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Public urged to name Britain’s forgotten wildlife

The Guardian and Natural England launch public competition to rescue unnamed British wildlife from obscurity.

The second annual Name a Species competition was launched recently, with the aim of finding a common name for 10 unknown but amazing British species. A host of seemingly forgotten species exist in Britain and many are disappearing fast. Known to just a few scientists and identified only by Latin names, they lack the common touch and their decline risks going unnoticed as a result.

Now in its second year, the Name a Species competition, run by Natural England and The Guardian - aims to rescue Britain’s unnamed species from obscurity.

Among the species are a stunning red and white tipped sea slug, known to science as Coryphella browni, and a multicoloured metallic wasp, known as Chrysis fulgida. Dr Pete Brotherton, Head of Biodiversity at Natural England’s said: “There is a wonderful array of fascinating creatures in this year’s competition, from sea spiders and sea squirts, recently discovered mushrooms and rare hoverflies. Giving English names to these species will help give them a popular identity they are crying out for.”

Common names have been given to species throughout history. Frequently colourful and highly descriptive, these names have often been the best way for the public to become familiar with the species’ characteristics and behaviour. Falco tinnunculus, otherwise known as the kestrel, has been colloquially named as ‘windhover’, ‘wind fanner’, ‘mouse falcon’, ‘stonegall’ or ‘vanner hawk’ in different parts of the country. The rare Cyripedium calceolus has beautiful “shoe-shaped” flowers, eloquently described by the plant’s common name of Lady’s Slipper orchid.

The first Natural England/Guardian Name a Species competition was inspired by the environment writer George Monbiot.  Adam Vaughan, editor of, said: "We were overwhelmed by more than 3,000 entries in the competition's first year, which was a testimony to the British public's love of nature. Governments are waking up to biodiversity loss as a serious issue - last year they agreed new targets for protecting wildlife and habitats by the end of the decade. But we need the public to sustain the pressure, and giving species colourful and memorable names is a vital step in protecting them."

Last year the overall winning name was the Queen’s Executioner, a type of beetle that feeds on the larvae of other beetles and is found only in Windsor Great Park. Other winning names included the Sea Piglet and Witches’ Whiskers.

Dr Pete Brotherton concluded: “Scientific study needs the precision and discipline of Latin names, but it’s difficult to fire the imagination with a name like Pachycerianthus multiplacatus – fireworks anemone is much more exciting. There are some amazing forgotten gems in this competition - we want to remind people of the importance of all species, because each of them has a role to play in sustaining the health of the ecosystems upon which we depend.”

Anyone can enter the Name a Species competition by reading The Guardian on 11 June in print or online at: Guardian online/name a species. Our expert panel will judge the entries, and the winning names will be announced in a special Guardian feature on 16 July.

Notes to editors:

For further information and photographs contact: Lyndon Marquis on 0300 060 4236,  Out of hours contact duty press officer on 07970 098005. 

Name a species competition

This year’s competition features the following ten amazing creatures that live in Britain but are known only by their scientific name:

  1. Phallusia mammillata – Britain’s largest sea squirt
    Adult sea squirts have an unusual circulation system in which blood is pumped in one direction for several seconds and then in the opposite direction for the same length of time.  This species has a tough, leathery “tunic” that is milk-white in appearance.  It’s the largest British sea squirt growing up to 12 cm long – large enough that small anemones can sometimes be found living on it.

  2. Coryphella browni – a recycling sea slug
    Sea slugs are also known as nudibranchs as they have no plates or cavities to protect their gills – nudibranch means naked gill.  Most species have no protective shell and instead have evolved other means of defence – some have glands that secrete irritants and toxins.  This species feeds on stinging hydroids – tiny jellyfish-like creatures - and is able to recycle their stinging cells. After ingesting the hydroid it passes the stinging cells to the tips of its tentacles where it uses them for defence. Coryphella browni grows to a length of up to 5 cm.

  3. Sagartiogeton lacerates – a many tentacled anemone
    Anemones are primitive animals consisting of a column with a single opening for ingesting food and expelling waste. They are protected by stinging cells in the tentacles and across the body.  This species grows up to 6 cm tall.  Its tentacles are arranged in 4-5 rings and can number up to 200.  It lives below low-tide level  and can be found down to depths of 100m.  It favours sites sheltered from strong wave action and can be found along the the west coast of Britain.

