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Conservation Ecology

MSc / PGDip / PGCert

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences

Accredited by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)

This course is designed to develop the professional and field skills, including identification and survey techniques required for effective conservation. It will familiarise you with the key ecological concepts underlying evidence-based conservation. You will produce professional reports and assessments and undertake monitoring of species and communities. You will also gain additional skills essential for conservation practitioners, for example:

  • Knowledge of international and national wildlife legislation, planning law and environmental policy;
  • IT competencies, including Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • An understanding of the ecological requirements of different species and the implications of environmental change;
  • An ability to statistically interpret field data. 
The course has two pathways: one is focused on conservation within the UK/EU and the other focuses on conservation at the international level.

Available start dates

September 2019 / September 2020

Teaching location

Headington Campus

Course length

  • Full time: MSc: 12 months, PGDip: 8 months, PGCert: 8 months
  • Part time: MSc: 24 months, PGDip: 20 months, PGCert: 8 months

For full application details, please see the 'How to apply / Entry requirements' section.

  • Our lecturers conduct first-class research in conservation ecology.
  • We have strong links with many conservation organisations and research institutions, such as the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Fauna and Flora International, TRAFFIC and Conservation International, providing excellent project opportunities and enhancing career prospects.
  • Focusing on the practical application of theory means graduates can adapt quickly to the demands of the conservation professions. We develop your field skills, including identification techniques, required when undertaking biodiversity surveys.
  • Research-informed teaching keeps our students up to date with the latest thinking. Equipping you with current conservation legislation and practice is essential in the context of rapidly-changing demands on land use.
  • We develop your transferable skills, particularly communication, organisation and research planning, which will assist you when carrying out your project and prepare you for a career in conservation ecology.
  • This MSc is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and you will be able to connect with CIEEM during the course, keeping abreast of current practice and be able to apply for graduate membership on completion.

Professional accreditation

Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) accreditation indicates that a key professional body recognises that we offer our students the opportunity to develop the key skills needed for employment in conservation ecology. Additionally, our students have access to vital information about current developments in ecology and consultancy and can benefit from all that CIEEM offers.

Please note: CIEEM accreditation is subject to review and can be withdrawn at any time.

Conservation Ecology is a modular master's course designed to provide you with a thorough understanding of theoretical and practical skills required for proficiency in conservation ecology. 

Different subject areas relating to conservation are taught and assessed separately through assignments, presentations and project reports. It is organised on a module-credit basis, with each 20 M-level credit module representing approximately 200 hours of student input. This includes approximately 36 hours of staff contact, normally timetabled through three-hour teaching blocks over the two 12-week semesters.

As the course is also offered on a part-time basis, we encourage applications from professionals in conservation organisations and environmental consultancies who wish to upgrade their qualifications.

Teaching focuses on current issues in conservation associated with environmental change, species identification and survey techniques, key theoretical underpinning of conservation ecology, national and international wildlife legislation, GIS, human-wildlife conflicts, biodiversity assessment and environmental impact assessment. By completing this course you will gain an ability to statistically interpret field data,  organise your work and communicate to a variety of audiences. You will also be taught research methods and career development to help you transfer your skills to the work environment.

Early in Semester 1 you will plan your research project. You will work with your tutor to design a project that best suits your interests and needs. We encourage project work to be carried out with external research organisations and conservation practitioners, many of whom have strong links with Oxford Brookes University. Our own subject experts also offer projects.

You will achieve an MSc degree on successful completion of all the course modules including the research project. A Postgraduate Diploma will be awarded for completion of course modules without the research project, and a Postgraduate Certificate will be awarded for completion of 60 level 7 credits. To complete an MSc you need to obtain 180 level 7 credits and for a PGDip 120 level 7 credits. For a PGCert you need to obtain 60 level 7 credits.

The following core modules are compulsory for all three qualifications.

For the EU/UK conservation pathway:

  • Taxonomy and Identification (20 level 7 credits) develops taxonomic skills by asking you to focus on the processes of identification of species and recognition of key characteristics of selected taxonomic groups. Skills are learned through practical studies in the field and the use of collections and appropriate taxonomic tools.
  • Ecology for Conservation (20 level 7 credits) introduces appropriate theory and methods together with examination of areas of controversy and best practice for habitat and species conservation and monitoring.
  • Ecosystem Degradation and Management (20 level 7 credits) considers the nature and extent of ecosystem degradation resulting from human activities and the methods for conserving and restoring degraded ecosystems. 

