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This Fern Identification course includes botany, ecology and identification of ferns in their natural habitats in North Wales.

Three full days will be spent in the field looking at Pteridophytes: ferns and their allies, in their natural habitats. Sites will include upland and lowland, acidic and alkaline habitats, ensuring that a variety of species from a number of families will be observed. Study will primarily involve identification of species, but attention will also be given to basic fern ecology and factors that affect their survival.

North Wales contains a diverse range of plant communities and a wide range of habitats as a result of its coastal and mountain sites, its complex geology and varied land use. This results in there being an extremely wide variety of ferns, clubmosses and horsetails growing in the area. This course aims to provide the student with a firm grounding in the botany and ecology of these fascinating plants. Identification will include dealing with some of the complex apogomous groups such as the Dryopteris affinis aggregates.

Daytime walks will be up to four miles long through stunning rural scenery in and around Snowdonia with fine views on good days. The terrain will be diverse, including some rocky, steep sections, but will be taken at botanical pace. Rain will not stop play, but field days may be curtailed if prevailing weather conditions are unpleasant. Evening identification sessions in the laboratory with fern field guides, specimens and hand lenses will help to consolidate learning.

The centre is set in the beautiful, rugged landscape of the Snowdonia National Park, North Wales – with access to secluded wooded valleys, rocky shores, beaches and traditional seaside resorts.

PLEASE NOTE the course fee is for tuition only. There is no accommodation provided with this course. If you would like to book accommodation, lunch and an evening meal at FSC Rhyd-y-creuau please email [email protected]  Please book early to ensure availability of accommodation.

Who Should Attend?

Natural history enthusiasts, students, rangers, ecologists, environmental professionals. This intermediate level course is open to anyone with some knowledge of the subject.

Knowledge Level – Intermediate. Level descriptors can be found on the following webpage: Framework and Course Level Descriptors

What will be covered during this course?

  • The course will be delivered through a combination of seminars, laboratory identification sessions and practical field work. Field work will involve visiting a range of habitats where the specimens can be identified within an ecological context.
  • Characteristics of Pteridophytes, and how to distinguish between quillworts, clubmosses, horsetails and true ferns.
  • Comparative analysis of vegetative and reproductive parts and their use in identification and differentiation between families, genera and species.
  • Life cycles of Pteridophytes, alternation of generations, and how they differ in their life cycles from other plant groups.
  • Using a range of dichotomous keys and other resources to identify species.
  • Understand the importance of the Pteridophytes as indicators of key habitats and ecological niches.
  • The role of climate, geology and edaphic factors in determining Pteridophyte distribution.
  • Preparing voucher specimens of Pteridophytes and procedures for validation.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast Pteridophytes distinguishing between the four major groups (morphology and life cycles) and identifying a selection of common species using a range of dichotomous keys.
  • Critically evaluate the role that Pteridophytes have as ecological indicators and their use in indicating habitat type.


This is one of a series of courses (Units) run jointly with Manchester Metropolitan University contributing to the MSc Biological Recording and Ecological Monitoring and the Postgraduate Certificate in Biological Recording. MMU students complete assessed work after the course. For further details about Manchester Metropolitan University degree programmes please contact:

Department of Natural Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University, (Shrewsbury Office). Email: [email protected]

  • See the ‘Example Timetable’ and ‘What’s Included’ sections below for more information about this course.
  • Upon booking you will need to provide individual details of all attendees
  • Please email [email protected] if you have any questions.


For Manchester Metropolitan University students, the Unit will be assessed through, for example, identification tests, survey reports, field journals, production of keys, essays or other forms of assessment. In course tests are optional and less formal for participants who are not MMU students.

MMU students will be required to complete a portfolio comprising of two parts:

Part 1: A test with a range of specimens. Points awarded for correct identification, and critical comparison between specimen and superficially similar/related species. (Equivalent to 500 words).

Part 2: Collect a range of Pteridophytes. Create voucher specimens, with full biological records. Key diagnostic features to be listed for each species, comparing and contrasting how these differ from analogues species (these can be presented on the voucher specimen or separately as detailed notes). Design and construct a dichotomous key to your collection of specimens selecting strong taxonomic characters, that distinguish them from other species within the collection. (1500 words).

Tutor: David G Hill

David has had a long interest in all aspects of natural history. After training in Forestry and Soil Science he has worked in Wildlife Photography, IT and Further-Education, but became interested in Biological Recording in 2011. He went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Biological Recording in 2015, with a dissertation on Marsh Clubmoss and has developed a particular passion for ferns and lycophytes. He is currently Honorary General Secretary for the British Pteridological Society, a Cofnod Director and Fellow of the Linnean Society.

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We understand the difficulties of making plans in the current situation when guidelines continue to change, and insurance conditions are being tightened. In response, we will continue to offer additional flexibility. Find out more here

Example Timetable

Example Timetable

This timetable is subject to change but should give an outline of what to expect.

If you have booked accommodation and meals with the centre your bedroom will be ready from 3.00 pm onwards on the day of arrival and we ask that you vacate by 9.30 am on the morning of departure.

The evening meal is at 6.30 pm (not included in the course fee - please book separately).

The course starts after dinner with a classroom session 7.30 pm - 9.00 pm

The course ends at 4.00 pm on the final day.

Time will be made available for eating packed lunches during the day (not included in the course fee - please book separately).

Field visits will include a range of different habitats around Cwm Idwal, Aberffraw, Port Noble, Llangaffo, Llanfaelog, Valley Wetlands, Coed Felin Rhyd and Bwlch yr Haiarn.

Accrediting Agency

Manchester Metropolitan University

What's Included

  • Expert Tuition
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Hot and Cold Drinks

What’s included?

  • Classroom learning covering the theory of the subject
  • Field excursions to apply new knowledge
  • Expert tuition for which the FSC is renowned
  • Clear objectives and progression

You can rest assured that the absolute best content from an expert in environmental education will be provided. In choosing an FSC course, you will be joining thousands of people who learn with us each year.

PLEASE NOTE the course fee is for tuition and refreshments only. If you would like to book accommodation and meals, including packed lunches, at FSC Rhyd-y-creuau please email [email protected]  Please book early to ensure availability of accommodation.

Before You Attend

There will be a member of staff with first aid training and access to a first aid kit on site. If you have special medical or access requirements, please let us know as soon as possible so we can make any necessary adjustments.

What to bring

  • Merryweather, J., & Hill, M., The Fern Guide, Shrewsbury: FSC, 3rd edition (2007).
  • You own ID books, hand lens & field notebook will be useful.
  • Warm clothing is essential.
  • Sun cream and sun hat (hopefully these will be essential!).
  • Waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers (can be borrowed from the Centre).
  • Outdoor footwear (walking boots and wellies can be borrowed from the Centre).
  • Day rucksack, warm hat and gloves (can be borrowed from the Centre).
  • A torch, water bottle, thermos flask and lunch box.

We will provide specialist equipment, but if you have your own you are welcome to bring it.

Recommended Reading

  • Jermy, A.C. and Camus, J. (1991) The Illustrated Field Guide to Ferns and Allied Plants of the British Isles. NHM
  • Merryweather, J. (2007) Guide to common ferns. FSC
  • Merryweather, J. and Hill, M. (2007). The Fern Guide. 3rd ed. FSC
  • Rich, T.C.G. and Jermy, A.C. (1998) The Plant Crib. BSBI (Free download)
  • Stace, C.A. (1997) New Flora of the British Isles. 3rd ed. CUP