Empirical methods for evaluating the ecological value of a site are an increasingly important element of nature conservation. This Site Assesment course allows learners to gain an understanding of methods for assessing site quality using vegetation.

Reporting of the local or national value of a development site, favourable or unfavourable status, the outcome of management practices and the long term effects of environmental and climate change increasingly rely on evidence-based approaches. The purpose of this course is to explore the use of botanical data in making such assessments.

The accurate discrimination of good quality habitats versus poorer habitats is essential to making good conservation and planning decisions, and can have knock on effects to biodiversity and economics if poorly undertaken. This course teaches students the skills needed to assess, repeatedly the habitats they encounter, alongside the ability to report and action these findings. Phytosociological techniques are essential skills needed for good employability and are recognised by the private, government and charitable environmental sector.

The course will cover survey and recording techniques, data analysis and methods of evaluating sites including botanical species lists, phase 1 habitat survey, British plant communities, National Vegetation Classification (NVC), and how to put the information into context. There will be lectures, fieldwork and study sessions involving data analysis.

This is not an identification course and to get the most out of it you should be familiar with botanical identification to a reasonable level. Some computer skills are also required.

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.

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.

  • The history of phytosociology.
  • Phase 1 surveys; its use as surveys and monitoring tools. Critical analysis of the value of Phase 1 surveys in vegetation assessment, its use in the field, and how to analyse associated data.
  • National Vegetation Classification; its use as surveys and monitoring tools. Critical analysis of the method, its use in the field, and how to analyse associated data.
  • Other vegetation surveying methods such as ditch survey methods, European habitat methods.
  • The use of plant indicators to surveying, surveillance and monitoring.
  • The role of Axiophytes as indicators of habitats of conservation importance.
  • Rarity and threat to determine the conservation of plant species.
  • Surveying techniques and critique.
  • Awareness of published resources for the identification of species and vegetation including handbooks, cribs and general guides.

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

  • Design, justify and carry out a survey or sampling strategy for the assessment of a site for vegetation, and present the results appropriately
  • Critically evaluate the use of plant indicator species in survey and monitoring including rarity and threat to determine conservation status


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 expected to design, justify and carry out an appropriate survey or sampling strategy for the assessment of a site for vegetation. Students will need to justify the methods chosen with reference to appropriate literature, logistical and practical constraints, and present the results appropriately. Students will be expected to carry out some data analysis on the results, and present these in the most appropriate way. This report will constitute approximately 2000 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 combine field work and classroom sessions.

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

  • A laptop computer is essential (we have a few available, but these must be booked before the course). Wireless internet connectivity and the ability to take and download photographs is an advantage.
  • Warm waterproof clothing and sensible footwear are advisable for the fieldwork elements.
  • A waterproof clipboard.
  • A sandwich box, flask and/or water bottle and a bag to carry your kit.
  • Your favourite Field Guide is optional but handy.

Useful Books

  • It is useful to have access to the NVC books: Rodwell, J.S. (ed) 1991-2000. British Plant Communities Vols 1-5. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (copies will be available for use during the course but are not always available for loan).
  • Identification guides such as: The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose (Warne, 2006) and the New Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace (3rd Edition 2010 or 4th Edition 2019) will also be available during the course, but you might want your own copies at home.