Joe Botting's picture

Thousand species challenge

I've recently taken on a challenge that I read about at a different site (, and thought some of you might be interested in trying it as well. The idea is to record a thousand species in one year from a single l km grid square.

Experienced recorders will know how much of a challenge this is, but newcomers perhaps won't. The problem isn't finding l000 species, but identifying them - and accurately. It is very easy to look at a popular guide book and say, "yep, it looks like that one," but for this purpose that's not enough - the aim is to get reliable species identifications, and if you follow the trickier discussions on here, you'll know exactly how hard that can be.

In order to get to l000, you will have to get to know some of the more diverse groups of organisms - beetles, flies, fungi or lichens, for example. I know Hemiptera very well, but of the l200 or so species that I could be confident of identifying, I'll be delighted if I can find 250 in my one grid square. As a result, it's forcing me to learn about other groups - at the moment I'm looking in some detail at rove beetles, for example, and starting to branch into flies and lichens, and learn more about flowering plants. It's a great learning experience that can only serve me well for the future...

For beginners, l000 is probably a bit steep, even with the help of the iSpot community, so perhaps aim for l00 reliable ids first. In some areas you can reach that with birds alone, but it's a start. 500 would be a very good target for a novice, and will need you to learn a great deal nonetheless. Or you could work in groups - for example, set out to record the thousand species in the grid square that includes your village. It's entirely flexible, but I hope some of you will dive in and give it a go - I know some of the other mentors have. In the end, it doesn't matter whether you get to a thousand (I suspect I won't) - it's the learning process that counts.

If you do have a go, please try to share your results as a list rather than posting each species as an observation on here. I've put my ongoing list up on the web using Google Drive:
This will be updated randomly when I get around to it. :o)

Good luck, and please post links to your own lists here as well if you can.



dejayM's picture


Well Joe, that looks good and so does your own list.
I guess photographs are not required - it doesn't say.
I think I would find it daunting - not the finding, but the recording on a spreadsheet.
More hours on the computer than on the beat (just like policepersons!)
I might start though - good post, thanks.

Joe Botting's picture

copy & paste...

Hi Derek,
Go on, give it a try... there's no harm done if you give up after a few weeks. The spreadsheet thing is a doddle, really - I know it takes a little time, but once you've set it up it won't take you long to add new records to it. One way to ease the burden is to do long forays at a single location, so you can just copy and paste the information.

Photos are really useful to have as backup (and ID tool), but they're not part of the challenge and I don't think anyone would ever query a record of a blackbird... Of course, as one gets into the more difficult things, it will need either photos from which a reliable id can be made (I've got lots of indet images already) or a voucher specimen. Depends how you want to go about it, really.

Hope you decide to have a go, and looking forward to seeing what you find...

dejayM's picture


Joe - tell me if this downloads to you.
A very quick attempt in Excel via Google Drive.
and a picturetest

Joe Botting's picture


The links look good, but I don't have permission to see the files - you must have it set to private somewhere...

dejayM's picture


hopefully then

OK Joe. If this works and hundreds of iSpotters try it on you, then this thread will get very cluttered!
Hope it works then!

Joe Botting's picture


Lovely things - well done!

Derek, if this thread gets swamped then I'll be delighted. There's nothing like having a definite objective to focus peoples' attention on really learning the nuts and bolts of identification. Of course, it might crash the site with the sheer volume of traffic, but heigh-ho... I'm sure Martin will forgive me. One day.

Heading out to find some mosses now. Cheers,

DavidHowdon's picture

Interesting challenge

My local patch is particularly annoying for this managing to straddle four OS monads whilst not being particularly large. But I'll give it a go I think.

Joe Botting's picture

annoying areas

Excellent news, David - I'm sure you'll get some interesting beasties. If you read the 'rules' on the link in the first post, you'll see that although I've suggested a single grid square, they do appreciate that people in urban areas especially may want to shift the boundaries... so a l km square that doesn't tie in with the grid is also allowed if necessary... yours sounds like one of those cases.

Good luck,

Ray Turner's picture

I’m up for it.

My square will be TQ2868



Joe Botting's picture

Welcome aboard...

That's great, Ray - good to have another brave soul risking their sanity in the pursuit of knowledge. Will look forward to what you come up with...

dejayM's picture


I am up and running. The first two hundred or so will be easy (are easy!) - you'll know them already! Though you'll still have to look up Latin!
I think the last two hundred in November will be a race and a C H O R E!

