The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies Bicentenary

Celebrating 30 years of teaching in animal welfare

The MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare was the first programme of its type in the world. This is a fully collaborative programme between Scotland’s Rural College (SPRUC) and the University.

Close up photo of a dog

In the 30 years since the inception of the MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare, more than 700 students from all over the world have graduated and gone on to forge successful careers in research, education, government, veterinary practice, non-governmental and industry organisations, among others. Together they have made significant contributions to the field which have resulted in tangible improvements to animal welfare around the world.

Professor David Wood-Gush, one of the first scientists to investigate the effects of factory farming on animals, initiated the programme in 1990. He utilised contributions from colleagues from various Edinburgh research institutes – Scottish Agricultural College, the Roslin Institute and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland –  and University departments – the Institute of Ecology & Resource Management, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Department of Divinity.

The MSc started out life in the University’s Institute of Ecology & Resource Management, which was then part of the Division of Biological Sciences, but moved to the (R(D)SVS) field station on Easter Bush campus in 2002.

Today, the programme has popular international appeal and is endorsed by many international organisations for its up-to-date understanding and application of the latest animal welfare research.

History of animal welfare at Edinburgh

In the early 1960s, the impact of the intensification of farming on animal welfare was starting to become clear. A UK Government committee, chaired by distinguished scientist Professor FW Rogers Brambell, was formed to investigate the welfare of farm animals kept in intensive management systems. The resulting report was critical of these systems and it highlighted the need for a greater understanding of farm animal behaviour and how this related to welfare.

This was a major impetus for the formation of the Society for Veterinary Ethology (SVE) in 1966. Of the 37 founding members of the SVE, 23 were in Scotland and of those, 15 were from Edinburgh. In 1967, as SVE Honorary President, Professor Brambell gave a presentation at the University of Edinburgh which introduced many issues that have since become central to the field of applied animal behaviour and welfare. In 1970 Professor Wood-Gush became an Associate Member of the SVE, prior to it being open to non-veterinarians.

Initiation of the programme

Prior to initiating the MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare, Professor Wood-Gush worked in the Department of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. During his time here he began to study the welfare of farmed pigs, with colleague Alex Stolba. They designed the Edinburgh pig park, in which intensively farmed pigs were released into a semi-wild environment, and researchers studied how they behaved in order to survive. Based on findings from this work, Professor Wood-Fush and another of his PhD students went on to design the so-called family pig pen housing system. 

Professor Wood-Gush officially retired in 1987 but continued to work at the University to establish the postgraduate course in animal welfare. He was Director for 18 months before his sudden death in 1992. Professor Natalie Waran, then acting as Coordinator on the programme, took over as Director and continued to run the programme for the next 12 years.

Animal welfare education hub

In 2011 The Jeanne Marchig International Centre For Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE) was integrated into the R(D)SVS with a grant from the Marchig Animal Welfare Trust. Its mission was to provide education in animal welfare for veterinarians in the UK and overseas, particularly in Asia. Professor Waran was appointed as the first Director of the Centre, a post she held until 2016, and established a team of staff to help deliver the goals of the centre.

In the first four years of operation, JMICAWE was established as an internationally recognised hub for animal welfare education and formed many partnerships with animal welfare NGOs, overseas universities, and professional organisations in the target region of Asia. Work during this initial period also included the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Animal Behaviour and Welfare and establishment of an online MSc programme in International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law.

In 2016 JMICAWE secured further funding from the Marchig Trust and developed another MOOC, on the behaviour of dogs and cats, and a second online MSc programme in Clinical Animal Behaviour.

JMICAWE continues to deliver workshops on animal behaviour and welfare across Asia and to develop resources to support animal welfare education for vets and vet nurses globally.

Recent programme accolades

In 2017, the MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare, alongside its sister programme MSc in International Animal Welfare, Ethics & Law, won an award for Innovative Developments in Animal Welfare from the British Society for Animal Science and RSPCA.

To recognise our alumni achievements and celebrate 30 years of the MSc, we will be hosting an anniversary event on 4 October 2021 on World Animal Welfare Day. Staff and alumni will talk about their experiences of the programme and their contribution to animal welfare over the past 30 years.


Find out more about the MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare

Our Postgraduate Programmes

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre For Animal Welfare Education


About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies 

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos. 

The School comprises: 

The Roslin Institute 

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security 

The Roslin Innovation Centre 

The Hospital for Small Animals 

Equine Veterinary Services 

Farm Animal Services 

Easter Bush Pathology 

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education 

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.