Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

BSc (Hons) Ecological and Environmental Sciences

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: n/a
Final award: BSc (Hons)
Programme title: Ecological and Environmental Sciences
UCAS code: CF17
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): n/a
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Dr Thor Thordarson, Academic Sarah McAllister, Administration
Date of production/revision: June 2012

External summary

The human population is now more than six billion, and we face problems of over-exploitation of natural resources, rapid climate change, loss of biodiversity and habitat degradation. It is impossible to understand and tackle these issues without knowledge of ecology and environmental science. The Ecological and Environmental Science degree programme focuses on the study of natural and managed ecosystems from an ecological and environmental perspective so we can learn from the past, understand the present and influence the future. A key outcome is the ability of graduates to use their powers of observation, analysis and creativity to make appropriate decisions in situations characterised by change and uncertainty.

Educational aims of programme

The degree programme in Ecological and Environmental Sciences is designed to produce graduates who will be able to pursue successful careers in a range of professional areas, both within and outside Ecology and the Environmental Sciences. Graduates will be capable of original investigation in the field, the laboratory and using information archives. They will have confidence and competence in data analysis. They will have developed an awareness of unresolved issues and unanswered questions in particular subject areas within the GeoSciences and the Biological Sciences. Graduates who intend to develop careers outside Ecological and Environmental Sciences will have a range of transferable skills. Graduates will have experience of a range of computer software packages, some specialised and others of general use in written and graphical presentations. The degree programme aims to produce a graduate with a trained intellect who is capable of critical thinking.

The programme aims to develop:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Research skills in the field, laboratory and using information archives
  • Awareness of unresolved issues and unanswered scientific questions in specialist areas in Ecological and the Environmental Sciences
  • A range of generic transferable skills
Various specialist interests within the degree programme can be investigated through a selection of required and elective courses. The degree programme structure allows the student to develop generic transferable skills which are acquired while they follow a programme path of increasing specialisation.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

The foundations are laid in courses in the early years when students are introduced to basic concepts in Ecological and Environmental Sciences. These foundations are based on an understanding of Mathematics, Physics, Evolution and Diversity of Life and the Interaction between Organisms and the Environment (which are taught in a Biological context in courses in the first year). Courses in later years build on these foundations and develop further understanding of Ecology, Soil Water and Atmospheric Processes, experimental research methods, statistics, environmental pollution, ecological and environmental modelling and ecological management. The range of courses offered in later years allows a student to develop a programme catering for a primary ecological or environmental science interest. The degree programme provides students with a wide range of specialist options ranging from conservation management to land use policy, ecological and environmental modelling and interactions between land and atmosphere.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, graduates will be able to:

  • Develop an understanding of the scientific method, coupled with the ability to construct alternative arguments and hypotheses for and against particular points of view.
  • Formulate research questions utilising both qualitative and quantitative methods and translate them into a practical and robust research protocol.
  • Develop the abilities to evaluate scientific data based on the use of formal statistical tests and to interpret the value of published scientific evidence critically.
  • Assess the significance of the uncertainty associated with any quantitative scientific measurement.
  • Understand, create and make use of ecological and environmental models to make quantitative predictions about ecological systems
  • Develop an awareness of the limits to our knowledge, unresolved issues and unanswered questions in particular subject areas within Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
  • Collect, synthesise and summarise evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources, using library, internet and archival resources, critically and effectively.
  • Complete an extended and complex piece of independent research presented as a final year dissertation.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, graduates will be able to:

  • Develop skills of teamwork and leadership by designing and carrying out ecological surveys, experiments and analysing problems in small groups.
  • Develop skills of independent learning and personal organisation by carrying out theoretical or practical work autonomously or in small groups.
  • Understand contemporary environmental issues with critical insight and awareness of their complexity.
  • Identify and recommend appropriate courses of action to address particular ecological and environmental problems
  • Understand and contextualize the practical significance of ecological and environmental policies
  • Put environmental sustainability at the centre of the working ethos
  • Display creativity, flexibility and adaptability.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, graduates will be able to:

  • Collect and synthesise evidence from a wide range of primary and secondary sources making use of the library, the internet and available data bases.
  • Synthesize the scientific information effectively and rigorously, using statistical and graphical tools
  • Argue and communicate research findings clearly, logically and cogently.
  • Communicate accurately and effectively using visual media (posters and slides), orally (presentations) and in writing (from short reports to long dissertations).
  • Undertake effective group/team work, while respecting the viewpoint of others.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, graduates will be able to:

