What is a pan-species list?
A pan-species list is a list of all the animals, plants, fungi, protists and cyanobacteria—all of the wildlife—you have seen in Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Whether a Daisy or a Death's-head Hawk-moth, a Killer Whale or a Killer Shrimp, all species count as equal on your pan-species list. Although this may seem like the trivialisation of lifetime’s worth of natural history to the accumulation of a big list, it's what is behind the list—how you get there—that makes this approach to natural history so powerful. Add a healthy dose of competitiveness in the form of the rankings pages and thanks to Mark Telfer (who started it all and came up with the name), pan-species listing was born. Will this bring about a 'renaissance of the all-round naturalist'?
You can also get involved by compiling a pan-species list for a site: it could be your garden, your patch, or a reserve that you work on or regularly visit.
What are the benefits of pan-species listing?
There are many benefits to the pan-species listing approach to natural history. Here are just a few:
- It makes you look at the commoner wildlife under your feet and on your doorstep, often the stuff that really drives the ecosystem while going unnoticed by many.
- It encourages you to tackle difficult and challenging groups.
- It produces lots of records of these less accessible taxa.
- Whether professional or amateur, it will enhance your natural history skills and can even help you to make a difference to UK wildlife and recording in a relatively short amount of time.
- It promotes the concept that all wildlife is equal.
- There's now a growing community of all-round naturalists, so do please join the Facebook group.
- Field events are usually held annually around the UK.
- Unlike birding, you can get lifers every day, for life! It’s a lifelong hobby that is with you always. The UK5000 Club awaits!
- It's rewarding, it’s fun… and it’s mildly addictive.
- For neurodivergent people, it’s particularly good at providing a daily dopamine fix! Of course, everyone benefits from this too.
- For some, it can literally change your life.
How do I go about compiling my list?
- If you are starting from scratch, the easiest way to compile your list is to use panspecieslisting.com, either add your species one at a time or via the batch data entry option.
- If you can't manage to enter your list yourself, all your records are already databased or in Excel, get in touch via
- Please remember, pan-species listing is not an alternative to biological recording, it’s an output of your biological recording efforts. We strongly support iRecord for submitting your biological records.
Pan-species listing guiding principles
As a community we've opted for a relaxed approach to the ‘rules’, with every pan-species lister approaching their list in a slightly different way. The mantra “your list, your rules” has emerged over the years to remind us that, although we are all doing roughly the same things, there are subtly different ways that we do them and all of them are valid (within reason!). Hence, the term ‘principles’ makes more sense than ‘rules’. Some people count things that others wouldn't. But nobody minds—we realise we’re not competing against each other, and that pan-species listing is a personal challenge to get a grip on the immense biodiversity of these islands.
Listed below are what you can and can't count on a pan-species list. Many pan-species listers take different approaches, so these are best thought of as guiding principles rather than rules. In brief:
Each species counts as one and should be seen (or trapped) in the wild, by the recorder.
The biogeographical unit of ‘the British Isles’, i.e. Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man, including the seas around the isles (defined for the UK as the UK Economic Exclusion Zone of 200 nautical miles (370 kms) or midpoint between the UK and any neighbouring country). The Channel Islands also count, even if they are biogeographically part of France. This is one of the non-negotiable guiding principles. That is, you can decide to record in a smaller geographical area if you wish (such as your home county) but you won’t appear in the main PSL rankings, which will always refer to lists of the full British Isles. Equally, you may never choose to go to Ireland, but if you want to appear in the main rankings, please select the correct location when creating your pan-species list. Obviously, for the same reason, you can’t add any additional countries to your recording area, but who knows, world pan-species listing might take off one day! You can of course, have multiple PSL lists for different regions.
All species in the animal, plant, fungus, and protist Kingdoms, i.e. everything except Bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are excluded partly because they have not been traditionally covered by naturalists and partly because the very concept of a species is difficult to apply to Bacteria. However, we have recently decided to include Cyanobacteria.
Only species count as ticks. No sub-species or variants. And aggregates don’t count either, if you want a dandelion or a common rustic species on your list, you need to identify it to species.
Ideally, you should see each species but in some rare cases you may wish to count species that are heard only, especially if the sounds are diagnostic, the species is difficult or impossible to see and/or doing so would cause harm to it. It doesn’t count if you see it only via television or digital camera. Some pan-species listers count gall-causers and leaf-miners only when they've seen a living occupant, but some are happy just to see the diagnostic characters of the gall or leaf-mine without laying eyes on the species itself. No one should feel pressured to break open a gall and kill the insect inside just for a tick but if you feel you have to, so be it. Just remember, it could just as likely be a parasitoid anyway.
Alive or dead
Ideally, it should be seen alive but there are exceptions. Many entomologists count species that they have only seen dead, such as those they have caught in lethal trap samples (e.g. pitfall traps, Malaise traps). Of course, trapping should only be carried out where the results are likely to justify the casualties, e.g. on a site that is scheduled for development, part of research and monitoring or when targeting the recording of species that are impossible to find by any other means. Counting other people’s herbarium specimens for example, absolutely does not count.
