Undergraduate study - 2018 entry

Subject area: Ecological and Environmental Sciences

Why choose Ecological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Edinburgh?

  • In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, the School of GeoSciences was identified as having the UK’s greatest concentration of excellent researchers in Earth and Environmental Sciences. Some 78 per cent of our research activity is in the highest categories, 4* and 3*, which are rated world-leading or internationally excellent.

  • There are residential field trips in some of the most beautiful areas of Scotland, and opportunities to arrange scientific expeditions in the UK and abroad.

  • You will be taught by top-rated academic staff who are leaders in their fields.

Study abroad

Personal tutors and teachers have always been available and willing to help in my experience. Beyond motivating you to do your best, they care about following your path of studies and making sure you keep up with your work.

Eleonora Faraggiana 4th year BSc (Hons) Ecological & Environmental Sciences
Eleonora Faraggiana 4th year BSc (Hons) Ecological & Environmental Sciences

The growing world population means we now face problems of over-exploitation of natural resources, rapid climate change and habitat degradation.

Ecology is the scientific study of the interaction of organisms with each other and their physical, chemical and biological environment. Environmental sciences, by contrast, integrates biological, chemical and physical sciences to understand our changing environment. A combination of the two is vital for understanding and tackling these global issues. The study of ecological and environmental sciences will appeal to students with an interest in the diversity of the natural world and those concerned with environmental issues.

Curriculum choice

There is a choice of two programmes: you can either take Ecological & Environmental Sciences or Ecological & Environmental Sciences with Management. For each, there is a broad range of topics available, with the opportunity to specialise in the area(s) of ecology and environmental sciences that interest(s) you most in later years.

Ecological & Environmental Sciences

You will study a wide variety of courses, starting with those focused on the origins of life, the basics of ecological theory, and global environmental processes. You will examine topics such as biodiversity, conservation management and land-use change, while also gaining a broad understanding of physical, chemical and biological sciences. Through field studies and taught courses you will discover and test methods used in ecological and environmental analysis.

Later in the programme you will explore topics such as water resource management, land use, environmental pollution and environmental modelling. You will be taught by staff involved in high-level research in these subject areas. You will have the opportunity to undertake research projects, including an independent research project in Year 4, and will complete field and laboratory assignments, including at least three week-long field trips in Scotland.

The programme will provide you with the skills and knowledge to tackle environmental issues, design robust strategies for sample collection, make ecological and environmental measurements, evaluate the significance of results and manage conservation and environmental protection projects.

Ecological & Environmental Sciences with Management

You can combine your study of ecological and environmental sciences with the study of management. In addition to the above, you will study management courses from the Business School and the School of Economics as well as from schools across the College of Science & Engineering. This programme is particularly relevant to those seeking careers in policymaking, consultancy or in the management of natural resources.

You will still study all the compulsory courses in the normal Ecological & Environmental Sciences programme, so your understanding of the subject will not suffer. However your additional options will be limited, with many of your option slots replaced with management courses. A typical balance over a year would be three Ecological & Environmental Sciences courses, two management courses, and one further option course.

Year 1

You will be introduced to fundamental aspects of ecology through compulsory courses Origin and Diversity of Life and Biology, Ecology and Environment, introducing the organisation of ecological communities and the influence of the environment on living organisms.

You will also undertake a mathematical course, such as Quantification in the Life Sciences.

In addition, you will be able to select courses from other academic areas, some directly related, such as geography, chemistry or geology, and some that may help to widen career opportunities, including modern languages, computing, management and business studies.

Year 2

You will start your second year with a nine-day field course (Field Ecology) which runs immediately after the end of the second semester of Year 1. During the year you will also study compulsory courses titled: Principles of Ecology; Soil, Water and Atmospheric Processes; and Ecological & Environmental Analysis.

You can choose other courses, as in Year 1, from throughout the options offered at Edinburgh. In the past students have chosen courses such as Animal Biology, The Green Planet, Oceanography and Environmental Chemistry.

Year 3

You will start the year with a week-long summer field course, which is currently held at the University's outdoor centre on Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands. You will continue with compulsory ecology courses, including Ecological Measurement and Population and Community Ecology.

You will also choose at least one of the courses Natural Resource Management or Environmental Pollution. In addition, you will select two Year 3 courses from other programmes. In the past students have studied courses such as Animal Diversity & Evolution; Behavioural Ecology; Evolution & Ecology of Plants; Geochemistry; and Quaternary Environmental Change.

Alternatively, there are opportunities to spend Year 3 abroad through one of the University's exchange programmes.

Year 4

You will continue to study compulsory ecology courses, including a week-long summer residential field trip currently held in Argyll, and choose from a wide selection of option courses, learning at the cutting edge of various ecological and environmental disciplines. You will study Professional Skills in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, which directly prepares you for work in this subject area, and the tutorial-based course 'Critical Thinking in Ecological and Environmental Sciences'. This comprises 12 sessions in very small groups with an academic, learning to critically analyse and assess scientific papers and experiments.

You will also complete a specialised honours dissertation, with individual supervision from an academic with experience in your chosen subject area. Most students will do outdoor field data collection as part of their project, with many travelling abroad.

Are there additional costs?

We provide a 50 per cent subsidy for all students on core fieldwork courses. Other awards are also available for eligible students.

Our facilities

Most teaching takes place within the School of GeoSciences, located within the University's King's Buildings campus. You will also have access to the University's laboratories, computer facilities and libraries across all University sites. In addition, the three compulsory field courses will involve at least one week each of field study across Scotland.

Study abroad

Opportunities to study abroad are available through the Erasmus programme, which offers placements throughout Europe. There are also opportunities to study further afield in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a combination of tutorials, lectures, practical classes and fieldwork. You will prepare assignments throughout your programme, working both individually and in groups, producing essays, lab/fieldwork reports, posters and presentations. In your final years you will undertake more private study and will receive individual supervision with your honours dissertation project, as well as tutorials with academic staff in small groups.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed by coursework and examinations and additionally, in Year 4, a dissertation.

These programmes are particularly relevant for students interested in working for an environmental consultancy or conservation organisation but also prepare you for careers in the forestry and water industries.

Graduates have also gone on to work for government agencies providing policy advice or have entered teaching, finance and management.

Many students use the University’s research contacts to gain experience in their area of interest before starting work or continuing with their studies.