This course on identifying insects using specimens and microscopes focuses on how to find and sample insects, how to prepare and curate specimens for identification purposes, and how to approach identification of your chosen species group.

The main objective of this course is to equip you with the necessary skills to carry out reliable and verifiable identifications, through the correct presentation of specimens and the use of keys and other entomological identification resources. You will be expected to select a suitable taxonomic group to specialise in, by building up your own reference collection of specimens!

The course will provide you with an understanding of insect diversity, skills in collecting, preparing and curating voucher specimens, and how to accurately identify insect groups to species level. You will also be introduced to the issues associated with recording hard to identify species, and how this can be improved. Your fieldwork will take you out into the rich range of habitat within and surrounding the Preston Montford Centre nestled in the heart of Shropshire, where your course will take place.

Tutor: Martin Harvey

Martin Harvey is an entomologist and biological recorder. He is based at the UKCEH Biological Records Centre, working on projects such as PoMS and iRecord. Martin is also a tutor for the Field Studies Council and teaches various courses that focus on invertebrates and biological recording, including the Identifying Insects Using Specimens and Microscopes course delivered as part of the MSc Biological Recording & Ecological Monitoring with Manchester Metropolitan University. In his spare time, Martin has been County Moth Recorder for Berkshire for over 20 years and runs the national recording scheme for soldierflies and allies, which includes robberflies, horseflies, bee-flies and snipeflies among others. .

Example Timetable


This timetable is subject to change but should give an outline of what to expect.
If you have booked accommodation with the Centre your bedroom will be ready from 3.00 pm onward 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.
Please arrive in tim efor the evening meal at 6.30 pm on Firiday
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.

Introductions; overview of insect diversity.

Introduction to collecting insects
Voucher specimen preparation and curation
Fieldwork – collection of representative specimens of key insect groups from the grounds of Preston Montford
Laboratory workshop
Lab work; use of identification keys
21.30 onward (optional) - light-trapping for moths and other insects


Field trip – collection techniques
Laboratory workshop – practical work on pinning, staging, carding and pointing of specimens, plus use of keys
Insect recording schemes and verification of records

Improving insect recording
Laboratory workshop and/or further field work at Preston Montford
Final summaries and where to go for further information and help

What's Included

  • Expert Tuition
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Hot and Cold Drinks
  • In Course Transport
  • Picnic Lunch

What’s included?

  • Classroom learning covering the theory of the subject
  • Field excursions to apply new knowledge
  • Expert tuition for which we are renowned
  • Clear objectives and progression
  • All meals included

For course bookings including full board accommodation, please note bathroom facilities maybe be shared

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.

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

  • A hand lens is essential, preferably x10 and/or x20.
  • Warm waterproof clothing and footwear.
  • A field notebook and pencil.
  • A sandwich box, vacuum flask and/or water bottle and a bag to carry your kit.
  • Collecting equipment (e.g. nets, tubes, forceps) and specimen preparation materials (e.g. entomological pins, glue, labelling pens) will be available to borrow but you may wish to bring your own if you already own them. A spare sandwich box or other strong box with polystyrene or a cork tile cut to fit the base would be useful if you want to take pinned specimens home (it may also be possible to obtain suitable boxes from the tutor). Do not purchase anything else especially for the course as you will receive advice during the course and you will get chance to try out different equipment yourself.
  • Identification keys and books will be available for use during the course but if you already have your own identification guides you may wish to bring them along.
  • PURCHASE OF SPECIMEN STORAGE BOX NECESSARY FOR THE COURSE - TUTOR SUGGESTIONS: NHBS #225057 small store box £13.50 (keep inside a ziplock-type plastic bag to ward off pests)  - Tutor suggests the 230 x 150 x 54 mm size
    For MSc students to use for their assignment collection, at least two of the above boxes would be required. A larger and more expensive alternative is this wooden store box (the small size should be sufficient):

Useful Resources

Guidance will be provided on the most useful books and other resources for the invertebrate group you decide to focus on. Here are some weblinks that provide information on invertebrate specimens in general:

Recommended Reading

  • Barnard, P.C. (2011) The Royal Entomological Society Book of British Insects. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Chinery, M. (2005) Collins Complete British Insects. Harper Collins