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Shropshire and surrounding counties have a wealth of varied aquatic habitats with a wide range of species. You will be introduced to the identification of aquatic plants, the key features for discrimination, and the importance of these species for ecology,  conservation, and recording.

We will use a range of keys to identify plants to family, genus and species and laboratory sessions in the evening will provide the opportunity to use microscopes and to see voucher specimens of a wider range of specimens.

Aquatic plants can be one of our most challenging groups of plants within the British flora. They can vary enormously not only between different species but even within a species, due to plasticity, in part determined by the changing habitats and seasonal fluctuations in water levels and quality.

Aquatic Plants occur in some of our most damaged and contaminated habitats within the British Isles. The threat from global warming, eutrophication, acidification and other pollutants need to be mitigated against and assessing the impact they have can be complex without a thorough understanding of the species and their individual and collective ecological niches. Only through accurate identification and recording of this challenging group can proper assessments be made.

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. 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.

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 fieldwork. Fieldwork will involve visiting a range of habitats where the specimens can be identified within an ecological context. Specimens may be taken back to the laboratory for examination with lenses and microscopes.

  • The major plant families, major family groups e.g. Batrachium Ranunculus
  • The two big families Potamogetonaceae and Ranunculaceae contain many challenging and difficult to identify taxa.
  • Comparative analysis of vegetative and flowering parts of the major species, using distinguishing characters.
  • Strategies for identifying Aquatic Plants including the use of dichotomous keys and other resources.
  • Understanding the challenges that come with recording Aquatic species, including hybridisation, plasticity and seasonality.
  • Using a range of dichotomous keys to identify species
  • Understand the importance and role of Aquatic species as indicators of key habitats and ecological niches.
  • Surveying and collection techniques, as well as ways to maintain the recorders health and safety.
  • Preparing voucher specimens of aquatic plants for refereeing. and procedures for validation.

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

  • Identify a range of aquatic plants to family, genus and species where appropriate using a variety of keys, field guides and other resources.
  • Critically evaluate the role that aquatic plants 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 group of Aquatic Plants (e.g. Potamogeton or Batrachium Ranunculus, or whorled leaved species). 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: Nick Law

Nick Law is an experienced field botanist currently employed as a Principal Ecologist with FPCR Environment and Design Ltd. Nick’s interests include vascular plants and bryophytes. He holds a Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) Level 6 Field Identification Skills Certificate (FISC) and is the British Bryological Society Regional Recorder for Warwickshire.

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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.

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).

During the evening there will be a classroom introduction to the problems associated with identifying aquatic plants.

Saturday and Sunday
To involve a mixture of field trips and classroom based work during the day, and evening sessions either within the classroom or FSC Preston Montford grounds.

There will be a short field trip on Monday morning followed by a classroom-based test in the afternoon (optional for those not studying for university credits).

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 (some wellingtons and waders are available on hire from the Centre).
  • Warm, waterproof outdoor clothing.
  • A hand lens – x20 if possible, but at least a x10.
  • Sealable ‘ziplock’ plastic freezer bags.
  • Materials for making a grapnel will be available for purchase during the weekend but if you prefer, please bring your own balloon egg whisk and nylon cord.
  • Sandwich box and vacuum flask/drinks container.

Recommended Reading

  • Rich, T.C.G. and Jermy, A.C. (1998) The Plant Crib. BSBI (Free download)
  • Haslam, S., Sinker, C.A. and Wolseley, P. (1971) Water Plants. Field Studies Council (AIDGAP)
  • Jermy, A.C. Simpson, D.A., Foley, M.J.Y. and Porter, M.S. (2008) Sedges of the British Isles. 3rd ed. BSBI
  • Hubbard, C.E. (1981) Grasses. Penguin
  • Moore, J.A. (2014) Charophytes of Great Britain and Ireland. BSBI
  • Orton, Bebbington, A. & Bebbington, J. (2018) Guide to Commoner Water Plants. FSC
  • Preston, C.D. and Croft, J.M. (2014) Aquatic Plants of Britain and Ireland. Harley.
  • Rose, F. and O’Reilly , C. (2006) The Flower Key. Warne
  • Stace, C.A. (2010) New Flora of the British Isles. 3rd ed. CUP
  • Stace, C.A.; Preston, C.D. and Pearman, D.A. (2015) Hybrid Flora of the British Isles. BSBI