Free or captive
Although many moth-ers will count moths in pots kept in fridges, most pan-listers look down on this as a way to boost your moth list. We encourage you to find your own rare moths. However, pan-species listers can tick things that are being temporarily held captive if they wish. It’s worth pointing out though that no one is going to ‘fridge tick’ their way to becoming top moth lister! Species in long-term captivity (e.g. zoo or farm animals) or culture (e.g. crops, garden plants) don’t count.
All developmental stages count. For example, eggs, larvae, nymphs, and pupae count just the same as adult insects, if they can be confidently identified; however, few pan-species listers would count a bird from its egg. Likewise, plants that are not in flower can be counted (even though not everyone chooses to do so). Even seeds can be counted as long as they are alive, which raises the possibility of adding sea beans, nickar nuts and other marine drift seeds if you can find them and get them to germinate.
This is the area, more than any other, where attempts to make a simple set of rules that can be applied consistently across all taxonomic groups, are doomed to failure! There is a spectrum from native species that have lived in Britain from before the time that Humans started to make their mark on the planet, up to alien species that have just been intercepted on arrival at one of our ports. Although we value the true natives above all others, we find the whole spectrum fascinating. So, the ‘line in the sand’ is drawn to include the majority of aliens as long as they have established, or seem capable of establishing, without deliberate human assistance. You can count any garden plant that has dispersed and established beyond the garden fence. You can count any invertebrate that has established, even if only in highly man-modified environments (e.g. in warehouses or heated greenhouses). But you can’t count any of the invertebrates that you can occasionally find in your groceries as primary imports, but which are unlikely to be able to survive here unaided.
Ordinarily, interspecific hybrids are evolutionary dead-ends with little or no fertility: not countable. But amongst plants at least, there are numerous species which have a hybrid origin, usually formed by polyploid hybrid speciation. Pan-species listers won’t want to count a hybrid unless it can reproduce and persist in the absence of one or both parent species. The wording “one or both” is deliberately chosen: Edible Frogs and various Sorbus species are countable but have a hybrid origin and need reproductive contact with one of the parent species to be able to reproduce themselves. In practice when adding hybrids for you to tick on the website, we have decided that stable hybrids, those separately numbered in Clive Stace’s “New Flora of the British Isles”, are a good starting point for what hybrids are tickable. For example, the familiar garden escape Montbretia is listed as a 4. Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora Montbretia and is available to tick on the website, while the hybrid listed as 2 x 4. C. masoniorum x C. x crocosmiiflora is not, as it has neither its own number, is listed only by its parents’ names and as such, is not considered to be a stable hybrid.
We recognise that Stace did not necessarily cover all the hybrids in the same way and that some hybrids not numbered might be better considered for inclusion here as stable hybrids. We suggest that if anyone has a candidate hybrid not already listed on the website that might fall into this category, that they approach us, and we will consider it for inclusion.
Pending species not yet on the website
If you are lucky enough to find a first for Britain or even better, something new to science, well done! Once confirmed, let us know and we will add it to the website so that it can be ticked. Most people are now tallying up their ‘pending species’ or listing them all in the comments section on their list, until they are available to tick. In some cases, this will even involve species that are as yet un-named. Any such species will be relayed to the UK Species Inventory (UKSI) as this is the cornerstone for taxonomy and nomenclature for biological recording in the UK.
Perhaps the most important principle of all is this; how involved were you with the encounter? Did you find it, did you record it, did you set the trap, did you do the research? Did you somehow contribute to our collective knowledge of that particular species in the UK? Now, there is no way we would expect you to do this all of the time (unless you are a purist, self-found and self-identified lister) but if most, or all of your list, is made up of encounters that you have not contributed to in some way, you’ve got the wrong idea about pan-species listing. It’s not about ticking off as many things for the sake of it to rise up the rankings. It’s about becoming a better naturalist, putting something back into the natural history of the British Isles and earning your place among your fellow pan-species listers.
Twitching is not frowned upon in PSL, it’s encouraged even but it should be part of a balanced diet of natural history. So, make sure you get plenty of ‘self-found fibre’ in there too.
Be your own judge
Most pan-species listers have their own rigid standards about what they can and can’t count but at its heart, pan-species listing is about recording as much wildlife as you can in the British Isles over a lifetime—so we shouldn’t make this too hard for ourselves. If you want to take the purist approach on all of the above principles, you’re going to make life very difficult for yourself—nor would it be that much fun. If you go the other way, you can amass a huge list in a short time, learn absolutely nothing and contribute even less, while pumping vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere in the process. In reality, we all sit somewhere in this spectrum and none of this is policeable anyway. You have to be your own judge. We only need a set of rules if we’re competing against each other to get the biggest list. But pan-species listing is more about the personal challenge to get a grip on the immense biodiversity of these islands.
