Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

BSc Ecological and Environmental Sciences

UCAS code: CF17

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering

Study abroad

Introducing BSc Ecological and Environmental Sciences

Ecological and Environmental Sciences is aimed at those who are passionate about interactions between humans and the natural world, and our impact on the planet.

The world's growing population means we now face problems of rapid climate change, the over-exploitation of our natural resources, and the degradation of natural habitats. Ecological and Environmental Sciences will help you understand these issues, uniquely positioning you to address some of the biggest environmental challenges that face our planet.

  • Ecology is the scientific study of the interaction of organisms with each other and their physical, chemical and biological environment
  • Environmental sciences integrates biological, chemical and physical sciences to understand our changing environment

A combination of both ecological science and environmental science is vital for understanding and tackling these environmental challenges.

This programme will provide you with the skills and knowledge to:

  • understand environmental issues
  • design robust strategies for sample collection
  • make ecological and environmental measurements
  • evaluate the significance of results* manage conservation and environmental protection projects

You will also have plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty. Your most important laboratory is the outside world and we place a great deal of emphasis on delivering practical and field-based experiences. You could be splashing through rivers counting insects one day, or trekking through the forest measuring trees and taking leaf samples the next.

These trips will take you beyond the classroom, where you can gain valuable hands-on experience by applying what you have learned to real-life situations.

This degree is flexible, so you will have opportunities to build your degree around areas that you are most curious or passionate about. You will have a wide choice of optional courses, so you can focus on areas in which you are especially interested, following either an ‘ecology and conservation’ or ‘environmental sciences’ route.

If you choose to study Ecological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, you will become part of an academic community in one of the top ranked universities in the world. Our research and industry networks give you access to a world-class experience with real-world relevance. As a result, you will experience teaching and learning at the forefront of environmental knowledge and learn from ecological and environmental scientists who are undertaking world-leading research in a wide range of areas.

Field trips

You will have many opportunities to get your hands dirty through our taught courses and local field trips. You will be taken beyond the classroom where you will apply skills you have learned in ecological and environmental analysis towards real-life situations.

During day trips to Scottish locations, you will learn how to identify plants, insects and birds and how to formally collect data on these organisms. Other trips will enable you to apply your knowledge of field conservation in wild and remote areas, or how people are managing land for conservation, forestry and agriculture.

The locations and experiences of each trip will vary, enriching you with a broad understanding of how the world works. You will be supported in using as many different pieces of research field equipment as possible. You will learn to become familiar with using field tools to obtain and interpret field measurements such as:

  • assessing biodiversity and water quality
  • taking climate and trace gas measurements
  • estimating carbon stocks of forests
  • collecting water samples
  • calculating rates of photosynthesis
  • detecting water stress in plants
  • evaluating the influence of soil chemical properties on vegetation

Previous field trip locations in Scotland have included Killin, Loch Tay, Oban and the Cairngorms.

Please note:

As the content of the programme is updated to reflect the advancing subject matter and student feedback, the location of field trips may change.

Our ecological science degrees involve a significant element of field study and we are pleased to be able to support our students as they learn practical and highly prized skills.

We encourage you to review the Programme Structure - Degree Programme Table to see compulsory and option courses.

Degree Programme Table: Ecological and Environmental Sciences (BSc Hons)

Year 1

In Year 1, you will be introduced to fundamental aspects of ecology including a theoretical and practical study of the diversity of living organisms and the evolutionary forces that created them. You will also gain an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and insights into the diversity, distribution and abundance of life on planet Earth.

One of the most exciting things about a Scottish undergraduate degree is the fact that you have the opportunity to take a significant number of courses outside your degree programme in Years 1 and 2. You can choose courses closely related to your degree, or try something completely different and new to you.