For the International pathway:

  • Ecology for Conservation (20 level 7 credits) introduces appropriate theory and methods together with examination of areas of controversy and best practice for habitat and species conservation and monitoring.
  • International Legislation, Humans and Wildlife (20 level 7 credits) examines the role of international legislation in wildlife conservation and trade, and standard methods for assessing the status of species and habitats, together with a consideration of the role of human-wildlife conflicts in conservation.
  • Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (20 level 7 credits) introduces the methods and practices of biodiversity assessment at large spatial scales and examines the essential role the components of biodiversity have in providing services for humankind.

The following core module is compulsory for the MSc and PGDip (both routes):

  • Career Development and Research Skills (20 level 7 credits) looks at the practical aspects of scientific work, such as designing and analysing experiments and presenting proposals for research and results to prospective employers.

For the MSc and PGDip you need to obtain 40 level 7 credits from any of the following modules:

For the EU/UK conservation pathway:

  • GIS and Environmental Modelling (20 level 7 credits) looks at the practical application of GIS and other computer-based techniques and models as tools to assist in environmental decision making.
  • Procedures and Methods of EIA (40 level 7 credits) examines the procedures and methods of environmental impact assessments.
  • Molecular Biology (20 level 7 credits) introduces core practical skills within molecular biology, to give a firm grounding in the practical aspects of molecular biology that can be applied to problems in conservation biology. 
  • Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (20  level 7 credits) introduces the methods and practices of biodiversity assessment at large spatial scales and examines the essential role the components of biodiversity have in providing services for humankind.

For the International pathway:

  • Taxonomy and Identification (20 level 7 credits): see above for details
  • GIS and Environmental Modelling (20 level 7 credits): see above for details
  • Genetic and Population Management (20 level 7 credits) leads to an advanced understanding of the genetic and demographic management of both small captive populations and those that have become isolated in the wild. Principles of molecular and population genetics are placed in a practical context, and the skills of DNA sequencing and the use of micro-satellites and random sequencing techniques to assess genetic relationships are developed.
  • Conservation Education (20 level 7 credits) provides the knowledge base required for effective conservation action is reviewed. This module centres on practical ways of conveying information about environmental decline and how public understanding is essential for effective conservation.

For the MSc, you also undertake: 

  • Research Project (60 level 7 credits): this involves an individual research study on a selected topic in Conservation Ecology.

NB: As courses are reviewed regularly as part of our quality assurance framework, the module list you choose from may vary from that shown here.

Teaching and learning

Teaching and learning methods reflect the wide variety of topics associated with conservation ecology, and include field visits and exercises, lectures, directed reading, workshops, seminars, practical exercises, laboratory sessions and project work. A key component of the course is developing field skills, including species identification. Techniques for identification are taught in the field and in laboratory sessions, using expertise from the Department of Biological and Medical Sciences and, where appropriate, from the University of Oxford Museum of Natural History.

As needed, you will be taught by guest speakers who are conservation practitioners or who work in conservation research organisations. Some parts of the course share modules with master’s provision in Environmental Assessment and Management and also in Primate Conservation. This cross-disciplinary nature for certain aspects of the course is a key strength.

Approach to assessment

The course is entirely assessed by coursework. You will be assessed using a range of assessed topics, including scientific reports, verbal presentations, mock grant applications, critiques of published work and reports, taxonomic collections and via a dissertation covering your research topic.  We give you detailed feedback on all your submissions and provide opportunities for formative feedback.

Field trips

We use the varied landscape of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire as our natural laboratory, and the course has a large practical component, developing survey and assessment methods as well as identification skills. This landscape is used to illustrate major conservation issues as well. Most of this field work is conducted as part of the modules during semesters but we also have a field skills based period at the end of the taught component of the course and offer opportunities to work towards gaining specialist licences, which are invaluable for consultancy work. 

There are no extra costs associated with the fieldwork components of this MSc.

Work placement and professional recognition

We encourage you to conduct your research project with conservation organisations or with one of our research groups. We have good links with a range of national and local conservation organisations and ecological consultancies. On successful completion of this MSc, you will be eligible to apply for graduate membership of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. With an additional two years' work experience, you will be eligible to apply for associate membership.

