This course is designed to give a scientific introduction to the identification of higher plants, use and construction of keys, preparation of voucher specimens, plus surveying and recording.

After the basics of botanical identification have been learnt and common species identified, there are still large groups of plants that are tricky or difficult to identify. Many of these either belong to large groups of similar looking species (e.g. Rosa, Salix), have complex taxonomy that requires expertise to unravel (e.g. Sorbus) or have small or complicated structures that require more specialist knowledge to ascertain (Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, Poaceae, Equisetum). Some of these groups contain Apomitic/Apogomous species and how this complicates field and laboratory identification will be explained. Other groups that are equally challenging to differentiate include the Yellow Composites, many of the Brassicaceae and Pteridophytes.

Key skills to be developed include introductory sessions on identification of a range of families and groups typically including sedges, grasses, pteridophytes (ferns and their allies), umbellifers, yellow composites and crucifers. The groups that are covered depends on the season to some extent, and typically consists of an introductory session of 1-2 hours for each, introducing the main characters and how to interpret them and the keys. We will also cover construction of dichotomous and other types of key, recording of critical taxa, preparation of pressed plant specimens on herbarium paper to produce an archive-quality voucher specimens, surveying and recording of difficult plants, and an example of how to cover a very challenging group such as whitebeams. There will be a field visit to a site in Shropshire where we will look at different habitats and practice using species keys and looking at family characteristics.

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 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.
  • Identifying a range of higher plant groups in the field and in the lab. Systematic approaches to identification using dichotomous keys.
  • The problems of critical taxa such as Hieracium, Euphrasia, Taraxacum, Rubus, Rosa, Dryopteris affinis agg. How to record and deal with these groups individually and also as part of recording schemes.
  • Techniques for collecting voucher specimens for validation. Problems with bulky species such as Rosa and Rubus.
  • Collecting and preserving vouchers of aquatic specimens. The importance of collecting vouchers for identification. Use of collector and determiners.
  • The use of referees and the validating system for difficult higher plant groups. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and the British Pteridological Society and their system of vice-county recorders and referees who can give a determination for species.
  • Awareness of published resources for identification; i.e. handbooks, cribs, general guides, online.

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

  • Identify, and justify the identification of a range of difficult higher plants to species level using appropriate core texts and field guides
  • Critically analyse and assess the procedures for identifying selected higher plant groups to species level, with reference to validation and referees


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: Will involve the collection and identification of ten different species of a particular group of difficult vascular plants (from those taught on the course or discussed with the tutor). These are to be mounted to herbarium standards. Students are expected to create voucher specimens, with full biological records. Key diagnostic features must be listed for each species, comparing and contrasting how these differ from analogues species (these are to be presented on a separate document). Students may also be expected to produce dichomtomous keys or additional information in support of their portfolio (Equivalent to 500 words).

Part 2: will comprise a critical analysis of the procedures for identifying and recording difficult higher plants to species level, and the processes of validation, with reference to referees. Learners are expected to use primary literature as well as case studies or examples to support their arguments (Equivalent to 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.

Book with Confidence

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).

This course will involve field work and classroom activities. Field visits on Sunday will include Sweeny Fen near Llanymynech, Aston Locks, Queens Head.

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

  • You should bring a x 20 hand lens (or at the very least a good quality x10 lens).
  • As you will be taking notes in the field, a weather-proof notebook or Weatherwriter is required and some sample bags (Ziplock freezer bags) are useful.
  • If you have a copy of Stace’s Field Guide this will be very useful although there will be some to borrow for the duration of the course.
  • A sandwich box, flask and/or water bottle and a bag to carry your kit.

Recommended Reading

  • Field Stace is the most useful text, followed by The Plant Crib – others listed below are useful but not essential
  • Jermy A.C., Chater A.O. & David R.W. 1982. Sedges of the British Isles. BSBI.
  • Meikle R.D. 1984. Willows and Poplars of Great Britain and Ireland. BSBI.
  • Rich T & Jermy A.C. 1998. Plant Crib 1998. Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI).
  • Rose F. 2006. A Wildflower Key. Warne.
  • Stace C.A. 1999. Field Flora of the British Isles. CUP.
  • Tutin T.G. 1980. Umbellifers of the British Isles. BSBI.