For Christmas 2023, we're giving the gift of birds to all BUBO Pan-species Listers!
As many of you will be aware, since October we've been introducing a new Pan-species List (PSL) into BUBO Listing. This list is based on the UK Species Inventory, hosted by the Natural History Museum on behalf of the biological recording community, and currently comprises over 76,000 of animals, plants, fungi and other organisms. To make this a somewhat less intimidating list for people, we've been adding these species in taxonomic batches over the last couple of months.
We've kept the birds out of the PSL until near the end. But of course, all your birds should count towards your PSL too. In fact, for many long-standing BUBO Listers, they may well comprise the majority of species you've identified so far. So now, all of the birds that you could add to British or Irish lists in BUBO are also available on PSL lists. You can add them directly, one at a time, or via the Batch Edit tool. However, for those of you with both a PSL and an existing bird list, you may like to speed up the job with the Combine Lists feature. You can find this under the My Lists header when logged in. You should be able to pull your birds into your PSL in just a few mouse clicks! Hopefully this will stop you getting into trouble with your family on Christmas morning by not spending ages typing birds into BUBO...
If you've not yet created a PSL, but do have an existing bird list, this could be an ideal time to start. Simply go to Create New List, pick the PSL location, and there's an option at the bottom to 'Copy from existing list'. Dead easy - you've got a bird-anchored PSL that you can then start adding other wildlife to, from oak trees to orchids, butterflies to frogs, or whatever you've come across in your travels. It's that easy, and using the PSL framework to expand your taxonomic horizons could be a great New Year's Resolution for 2024.
Note that we've been recommending most people create a PSL based on the 'Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man & Channel Islands (PSL)' location, to maximise the comparability of lists between people. This means that you can bring in bird species from this slightly broader area too. Of course, if you wish to create a PSL for a smaller area such as a county or site, then that's fine too, but you'll have less opportunity to compare your targets vs other lists. Apologies to our BUBO Listers in the rest of the world, but PSL will not be available outside Britain and Ireland for the foreseeable future.
Read more details about Pan-species Listing.
Finally... all these additional species are, as ever, provided to you entirely free of charge. However, BUBO Listing is not free to us to run, and we would encourage anyone who appreciates using it to make a donation. There is no obligation but any amount is appreciated, whether one-off or regular. Use the Donation button on the left, or Contact Us to donate by bank transfer.
What is a Pan-species List?
A pan-species list is a list of all the animals, plants, fungi and protists you have seen in Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Whether a Daisy or a Death's-head Hawk-moth, a Killer Whale or a Killer Shrimp, all species count as equal on your pan-species list. Keeping a pan-species list is a great way to broaden your natural history identification skills and develop our understanding of under-recorded taxa, as well as being a lot of fun of course. Read more about pan-species listing, and the "rules" for what you can and can't count.
BUBO and Pan-species Listing
A recent discussion on the Pan-species Listing Facebook group considered that it would be helpful, especially for newcomers studying particular taxa, to publish full lists rather than just totals and comments. We'd already been thinking about expanding BUBO Listing to other taxa and so here it is: BUBO Pan-species Listing!
All your favourite BUBO features are available for pan-species lists, e.g. top targets and top blockers, multiple list types including year lists and self-found lists, and rankings can be shown for families for bird lists, and taxon groups (Mammals, Odonata, Lepidoptera: butterflies, etc.) for PSL lists. You can create a pan-species list for a site, e.g. your local patch, or a reserve that you work on or regularly visit, and other listers' records will contribute to the overall site list.
To avoid PSL being too overwhelming (with currently 37 taxon groups, and potentially more than 70,000 species on the base list!) we will be launching different groups gradually, starting with butterflies, odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), and orthopteroids (grasshoppers, crickets, earwigs, etc.). See the current Pan-species List. As with birds, BUBO Listing makes it easy to process taxonomic updates when they occur.
If you are not already a BUBO Lister, then sign-up for an account first. When you are logged in, select Create New List from the My Lists menu: we recommend starting with the location of Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man & Channel Islands which is used exclusively for pan-species lists, although you can do a more local list if you prefer. Then just tick off your species (adding any dates, locations and comments for extra interest). More details are available from the Instructions menu.
See Pan-species listing has arrived on BUBO for additional information, including how to join the community on the PSL website.
We will shortly be migrating to a higher-powered server, which is necessary to support the additional growth that pan-species listing will bring. We are very grateful to anyone who donates towards our costs in running BUBO Listing, and especially to those who contribute a monthly donation. Over the past two years however, donations have come well short of our overall software and hosting costs. We believe in BUBO Listing offering a free service, as the fun in the site comes majorly from it being open to all. However we would encourage anyone who appreciates using it to make a donation. There is no obligation but any amount is appreciated, whether one-off or regular. Use the Donation button on the left, or Contact Us to donate by bank transfer.