Tuesday, 23 January 2018

HRS training courses

Although I have written on the subject of training on several occasions, I don't think I have set out, in detail, what we offer and how we deliver our courses. There is an article in Antenna, but I guess that very few people will have read that or even noticed it! So, perhaps I need to set out the basics:

Thanks to grants from the OPAL fund, Natural England and Dipterists Forum, the HRS (& Dipterists Forum) has the capacity to travel the length and breadth of the country delivering training courses to local groups. Quite simply, we fill the car with 12 microscopes plus camera microscope plus 5 store boxes of specimens and whatever other equipment that we need for the trip (Computer, books, handouts etc). Normally we have to travel the day preceding the course so we are usually faced with two nights in a B&B (it can be more when we go to far-flung corners such as Orkney and Shetland).

We offer three main courses:
  • Introduction to Hoverflies: an entry-level course designed to take the absolute novice through the basics of comparative anatomy and interpreting keys using Stubbs & Falk. This is a two-day course that is trimmed down from the three-day course that we run each year for the FSC and Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Intermediate Hoverflies: a two-day course that concentrates on difficult genera, especially Cheilosia and Platycheirus. It is aimed at people with a reasonable level of experience who have previously done our introductory course.
  • Introduction to Diptera. We have run various permustations, including a straight four-day course for the FSC, two consecutive weekends for the Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust, and a two-day version such as we ran for the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. This course is the most problematic because we don't think two days are enough, but it is difficult to deliver over a longer time-frame without reducing the numbers who might want to attend. 

How the courses work?

Our courses have evolved over the past 25 years and are now wholly based on a set of specimens that allow us to give each student the same specimen. It means that I maintain a huge volume of specimens in a total of ten store boxes (a lot of shelf space in my house!). This allows us to run courses in the winter, which is our preferred approach because it reduces the impact on our summer field itinerary. Our courses are limited to a maximum of 12 participants and we won't travel long distances for any fewer than 8 participants.

We provide a series of powerpoint presentations that include discussion of issues such as maintaining and managing a collection, field craft and a plethora of anatomical features. In essence what you get is a solid module in comparative anatomy. However, it is neither stuffy, nor dull. If you are interested in Diptera there will be something there for you and you will get the best opportunity possible to develop skills.

Day one starts with an introductory talk followed by a series of sessions in which we guide you through the keys, including group sessions before letting people loose to work at their own pace. We think this is essential because it makes sure that everybody gets attention and the critical issues are fully covered as a group.

As the weekend progresses, we punctuate the sessions with presentations to explain anatomical issues and of course to cover requisite skills in curation, recording and field craft.

How much does it cost?

We charge at cost for fuel, accommodation and road/bridge tolls/ferries. We set a basic £15 per each (i.e. £30) per full day subsistence allowance (will adjust for part-days) and also make a charge (£6 per student) for some course handouts (introduction to Hoverflies). The charge is made as an invoice from Dipterists Forum and we in turn invoice Dipterists Forum for our costs. Basic costs where a 2 night stay is required and a drive of up to 600 miles will cost in the region of £300-£350 at current rates but will be higher for longer distances or if ferry crossings are required.


We provide:

  • Full set of specimens for the course
  • Camera microscope, computer and presentations
  • Set of 12 microscopes for students
  • Course literature for students to retain
  • Relevant text books (i.e. Stubbs & Falk) for loan during the course
Our requirements:
  • Room capable of accommodating us plus 12 students, each with desk space of appx. 4' x 2' - we also need sufficient space to set out collections etc so usually between 16 and 20 standard stackable tables
  • Powerpoint projector (and suitable surface to project onto - we can provide a screen but prefer to work with local facilities where possible - reduces the risk of loss of valuable items whilst travelling)
  • Facilities for making refreshments
  • 12 students - organised by you
Following a trip to Orkney where we found that 3 out of 8 of our expected group failed to attend, we won't run courses where the students don't pay anything towards the costs. We took this decision because we think that where courses are free it is more likely that you will get casual interest participants who won't use the course and may well not attend because they have no personal investment in it.


We usually organise our itinerary a year in advance, so we are looking to make bookings for winter 2018-19. We will probably restrict ourselves to a maximum of four courses next winter, somewhat dependent upon my health, so bookings may have to be provisional.

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