Joe, I have given you (us) a link-back in Wild about Britain

Joe Botting's picture


Thanks for that, Derek - it really does seem to be taking off, and it's going to be fascinating comparing lists later in the summer, so the more who know about each other's projects the better.

Joe Botting's picture

Things I can't put on the list...

Well, I'm slowly getting somewhere... now over three hundred and starting to climb a bit more quickly (when the weather's good).

Just thought I'd share the opposite aspect - things that I can't add to the list, for whatever reason. It's becoming quite interesting. On the one hand, there are species that are known to be nightmares to ID - brambles, dandelions and coltsfoots, for example - that consist of hundreds of microspecies that haven't yet been fully worked out. Those are just annoying things we can't do anything about, though.

Then there are the things that are almost certain, but there's another species that's extremely similar. For example, I had help to id a small cranefly, where the verdict was 99% certain it's a common species, but can't quite rule out two very rare species that presumably need to be looked at under a microscope. So, almost but not close enough. The same applies to the common lacewing Chrysoperla carnea - there's one other species that's very similar, and I'm not sure how to seprate it. It's surprising how many species I'm almost sure of, but when it comes to being sure enough for a formal record, it just doesn't quite make it.

After that are the groups that I ignore. Tiny flies are the worst (cecidomyids - uurgh). I'm now starting to realise just how many different flies there are in this area, especially in damp areas, but I can't even start on IDing them without a lot more books, and probably a more powerful micrscope. Likewise for moth flies (Psychodidae) - identification of these is a real pain that involves clearing and slide mounting, and I'm just not going to go there. Much of the same applies to parasitic wasps - it's too big a mountain to climb, even though I could probably get close to a thousand species just by doing these and flies.

Perhaps most interesting are the species I'm not seeing at all, but really ought to be here. I don't have magpies on my list. I've seen them several times outside the square, but never yet in it, and the same goes for other birds like treecreepers. Believe it or not, I still haven't seen an earwig - and that's using pitfall traps, looking at leaf litter and turning over logs, and beating low vegetation. Also, various plants and insects are turning up just outside my borders but not within them. On the other hand, I'm getting quite a lot of species that are very localised within the square - just a few square metres, then nowhere else. I'm starting to become aware of these patterns, and it's quite an eye-opener.

I hadn't quite anticipated that I'd be learning so much about distribution patterns by doing this challenge, but it's forcing me to notice where there are clumps of different grasses, and how the geology is affecting the local soil chemistry. I'm still not sure whether I'll be getting close to the thousand come the end, but it's taught me a lot about things I hadn't realised I was overlooking.

Any updates from the rest of you? How's it going?

dejayM's picture


Me Joe...I got absolutely fed up.
To be really honest, I am not ready, science-wise. I don't quite know enough to make a proper go of it
Many of the things I knew so well, I couldn't find, or couldn't be IDcertain.
I've been concentrating on Marine Inverts and most are outside my square. Then there is the cross-checking for Latin - knowing the English name is not enough, by a long way.
It all got to me at the 150 entries stage.
I don't suppose I am the only one who realised that 1000 is LOT!

Joe Botting's picture

good starting point

Hi Derek,
It is more than a bit daunting, I agree. Like I say, I honestly don't know whether I'm going to get close to the thousand. What I'm finding, though, is that it really doesn't matter - I'm treating this as a learning experience, with the formal challange itself as a stick, and a bunch of new species as lots of little carrots.

I don't think you should give up on it, simply because so much comes out of the process of trying to get proper IDs. Perhaps you can treat this year's total as a basis for next year, and so on? I'd suggest having a go at a new group as well as the ones you're familiar with... get a good guide to wild flowers, for example, and you may well find a couple of hundred you can ID in your area - I'm on over a hundred plants, and I've not paid much attention to them before this year. That's also a group where there's not too much problem tying common with Latin names. Plus the good posters on here are always happy to give pointers - they've helped me out on a few problem species already, both plants and others.

It sounds like it's been a trial so far, but please do keep at it. The final number doesn't matter... I know some people are taking it very seriously and competetively, but that's just silly - it's about increasing our own knowledge, from whatever level we start at, not doing better than someone else in a different bit of the country. At least, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it. ;-)


Ray Turner's picture

Slow Start

My disappointment is not being able to get out enough. When I do I’m concentrating on the BTO surveys I’m involved with; Nest Recording and BBS at the moment. I’m seriously impressed by a count of 300+ Joe, somewhere between that and 500 is my personal target for the year (hovering around the 100 at the moment); can’t see me making a thousand, as you say Derek it’s a lot.

