I spent today at a snail identification course today. Organised by Sustrans (the sustainable transport organisation) and held at Water of Leith Conservation Trust, this was a course intended to guide the beginner through the process of identifying snails. Or at least that was how it was billed and everyone on the course was a beginner. However, I don't think I was alone in feeling that the course was pitched at too high a level, both given our level of present knowledge and the practical uses to which we hope to put the training (for example, when I do my weekly patrol for the Water of Leith Trust, I won't have the time to check every patch of vegetation and leaf litter for tiny snails, whereas I am more than happy to keep an eye open and record the more obvious species). It was fascinating to look at the tiny snails under the microscope and challenging to use a key to identify them to species level, but it might have been more helpful to have started by taking a relatively easy species and using it to demonstrate how to use a snail identification key. Even for people who have used biological identification keys they can be very tricky, particularly if you're trying to identify species of a group you're not very familiar with.
Anyway, we had a pleasant wander along part of the river to collect some snails to identify. The group altogether found around ten different species of snails in quite a small area and took them back to the Water of Leith Visitor Centre to identify them before releasing them back into the wild.
Here are two common garden snails, the smaller one is a youngster