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 emphasis will be on how to carry out reliable and verifiable identifications through the correct presentation of specimens and the use of keys and other entomology identification resources. Participants will be expected to select a suitable taxonomic group in which they will start to specialise by building up a reference collection of specimens.

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 invertebrate groups in the field and in the lab using microscopes
  • Procedures for identifying selected insect groups to species level.
  • Importance of accurate identification of such groups i.e. ecological history of sites and habitat quality, and recorder limitations in producing reliable biological records for insects.
  • Issues with recording difficult groups: under recording of species or taxa as a result of identification issues; improving the recording of invertebrates and difficult groups.
  • Appropriate resources to identify the specimens within a voucher collection and discussion of the use of identification resources for insects.
  • Techniques for collecting and preparing voucher specimens for validation by a referee.
  • Management of collections of voucher specimens.
  • The use of referees and the validation system for difficult invertebrate groups.

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

  • Analyse and discuss the procedures for identifying selected insect groups to species level.
  • Critically assess the limitations of recorders in the identification of selected invertebrate groups to species level, with reference to the validation process, referees, and the use of digital images in recording.


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:

Part 1 Essay (1000 words, 50%):
Digital photography and the ease with which images can be shared online has changed the way that many people engage with insects and with recording schemes. Current developments in automated image recognition are adding another dimension to this. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the use of digital images in relation to insect recording in the UK, and what implications does this have for the associated recording and monitoring schemes?

Part 2 Species Portfolio (equivalent to 1000 words, 50%):
In consultation with your course tutor, choose an insect assemblage to focus on. This could be a range of different taxa from a particular location or habitat, or it could focus on one taxon group. For your chosen insect assemblage collect, identify and prepare at least 30 voucher specimens (representing a minimum of 15 species) that are representative of your chosen theme. You must include some species that are normally considered ‘difficult’ (in most cases this will mean species requiring dissection). Summarise the main characters used in identifying species within your chosen group. Explain how each specimen was identified and how you overcame any difficulties experienced in the identification.

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. .

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).

Introductions, Invertebrate diversity.

Introduction to collection techniques and sampling protocols, Fieldwork, details of module assessment, Voucher specimen identification, preparation and curation, Laboratory workshop I.

Invertebrate recording schemes and validation of records. Field visit. In the evening Laboratory workshop II.

Improving invertebrate recording, Laboratory workshop III.

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.

Bursaries and Subsidies

If you are aged 18-25, you are eligible for a £50 discount thanks to the Generation Green project, click here to find out more.

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.

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