Polychaetes are one of the most widespread, abundant and diverse elements of the British – as indeed of the world – marine fauna, dominating many habitat types, occurring in or on all types of substratum, in waters of all levels of salinity, and at all depths in the ocean. Yet the numerous species represented in and adjacent to British waters have not been reviewed monographically since Mcintosh (1900-1923). Most people with a passing need to identify polychaete samples have turned to Fauvel's two volumes (1923, 1927) on French polychaetes notwithstanding the facts that they too are now out of date, not least in systematics and nomenclature, and that they are of limited use in more northerly waters.
One reason for this neglect has been the unwillingness of any one potential author to attempt the coverage of such a large, and in places problematic, group. In this Synopses series, the polychaetes are to be covered in 11 volumes, involving nearly 20 individual specialists co-ordinated by David George of the British Museum (Natural History). Dr. George has himself provided an introduction to the polychaetes in general which will be common to all 11 volumes, as will his keys to all orders and families of polychaetes (i.e. not just those known to occur around the coasts of Britain).
This Synopsis, with the systematic section contributed by Gesa Hartmann-Schröder with the assistance of David George, is the first of the series to be published.