Year 2

You will start Year 2 with a field trip which runs immediately after the end of the second semester of Year 1. You will go on daily trips out of Edinburgh to a range of environments ranging from hills, rocky shores, forests and grasslands during this intensive course. The trip will familiarise you with the flora and fauna of Scotland through trips to freshwater, woodland, grassland and heath/moorland habitats.

Through a variety of courses, you will:

  • understand the distribution and patterns of abundance of plant and animal populations to their environment
  • gain skills in the collection and analysis of data relevant to biological, ecological and environmental problems
  • understand soil science, environmental physics and hydrology which will enable you to tackle professional issues such as land degradation, climate and land use change and microclimate modification.

You can also choose other courses from 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 Year 3 with a week-long summer field course where you will learn a variety of measurement and evaluation techniques. These can range from identifying species richness through to ecosystem exchanges of carbon dioxide, as well as give insights into ecological processes, the role of biodiversity and environmental status. Previous locations have included the University's outdoor centre on Loch Tay in the Scottish Highlands.

In Year 3 you can explore topics such as ecological measurement, natural resource management, pollution and environmental modelling.

In addition, you will be able to select option 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

A large focus will be on your honours dissertation, which is an independent, original piece of research in your chosen specialist field. You will receive individual supervision from an academic with experience in your chosen subject area. Often these are done in partnership with companies or UK research centres. In this you will develop and demonstrate skills in research planning, data handling and synthesis/writing. Most students will do outdoor field data collection as part of their project, with many travelling abroad.

You will also continue to study compulsory ecology courses, including a week-long summer residential field trip where you will gain skills in designing and conducting your own field sampling and monitoring projects. Previous locations have included the Scottish region of Argyll.

You can also choose from a wide selection of option courses, learning at the cutting edge of various ecological and environmental disciplines.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2020/21)

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.

Depending on the option courses selected in your programme, you may also study at various University campus locations in the vibrant city of Edinburgh.

Study abroad

There are opportunities for a year abroad through one of the University's exchange programmes.

What are my options for going abroad?

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.

Throughout your degree you will be expected to study for approximately 200 hours per 20 credit course. How this time is divided varies, and is dependent on the courses you choose to study in your programme as well as the nature of the topics explored.

The degree provides a diverse learning experience. You could be discussing animal adaptions to habitat in a tutorial one day, or immersing yourself in a Scottish forest collecting plant samples the next.

Option courses enable you to select areas of study in areas you are most passionate about. In your final year, you will design your own project dissertation with guidance from our expert academics, helping you develop skills to become a researcher in your own right.

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.


One of the main ways we teach is through lectures and these are the main form of contact you have with academic staff. Most lectures last 50 minutes.


Practicals allow you to apply knowledge acquired in lectures and tutorials and develop a range of practical skills such as laboratory work. It’s important to recognise that the skills you acquire in practicals are transferable beyond the immediate course. They can be applied in other courses, in dissertations and even beyond your degree.


Many courses include tutorials. Tutorials are a form of small group teaching that is facilitated by a tutor. Tutorials are an essential opportunity for you to:

  • discuss specific topics in more depth
  • develop skills in critical thinking
  • communicate your understanding
  • work as part of a team
  • receive feedback
  • ask questions

Field trips

Day excursions and field trips are hard work, fun, and will provide some of the most memorable moments of your degree. They are an excellent way to learn, enabling you to apply the knowledge and skills you have developed in lectures to real world contexts. Field trips are part of your programme and there are no additional costs.

Self-directed study

Emphasis is placed on independent work, and you will need to be well motivated and organised.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed in a variety of ways, depending on the courses you choose to study in your programme and the nature of the topics explored. This might include:

  • written or practical exams including multiple-choice exercises
  • practical evaluation in the field or field notebooks
  • coursework such as essays
  • individual or group projects and presentations

In your final year you will complete a dissertation.

Programme details

Find out more about this programme's aims, what you will learn, how you will be assessed and what skills and knowledge you will develop.

