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This Grasses, Sedges and Rushes course will give an understanding of the importance of these species for conservation, ecology and recording.

The countryside around the Field Studies Council Centre offers a great range of habitats from roadsides and improved grassland to moorland, water margins, fen, calcareous grassland and woodland.

Field visits will be made to a range of contrasting sites, providing plenty of material from all three families, some of which will be examined in detail in the lab. Identification keys will be introduced and participants will be encouraged to make their own voucher specimens.

Grasses and grass-like plants form a key component of most plant communities yet are notoriously difficult to identify. Accurate identification is essential for site survey and management and a botanist’s skill is often judged by their ability to ‘do’ grasses, sedges and rushes. This course will cover the formal taxonomic differences between the three families Poaceae, Cyperaceae and Juncaceae, and enable participants to identify the most common members of each.

Classroom sessions will precede the excursions, enabling participants to become familiar with the diagnostic features and terminology that is peculiar to these plants. Diagnostic characters are often small, so participants will be able to become confident in the use of hand lenses and also to make use of the microscopes at the field centre. They will press some of their specimens, look at the available field guides and floras and use diagnostic keys.

With only three days to study such a vast number of species we will concentrate on the more common and important members of each family and on flowering, rather than vegetative, material. Nobody can hope to become an expert in just three days but participants should go away with the necessary knowledge and confidence to continue to develop their skills independently, in the habitats with which they are familiar.

Your course takes place on a 12-hectare estate, surrounded by a rich range of habitats, including the River Severn and semi-ancient woodland, set in the heart of Shropshire with views disappearing into Wales.

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 Preston Montford 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.
  • Characteristics of the Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae
  • Comparative analysis of vegetative and flowering parts of Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae
  • Strategies for identifying Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae.
  • Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae in a range of habitats, with emphasis on their usefulness as ecological indicators
  • Using a range of dichotomous keys to identify species
  • Understand the importance of the Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae as indicators of key habitats and ecological niches.
  • Preparing voucher specimens for Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae and procedures for validation

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

  • Compare and contrast the Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae families distinguishing between the three and identify a selection of common species using a range of dichotomous keys
  • Critically evaluate the role that members of the Cyperaceae, Poaceae, and Juncaceae 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 Grasses, Sedges and Rushes (but representing all three groups). 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: Mark Duffell

Mark Duffell has had a lifetime interest in plants, gaining the RHS Diploma in Horticulture and completing an MSc in Biological Recording. He now runs Arvensis Ecology, splitting his time between conducting botanical surveys and teaching botanical identification and survey techniques to undergraduate and postgraduate students, consultancies and environmental organisations.
Sharp-flowered Rush (Juncus acutiflorus)

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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.

If numbers are sufficient a station pick up will be arranged at 5.30 pm from Shrewsbury Station.

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).

Friday evening
Introduction to all three families. Juncaceae: the structure and identification of rushes.

Poaceae: the features of grasses and the terminology peculiar to this family; examination of common grasses around the field centre; an afternoon field visit to a site rich in all three families; further detailed examination of grass specimens in the evening and introduction to the use of keys.

Cyperaceae: the features of sedges; examination of sedge specimens collected on Saturday; an afternoon site visit; further detailed examination of specimens and introduction to sedge keys in the evening.

We will begin with the test that is a requirement for those taking the course for credits. Non-credit participants will also join in because the test is quite informal and they will be given help (and told the answers) as they wish. The course will conclude with a final site visit. MMU Credit-students will complete a second assignment at home to complete the unit.

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 Preston Montford 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

  • Stout walking shoes or boots
  • Outdoor clothing suitable for all potential weather conditions
  • Sandwich box, vacuum flask / drinks container
  • Small rucksack or bag
  • Field notebook and pencil
  • Dissecting kit (scalpel and forceps) – if you have a set, although these should be available to borrow for the course.
  • x10 or x20 hand lens if you possess one*

*Available to purchase from the Centre Shop

Useful books and resources:

  • Cope, T & Gray, A. Grasses of the British Isles: BSBI Handbook 13, 2009
  • Fitter, R. et al. Grasses, Sedges, Rushes & Ferns of Britain & Northern Europe: Collins 1984.
  • Hubbard, CE. Grasses (3rd ed): Penguin Books 1984
  • Jermy, AC et al. Sedges of the British Isles: BSBI Handbook 1 (3rd ed.), 2007
  • Poland, J. & Clement, E.J. The Vegetative Key to the British Flora. BSBI, 2010.
  • Rose, F. Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes & Ferns of the British Isles and NW Europe: Viking, 1989
  • Stace, C. New Flora of the British Isles (3rd ed), C.U.P. 2010
  • Stace, C. Field Flora of the British Isles: C.U.P. 1999.