  • Collaborate efficiently and productively with others in the process of learning and presenting conclusions – this includes those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge, such as fellow-students, tutors and supervisors.
  • Organise their own learning, manage workload and work to a timetable. Participate effectively in group work and projects.
  • Effectively plan, and possess the confidence to undertake and to present scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and theoretical considerations relevant to Ecological and Environmental Sciences.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, graduates will be able to:

  • Design, and analyse the data from, sampling schemes and experiments used to test particular hypotheses in the field and in the laboratory
  • Understand, calibrate and use scientific equipment designed to take ecological and environmental measurements in the field and in the laboratory
  • Conduct vegetation surveys, soil and water survey sampling in the field
  • Create, employ and critically interpret the results of an ecological or environmental model
  • Design a management plan and an environmental impact assessment plan for natural resources
  • Measure river flow and interpret hydrological data
  • Develop IT skills, such as producing word-processed, fully illustrated reports, conducting database searches, using graphics and data analysis packages, preparing posters and presentations.

Fieldwork Skills

By engaging with and completing the degree in Ecological and Environmental Sciences, graduates will be able to:

  • Identify the major groups of plants and animals and know how to use taxonomic keys to identify unknown organisms
  • Identify the major physical and environmental factors affecting the ecology and the environment of particular field sites
  • Understand and interpret how the current structure and functioning of ecosystems depend upon the interplay of physical, environmental, ecological and management factors
  • Design habitat surveys and be able to use indicators of biodiversity
  • Design and conduct a large field-based research project, based on an autonomous programme of data collection, statistical analysis and interpretation.

Programme structure and features

Course Structure

The section presents the structure of the programme in relation to the University’s Curriculum Framework. It must include:

  • SQCF credit points and levels for each constituent course and each year of the programme
  • Entry requirements, including requirements for second-year entry where applicable
  • Progression requirements
  • An explanation of the articulation of learning outcomes and assessment practices
  • Modes of study
  • Exit awards available at the completion of specific stages of the programme

NYT

Course

Schedules

Level

Points

1

Earth Modelling and Prediction

S1

8

20

Origin and Diversity of Life

S1

8

20

Biology, Ecology and Environment

S2

8

20

Further courses

S1/S2

60

2

Principles of Ecology

S1

8

20

Soil Water and Atmospheric Processes

S2

8

20

Field Ecology

summer

8

20

Further courses

S1/S2

60

3

Population and Community Ecology 3

S1

9

20

Ecological and Environmental Analysis

S1

9

20

Ecological Measurement

Summer/S1

9

20

AT LEAST ONE OF:

  • Environmental Pollution
  • Natural Resource Management

S2

S1

9

20

Further courses

S1/S2

40

4

Professional Skills in Ecological Science

S1

10

10

Ecological Science Synoptic Paper

S2

10

10

Dissertation in Ecological and Environmental Sciences

S2

10

40

Ecological or Environmental Science Field Course

Summer/S1

10

20

AT LEAST TWO OF:

  • Effective Project Planning and Management
  • Land-Atmosphere Interaction
  • Land Use Policy
  • Conservation Management
  • Current Issues in Ecology
  • Land Use and Water Resources

S1/S2

20

Further courses

S1/S2

20

Earth Modelling and Prediction: required for students with grades at or lower than D at A-level or C at Highers in maths

Students take courses totalling 120 credit points in each year of the programme. A brief description of the compulsory plus optional courses is provided here:

1st year courses & point values: Two courses from the School of Biological Sciences (Origin and Diversity of Life, 20 points; and Biology, Ecology and Environment, 20 points) and one from the School of GeoSciences (Earth Modelling and Prediction, 20 points) must be taken (this last one for students with grades at or lower than D at A-level or C at Highers in maths). Further courses are available from the schools of GeoSciences and Biological Sciences.  External courses can also be taken, e.g. in languages, etc.

2nd year courses & point values: The three compulsory courses are Principles of Ecology (20 points), Soil Water and Atmospheric Processes (20 points) and Field Ecology (20 points). Additional 20-points courses can be chosen from the schools of GeoSciences, Biological Sciences or other schools.  