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme details (2020/21)

Our programmes are designed to equip you with knowledge, critical thinking, and experience in ecological and environmental sciences to help tackle real-world issues. The activities you undertake during your degree have been designed to simulate those that ecological and environmental science professionals perform in the real world, meaning as a graduate you will bring practical skills to future employers.

As a graduate of Ecological and Environmental Science, you can seek roles in a variety of sectors including:

  • local, national and international agencies
  • non-government organisations (NGOs)
  • environmental consultancies
  • government
  • the private sector.

You can elect to undertake a career path with a focus on the sciences, in order to be at the forefront of environmental change. You might aspire to work for an environmental consultancy or conservation organisation. Or you could work in forestry, land use or water resource management industries where core skills in environmental impact assessment are particularly relevant.

Alternatively, our graduates are not confined to science-related careers. You can seek a career in consultancy, policy or communications, where you can make changes to how business, government and communities impact the environment. Many of our graduates also enter jobs within education and media.

Types of roles our recent graduates have achieved include Conservation Scientist, Environmental Consultant, Sustainability Coordinator, Project Director, Ecology Inspector, Research Assistant, Ranger, Offshore Environment Manager, Field Ecologist, National Park Manager, Environmental Advisor, Renewables Project Officer, Forestry Consultant.

Examples of organisations our graduates are employed by include Birdlife International, Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, Linklaters, London Wildlife Trust, AECOM, National Trust, Loch Lomond National Park, East Devon Council, Cambridgeshire Council, WYG Group, Scottish Power Renewables, EnergieKontor Wind Farms, IKM Engineering and Bidwells.

One of our alumni, Piers Sellers, went on to become an astronaut for NASA.

Additionally, our programmes equip you with the critical thinking and research skills to be prepared for competitive entry into relevant postgraduate degree programmes. A significant proportion of our students progress to further postgraduate study and research.

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: AABB - ABBB by end of S5 or AAAB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAA - ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 555 at HL - 32 points with 555 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 32 points with 555 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: two of Biology*, Chemistry*, Environmental Science, Geography, Mathematics*, or Physics* (*include at least one) at B. National 5s: Mathematics at B and English at C.
  • A Levels: two of Biology*, Chemistry*, Environmental Science, Geography, Geology, Mathematics*, or Physics* (*include at least one) at B. GCSEs: Mathematics at B or 6 and English at C or 4.
  • IB: HL: two of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) or Physics at 5. SL: English at 5 and Mathematics (from 2021, Mathematics: Analysis and approaches only) at 5 (if not at HL). If you do not have Mathematics please contact the College of Science and Engineering Admissions Office.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

For direct entry to second year the standard requirements must be exceeded, including the following:

  • SQA Advanced Highers: AAB to include Biology, plus one of Chemistry, Mathematics, or Physics, plus one further Higher from Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics, or Physics.
  • A Levels: A*AA in one set of exams to include Biology, plus one of Chemistry, Mathematics, or Physics, plus one further A Level from Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics or AAA in one set of exams to include Biology, plus two of Chemistry, Geology, Mathematics, or Physics.
  • IB: 38 points with 666 at HL to include Biology and Chemistry at 6.
Other entry pathways

Entry to many degrees in Science & Engineering is possible via other qualifications (eg HNC/D, Access, SWAP).

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • SQA Standard Grade at 3
  • SQA Intermediate 1 at A
  • SQA Intermediate 2 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified*:

  • IELTS Academic module overall 6.5 with 5.5 in each component
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Special Home Edition) 92 or above with 20 in each section. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • Cambridge English: Advanced or Proficiency overall 176 with 162 in each component
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with a distinction in all four components

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

English language qualifications must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the degree you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL or Trinity ISE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

English language requirements

*(Revised 27 April 2020 to include TOEFL-iBT Special Home Edition.)

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for BSc Ecological and Environmental Sciences

Additional costs



For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding

More information

How to apply

School: GeoSciences

College: Science and Engineering