  4. Ophiura albida – a snaky star in the sand
    At up to 14cm across, this is one of the smaller species of sand brittlestars.  It is easily identified by two white spots at the base of each of its arms.  Brittlestars move by gripping a surface with their tube-feet and using snake-like motions of their arms to move themselves along the seabed.  This species prefers silty conditions and can be found right around the British coast.

  5. Chrysis fulgida – a shiny bright wasp
    This bright, metallic wasp belongs to the ruby-tailed wasps.  It prefers heathland sites and although common in parts of Europe, is endangered in Britain, being confined to Surrey and Hampshire.  It is a parasitoid wasp – parasitoid insects differ from “true” parasites in that their hosts are always killed.  This wasp lays its eggs in the nests of one other species of wasp and a species of bee.

  6. Chrystotoxum elegans – one of nature’s gardeners
    Hoverflies feed mostly in pollen or nectar and so are commonly seem hovering around flowers. Their larvae prey on aphids and other plant sucking insects, and can therefore be useful to farmers and gardeners in controlling pests.  This species prefers dry, open grassland and is mainly found around the south west coastal peninsula and south west Wales.  It is thought that the larva develop in ant-nests where they feed on root aphids.

  7. Octospora humosa – a high pressured fungus
    This bright, reddish-orange fungus is one of the Ascomycota – the spore-shooting fungi.  These fungi produce microscopic spores inside special, elongated sacs.  As the spores mature, pressure builds inside until eventually the top bursts off, “shooting” out the spores. Octospora humosa is thought to live within with certain types of hair moss.  The connection between the two species is not clear, but the fungus does not appear to harm the plant.

  8. Xerocumus bubalinnus – a tree-nurturing mushroom
    Xerocomus bubalinus has recently been recognised as being new to Britain, being first recorded in England near Ascot - it seems to particularly like growing with lime trees with which it  shares a mutually beneficial relationship.  Threads from the fungus penetrate the roots of the tree and an exchange of nutrients between the species takes place.  The fungus scavenges in the soil for mineral salts and in exchange the tree gives the fungus carbohydrates and sugars.

  9. Lichenomphalia alpina – a lichen that thinks it a mushroom
    This unusual lichen has a conspicuous mushroom-like reproductive structure which, at first sight, does not look like it could be a lichen at all.  This bright yellow cap can grow 5-15mm across.  The main body of the lichen consists of a thin, green, granular layer of algae mixed with fungal growth which forms around the mushroom stalk.  Lichenomphalia alpina occurs on peaty soils, usually in upland areas, throughout the British Isles.

  10. Nymphon gracile – an undersea spider with a straw
    Sea spiders are tiny – less than a 1cm long – and not really spiders.  They are so small that they don’t need gills or lungs – oxygen circulates by direct diffusion.  Although small, most species are carnivorous and feed on soft bodied prey.  A sea spider pierces its prey, such as an anemone, with its proboscis and sucks out nourishment.  The difference in size between predator and prey means that the prey usually survives the attack.

How to choose a good name

  • Names can identify significant aspects of the species appearance, natural history or location or any combination of these. For example: colour, texture, shape, feeding habits, movement, favourite habitat, location where it is found.

  • Names  should be distinctive and help to inspire people to learn more about the species.

  • Names should ideally consist of two words (not including the taxonomic group name eg beetle, lichen, shrimp) A good case must be made for longer names.

  • Names do not need to be a translation of the Latin name.

  • Word play, humour and cultural references can be used in a name, where this has relevance to the species.

  • Participants are encouraged to check if their suggested names are already in use by searching on the internet before submitting entries. Try sites such as,, or Google.

Winners and Prizes

  • The competition is open to United Kingdom residents of any age.

  • The judges will award a winner and a runner up for each species, as well as one overall winner for the most imaginative and evocative name.

  • Selection of the winners will be by consensus of the judges, according to how well names match the guidelines listed above.

  • The judges are: Dr Peter Brotherton (Natural England), Professor Colin Brownlee (Marine Biological Association), Liz Holden (British Mycologists Society), George Monbiot (the Guardian), Matt Shardlow (Buglife).

  • Winning names will be announced on Saturday, 16 July in the Guardian.

  • We regret that we are unable to acknowledge receipt of entries.

  • The main prize is the prestige of coming up with a new name for a species – one that may be used for centuries to come! If one of your names is selected as a winner it will be announced nationally in the Guardian and on Natural England’s website. Natural England will send you a commemorative certificate.

About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.

  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.

  • We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.

  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.

  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

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