Course structure and organisation

This course is not designed for absolute beginners but for anyone who can identify some plants but needs help to improve. It teaches participants how to identify plants systematically and not just by simple recognition. This leads to the confidence and accuracy that is essential in recording.
The learning outcomes are to:

    • improve observational skills
    • become familiar with botanical terminology
    • learn the key diagnostic features of our commonest plant families (i.e. to know what to look for)
    • become confident in using floras and botanical keys
    • develop the critical faculty necessary for accurate identification.

There are 15 units, available to download at fortnightly intervals from February to August:

  1. Classification and Names
  2. Terminology
  3. Keys
  4. The Cabbage Family – Brassicaceae
  5. The Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
  6. The Lily Family – Liliaceae
  7. The Campion Family – Caryophyllaceae
  8. The Carrot Family – Apiaceae
  9. The Pea Family – Fabaceae
  10. The Rose Family – Rosaceae
  11. The Deadnettle Family – Lamiaceae
  12. The Figwort Family – Scrophulariaceae
  13. Some Small Families and how to prepare voucher specimens
  14. The Daisy Family – Asteraceae
  15. The Orchid Family – Orchidaceae

The first three units provide a foundation of basic theory. Then the most important families are studied, not in taxonomic sequence but in the order of their peak flowering times. So we begin with the Brassicaceae, Ranunculaceae and Liliaceae as these have many spring-flowering members. The penultimate family is the Asteraceae as this is most prominent in mid-late summer. The Orchidaceae comes last as a fitting end to the course. Each unit (except the last) is followed by a question sheet and answers are returned on-line. See Sample units.

The questions involve finding and examining named wild plant species. Mostly, the task is to find the plant, to state the date and location and to give brief habitat notes and the main diagnostic features. There is also some work on keys. You do not have to look for rare plants; the species asked for are all quite common throughout Britain and Ireland and many of them grow around gardens and roadsides.

You have a tutor who is an experienced botanist familiar with your own area, who corrects your answers and gives advice and support. Marks are not given but the answers are returned with comments. If all the questions have been answered your tutor will correct any errors and grade the unit as ‘complete’. If the questions have not all been answered (maybe one of the required species has not yet been found) the unit will be graded ‘incomplete’. You can re-submit the answer sheet later, possibly not until the following year.

The course is not accredited, but students who complete all units are awarded a Certificate of Completion. It is possible to complete in one year and there is a time limit of two years. If you have not completed the course in your first year your fee automatically covers a second year – you do not have to apply for this. Your username and all personal and course data are deleted from the website after completion or at the end of the second year whether you have completed or not.

Plant-hunting is fun! Those who have completed this course have said, without exception, that they enjoyed it. The most important outcomes will be confidence and recognition by other botanists.

The organisation:

The Field Studies Council (FSC) is responsible for the financial management of the course.

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) supports the course but is not involved in the running of it.

Our tutors are all dedicated to the training of new botanists and are happy to share their enthusiasm and expertise with their individual students.

The Course Director and author, Brenda Harold, has a PhD in plant cytogenetics, is a Chartered Biologist and a retired university lecturer. She is a long standing BSBI Referee and a member of the BSBI Training and Education Committee. She has tutored numerous adult courses for the FSC, Workers Educational Association, Wildlife Trust, Open University and other organisations. She also volunteers as a Wildlife Site Surveyor for Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust and it was their need to train beginners that inspired this course.