I agree with branching out into new areas, after all no one is going to make the 1K without doing so. I’ve started looking seriously at plants for the first time and so so disappointed, though fascinated, to find out about dandelion species, thought that would be an easy tick. Same with bramble. Amazed myself by actually being able to identify some. I’m also going to set some pitfall traps and see what turns up, invertebrates outside a very narrow band are again a new thing for me. There are several ponds on the common though only the least promising is in the square but I am going to do some dipping in the one available; it’s wet so that should turn up a good few species.

For me the interest is broadening my horizons and learning a little bit in the process; I can be awfully competitive when I know I can be but with this I just know the honours are going to go to an expert botanist who can reliably identify all 250+ dandelions or a moth expert who identifies every micro-moth on their patch.



Joe Botting's picture

Thanks for that, Ray - slow

Thanks for that, Ray - slow going, but heading the right direction. I sympathise with the lack of time... I'm lucky at the moment in that my time is mostly quite flexible, but being tied to a combination of weekends and good weather will inevitably slow things down a lot. That and focusing on the little things are making it much easier for me...

You're absolutely right about the honours going to a specialist in one of the diverse groups - if anyone does micro-fungi, they're laughing. Add to that that some areas will of course be far more diverse than others, and the nature of the challenge is entirely relative to your interest and opportunity.

Looking forward to updates whenever you find something you want to crow about. :o)


Joe Botting's picture

over 700...

Just a quick update - summer is now well established, and I'm relieved to finally see the groups I know about turning up in abundance - the leafhoppers and plant bugs are practically everywhere. Although some need to be dissected, it does mean that there are lots of things around that are recognisable from photos. As a result, I'm now over 700 (woohoo), and rapidly heading towards the three-quarters mark.

What has surprised me is how dependent the total is on having a large number of different habitats. Find a slightly different habitat, and suddenly there are another ten plants. And on those plants, there are specialist insects... and on those insects there are specialist parasitoids... well, perhaps that's pushing it. Trying to get close to the thousand in any one of the habitats would be virtually impossible, though - even somewhere like the old oakwoods around here. I've also now seen most of the really obvious things that should be everywhere, which is a relief (although still waiting on the Potato Capsid, Closterotomus norwegicus).

I'm also finding that it's really useful keeping up with observations on iSpot, and then trying to find what other people are seeing as they come into season. Moths are a good one to get into, it seems, as even micros can be IDed in most cases, with a bit of help from the internet. It takes time, is of course the problem...

Is anyone else still going with the project this year, or am I all alone now..?

dejayM's picture

half hearted

I've crashed out. I did start half-heartedly, I have to admit. It SEEMED such a good idea but it was going to be too distracting, largely because I wanted to concentrate on those things I wanted to concentrate on - I think you will understand that.
All is not lost with me because I have learned a lot since that half-promise and continue to database most of the things I find. Also, to be honest, I lost some faith in iSpot because many of my posts in Marine Inverts were not IDd - many remain so. I wish I had a need to ID Birds or Moths!

Joe Botting's picture

No worries

Ach well - I got that impression from you earlier in the summer, and I fully understand the part about wanting to focus on different things. It's a shame about the marine inverts issue - I guess the real problem is that there are so few experts, and those that are will likely cover only one phylum or so... It's like fossils, really: with such high diversity, getting to species level is always going to be difficult unless you're lucky regarding who is reading it.

Fingers crossed for more marine specialists coming on board in future. I'm personally fascinated by rockpools, but I'm so far from the sea that I only get to go looking once every year or two, if I'm lucky. Not much chance to contribute much on that basis...

I've got to say that I'm quite enjoying doing the micromoths, although I've never paid much attention to leps before - so I've definitely been getting something out of the exercise. Glad to hear you're keeping the recording going, too - keep on learning, and in a few years you can answer everyone else's marine invert queries... :o)

Ray Turner's picture


You hit the nail on the head Joe “it takes time”. Something I’ve had too little of for the past few months.

End of April I landed what for me is quite a large contract which has kept me very busy and will do so for about another month. It’s great and I can’t complain about the work but it did come at just the wrong time; I’ve hardly been able to get out and have even abandoned my nest recording for this season.

However all is not lost and will persevere just as soon as I can. I am planning to set up a number of invertebrate deadfall traps as soon as I have the time, they should produce a few specimens.