Attendance pattern

Our compulsory core modules are on Mondays and also Wednesday afternoons and you should expect to spend one other afternoon in timetabled sessions, though the day will depend on your choice of these modules. The scheduling of the modules is intended to allow you to combine work and study effectively.

Programme changes

On rare occasions we may need to make changes to our course programmes after they have been published on the website. For more information, please visit our Changes to programmes page.

Tuition fees

Home/EU - full time fee: 2019/20: £7,490 2020/21: £8,500

Home/EU - part time fee: 2019/20: £3,820 2020/21: £4,250

International - full time: 2019/20: £14,880 2020/21: £15,400

Please be aware that some courses will involve some additional costs that are not covered by your fees. Specific additional costs for this course, if any, are detailed in the 'This course in detail' window above.

Questions about fees?
Contact Student Finance on:
+44 (0)1865 483088

Funding and scholarships

Entry requirements

Applicants are usually expected to have (or be about to attain) at least a second class honours degree in a related scientific subject from a recognised institution of higher education. If you do not have these academic qualifications, you could still be offered a place on this course if you can show evidence of the potential to succeed based on professional and/or related experiences.

English language requirements

If your first language is not English, you must satisfy our English language requirements by providing us with evidence of a minimum IELTS score of 6.5.

Please also see the university's standard English language requirements

English requirements for visas

If you need a student visa to enter the UK you will need to meet the UK Visas and Immigration minimum language requirements as well as the university's requirements. Find out more about English language requirements.

International applications

Preparation courses for International and EU students

We offer a range of courses to help you to meet the entry requirements for this course and also familiarise you with university life. You may also be able to apply for one student visa to cover both courses.

  • Take our Pre-Master's course to help you to meet both the English language and academic entry requirements for your master's course.
  • If you need to improve your English language, we have pre-sessional English language courses available to help you to meet the English language requirements of your chosen master’s.

If you are studying outside the UK, for more details about your specific country entry requirements, translated information, local contacts and programmes within your country, please have a look at our country pages.

How to apply

Terms and Conditions of Enrolment

When you accept our offer, you agree to the Terms and Conditions of Enrolment. You should therefore read those conditions before accepting the offer.

How this course helps you develop

We help you to develop links with potential employers, often through project work, and we encourage contact with practitioners throughout the course. The course is underpinned by theory but there is an emphasis on developing practical skills, including industry standard survey techniques and  species identification skills. We also provide opportunities to develop techniques for data handling and analysis along with a focus on professional communication skills. We encourage all our students to learn from their peers as well, helping to develop essential team-working skills. As evidence of how our course has helped our students develop, our students have won the CIEEM best postgraduate dissertation award for the last three years. Opportunities to work with consultancies and conservation agencies are regularly offered to our students whilst they are on the course, helping them to enhance their professional skills and employment prospects .


Graduates of this course gain employment primarily with environmental consultancies or agencies, conservation organisations and charities, or continue academic research as  PhD students. Some of our past students are currently working for environmental consultants, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Environment Agency, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and Natural England and with conservation organisations overseas.

How Brookes supports postgraduate students

  • Supervision from internationally-recognised academics
  • Excellent facilities giving access to the latest technology
  • A mixture of funded and self/externally-funded places
  • High-profile research events.

Supporting your learning

From academic advisers and support co-ordinators to specialist subject librarians and other learning support staff, we want to ensure that you get the best out of your studies.

Research highlights

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, 95% of our research in Biological Sciences was rated as internationally recognised, with 58% being world leading or internationally excellent.  That makes us the top post ’92 University for its Biological Sciences submission.

In addition to this research which underpins our teaching, our Centre for Ecology, Environment and Conservation is developing the use of mobile applications for data collection and processing in the field. Our Phase One Toolkit, which was developed by staff who deliver our MSc Conservation Ecology, with student input, is widely used by consultancies, demonstrating that our students have access to innovative data collection tools.

Research areas and clusters

Research in the following areas is undertaken via the Centre for Ecology, Environment and Conservation:

Course downloads

  • MSc Conservation Ecology brochure
  • Related courses

  • MSc Primate Conservation