3rd year (Junior Honours) courses & point values: The three compulsory courses are: Population and Community Ecology (20 points), Ecological and Environmental Analysis (20 points) and Ecological Measurement (20 points). One of the following two courses must also be taken: Natural Resource Management (20 points) or Environmental Pollution (20 points).  The remaining points to total 120 can be obtained in different ways, depending on the intended specialisation.

4th year (Senior Honours) courses & point values: Eighty points must be taken from the following compulsory courses: Professional Skills (10 points), Synoptic Paper (10 points), Dissertation in Ecological and Environmental Sciences (40 points), and the Ecological Science Field Course (20 points). In addition, two more 10-point courses must be taken from the following: Effective Project Planning and Management, Land-Atmosphere Interactions, Land Use Policy, Conservation Management, Current Issues in Ecology or Land Use and Water Resources. Twenty more points can be selected from the above or from additional 10-point courses in Biological Sciences or from courses in GeoSciencesor from a wide range of level 10, 20 point courses in other Schools.

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching and Learning strategies employed at the University of Edinburgh consist of a variety of different methods appropriate to the programme aims. The graduate attributes listed above are met through a teaching and learning framework (detailed below) which is appropriate to the level and content of the course.

Teaching and Learning Activities

Specific activities will vary with course options taken, but may include:

In Year 1

  • Lectures
  • Laboratory practicals
  • Tutorials
  • Independent learning (individual and group-based)
  • Individual or group-based exercises

In Year 2

  • Lectures
  • Laboratory practicals
  • Tutorials
  • Field activities
  • Independent learning (individual and group-based)
  • Individual or group-based exercises

In Year 3

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Laboratory practicals
  • Tutorials
  • Field visits
  • Field experiments
  • Independent learning (individual and group-based)
  • Individual or group-based exercises

In Year 4

  • Individual Major Research Project
  • Groupwork
  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Field visits
  • Field experiments

Opportunities for feedback

Students are required to keep a laboratory diary, the quality of which is assessed by the relevant tutor. Individual or group-based exercises are marked and annotated by the examiners. Written feedback is provided on the quality of the independent learning activities (individual and group-based). Continuous interaction with the course organisers takes place during field visits and field courses.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 127730
Year 235650
Year 330700
Year 422780

Assessment methods and strategies

Courses can be assessed by a diverse range of methods often consisting of formative work (which provides the student with on-going feedback) as well as summative assessment. All assessments are normally submitted for credit.

Various assessment methods are used dependent on course options taken, but may include:

In Year 1

  • Essays
  • Written Examinations
  • Class Tests
  • Keeping of Laboratory diaries
  • Use of websites
  • Coursework

In Year 2

  • Essays
  • Written Examinations
  • Class Tests
  • Coursework
  • Keeping of Laboratory diaries
  • Development of a herbarium

In Year 3

  • Essays
  • Short Reports
  • Written Examinations
  • Seminar Presentations/Assignments
  • Practical Field-based Projects
  • Group Exercises

In Year 4

  • Dissertation
  • Essays
  • Written Examinations
  • Seminar Presentations/Poster preparation
  • Practical Field-based Projects
  • Group Exercises

Opportunities for feedback

Instructions on how to complete every piece of assessment are provided in the course handbooks or verbally. Reports, Essays and Written Examinations are normally marked and annotated. An Open Day is organised for each semester when all the scripts are made available to the students and the relevant markers are present for discussion. Group and individual-based work (posters, seminars, presentations) are assessed both for their content and the quality of the audio-visual skills displayed. Written feedback is provided. Practical field-based projects are also assessed for their scientific content and quality of presentation of the information.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 155639
Year 254046
Year 357835
Year 47093

Career opportunities

These degree programmes are particularly relevant for students interested in working for an environmental consultancy or conservation organization 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.

Other items

The Degree in Ecological and Environmental Science with Management strongly promotes an ethos based on social responsibility and environmental sustainability. We encourage our students to follow the practices adopted in the School of GeoSciences, which are based on minimising the use of natural resourses, such as energy, water and printed paper. An ethics assessment is carried out for each piece of laboratory or field project to highlight areas of concern for the use of environmental resources and to make sure that principles of equality and diversity and social responsibility are adhered to. The ethos expressed in our degree is recognised by external awards on Environmental Sustainability.