This intermediate botanical course is designed for anyone who would like to increase their confidence in working with a flora as a means of identifying and getting to know more about our wonderful yet dwindling heritage of wildflowers.

The plant kingdom is hugely varied and it can be very difficult and daunting to start to identify specimens, especially for families and species that you have never seen before. Most botanists and ecologists start out identifying plants by comparing their specimens to photographs or illustrations in books. This course is aimed at professional and amateur botanists that want to progress from picture book identification onto proper ‘Floras’. By using simple techniques and field guides we aim to identify a wide range of plant families and species, without being put off by the terminology found within Floras.

Starting with a revision of the basic botanical structures and terminology, we will then concentrate on the key features for a range of garden and wildflower families. Detailed study will be made of individual species and their particular characteristics and how they fit into their families. During this course you will have the opportunity to practice your plant identification skills using a range of identification resources, particularly Stace’s New Flora (3rd / 4th editions). A great part of the course will therefore be spent working through keys, which involves looking closely at the intricate and often amazingly beautiful structure of plants.

This course is a good progression for those who have experience of botanical identification but want to make their identifications more robust and reliable; equally it will suit the complete beginner who has little or no practical experience (other than picture recognition). A systematic, flora-based approach will lead to greater success, accuracy and confidence. Familiarity with using a flora certainly turns a somewhat daunting prospect into an irresistible pastime.

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 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 field work.
  • Standard floras in use, with guides as to ease of use and appropriateness
  • Using a dichotomous key and multi-access keys
  • Use of a botanical glossary
  • Distinguishing between diagnostic features and general characters
  • Definitions of plant families: diagnostic features of some of the more important families
  • Using a variety of keys to identify specimens to species level
  • Basic techniques for collecting a voucher specimen and obtaining validation

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

  • Distinguish the flowering and vegetative parts of a range of taxa and identify a range of common plants to species level using keys and other resources, including members of the ten major plant families.
  • Construct and interpret floral formulae and understand their use in discriminating between different families, genera and species.


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: At the end of the course 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 range of species representing at least 3 families. 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. (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

PLEASE NOTE 11:00 am start on Friday

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 can be arranged from Shrewsbury Station.

The evening meal is at 6.30 pm (not included in the course fee - please book separately).

After dinner there is 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).

Please arrive at the centre between 09:00 am and 11:00 am on the first day of your course, in good time for a welcome introduction.

Mornings and evenings will generally be spent in the classroom studying plant specimens with the aid of the Centre’s equipment, especially books and microscopes. Site visits will take place in the afternoons. None of the visits will involve much walking but we will see a wide range of habitats from neutral grassland to moorland, limestone rocks and fen, in the beautiful setting of the Shropshire hills.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning sessions
Will cover botanical terminology and the features of the largest and most important British plant families. This will be done with fresh specimens as far as possible, supplemented by illustrated talks and lectures.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday
There will be field visits during which participants will practice keying and identifying the plants found, working in small groups with help and advice from the tutor.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening sessions
We will be more focused on the use of keys, often using material collected during the day. Participants will be able to make their own key using a set of pressed specimens.

Monday morning
We will begin with the test that is a requirement for those taking the course for credits. Non-credit participants will also join in because the test is quite informal and they will be given help (and told the answers) as they wish.

The course will conclude with a final site visit. Credit-students will complete a second assignment at home.

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

There will be some excursions out into the grounds of FSC Preston Montford, so we do advise you to bring warm, waterproof outdoor clothing with you as well as stout walking shoes or boots but most of the course takes place indoors.

  • Stout walking shoes or boots
  • Outdoor clothing suitable for all potential weather conditions
  • Sandwich box, vacuum flask / drinks container
  • Small rucksack or bag
  • Field notebook and pencil
  • Dissecting kit (scalpel and forceps) – if you have a set
  • x10 or x20 hand lens if you possess one*
    * hand lens and some books may be available to purchase, provided you pre-order by contacting Preston Montford Field Centre before-hand.

Recommended Books

  • New Flora of the British Isles by Stace (CUP ideally 4th edit)Field Flora of the British Isles by Stace, 1999.
  • The Wild Flower Key. Rose, F. and O'Reilly, C. 2006.
  • Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland, by Blamey, Fitter & Fitter, 2003.
  • Common Families of Flowering Plants, by Hickey & King, 1997.
  • Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms. 2000. Hickey, M. and King, C.
  • Describing Flowers – A Guide to the structure of flowers and to their identification features. 1996. Bebbington, A. & Bebbington, J. FSC Fold-out Guide*
  • Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms. 2000. Hickey, M. and King, C.

And/or any other books you are accustomed to using.