isles’ (2nd edition) back in 2010 and have used it to identify some of the common snails found near where I live. I’ve never even seen a live Vertigo snail!
I’m probably going to need some help along the way, and I’m hoping that through the magic of Twitter and associated social media I will find people that can help me. Hopefully, as well, I will engender some appreciation of these under-regarded beasts.
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