Skip to main content


Practical Skills in Field Ecology

Module titlePractical Skills in Field Ecology
Module codeBIO2096
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr Kirsten Thompson (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Do you hope to work in the field of ecology after graduation? Are you considering postgraduate study? This module, run as a non-residential field course, will introduce you to a range of skills for environmental monitoring and ecological assessment. We will visit study sites local to Exeter (including marine, freshwater, woodland and heathland habitats) and discuss real-life case studies of habitat and species management. There will be a strong focus on employability in the environmental job sector, and we will introduce you to a range of species found in the United Kingdom. These species are of particular interest to conservation organisations, government departments and professional ecologists. You will learn practical skills, such as field sampling, species monitoring and habitat surveying techniques for both terrestrial and marine habitats and a range of analytical techniques for data interpretation. Many wildlife management decisions are complex and may compete with human activities and other interests (for example the need for new housing). This module will help you develop transferable skills in effective communication using a variety of media, ranging from photography to written reports. You will also learn about the value of biological records in providing data on the distribution and abundance of key species, and you will practice using information from public databases to inform planning policy decisions.

The module will take place in term 3 and will consist of sessions of field work together with introductory lectures and classroom-based sessions. Tuition on the course will be given by a combination of Biosciences staff and professional ecologists who work in a practical ecology setting. The fieldwork is weather-dependent, although we will always work to the conditions if at all possible. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module builds on the ecological foundation provided in Stage 1 and develops practical skills in field biological and ecological assessments. Practical skills will include an introduction to Environmental Impact Assessments and associated legislation, techniques for habitat surveys, observation of bird mist-netting and ringing (if possible), protected mammal surveys (such as bats, otters or seals), and marine monitoring for biodiversity. You will discover how to make the data you collect accessible to a wide audience and learn how to interpret your records in the context of relevant legislation, publicly available data sources and the ecology of the study species. You will also gain skills in science communication, developing persuasive arguments for site management, ethical considerations surrounding ecological work and will be able to discuss real-world case studies with experts in the field.

This knowledge will lead to a greater understanding of the kinds of skills you will need if you wish to work in the ecological sector, as well as of the job opportunities available. You will also be supported by your tutors in making appropriate links with potential employers. The module will include short seminars presented by leading scientists working within the field of applied ecology and conservation, e.g. an ecological consultancy, a local wildlife trust or estate who will be available to answer questions about gaining a foothold in a very competitive job market. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe in some detail and discuss relevant legislation
  • 2. Survey key taxa and ecosystems and present data in formats used by the ecological sector
  • 3. Display effective skills in conflict resolution and management strategies for the protection of target species

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of organismal biology and ecology with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles
  • 5. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a subdiscipline of the biosciences
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation and enquiry within the biosciences

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently by written, visual and verbal means in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 9. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 10. Collect and interpret appropriate data, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 11. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Lectures during the field course will cover:

  • introduction to environmental impact assessment;
  • introduction to legislation;
  • introduction to survey techniques for key taxa;
  • identification of organisms;
  • experimental design;
  • science communication;
  • data interpretation and analysis.

Field work will include: protected mammal surveys (e.g. bats, otter, seals); marine habitat surveys; observation of bird mist netting and ringing (if practical at the time); introduction to photography to monitor wildlife and communicate conservation messages. You will become familiar with a range of reporting formats used for recording wildlife and the various online repository for species records.


Excellent science communication is key in biodiversity conservation and management. Depending on other elements of the course, you may be able to apply the knowledge you have gained in the module in a science communication short film or presentation, either giving details of a particular field technique, wildlife conservation issue or species.

Accessibility statement:

The field study sites for this module can be on rougher ground such as riversides, rougher grassed areas and fields, so there may be some small inclines and some steps. Walking will be up to 6 miles, but at a relaxed pace with frequent stops and comfort breaks. Many elements will be outside and students on the day field courses should wear warm, waterproof clothing with stout footwear. Students can sometimes be expected to carry equipment, but these will be relatively light (binoculars, measuring tape, nets, camera, notebook, pen and provisions). You will need to bring food and drink for day excursions. All transportation costs are covered by the University. The module field work may require some early morning or late evenings depending on the focus of the field work.

In addition, the module requires extensive groupwork on field trips, and the production of a film (within small groups) for part of the summative assessment.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Lectures and seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching71Field trips
Guided Independent Study30Reading and preparation for lectures and field trips
Guided Independent Study41Completion of assignments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Discussion with course tutors and peers within scheduled sessionsAd hoc1-10Oral
EIA assignment1 hour1-4, 7-11Oral
Photography1 hour2, 4-5, 7-9, 11Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Scientific report602500 words1-2, 4-10Written
Habitat and species assignment20500 words (may require mapping)1-11Written
Film (groupwork)20Film (3 minutes)2, 4-5, 7-9, 11Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Scientific reportScientific report1-2, 4-10August Ref/Def
Habitat and species assignmentHabitat and species assignment1-11August Ref/Def
Film (groupwork)Individual narrated PowerPoint on same topic 2, 4-5, 7-9August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • You are encouraged to use field guides to identify a range of wildlife (birds, invertebrates, mammals, plants). There is no one particular guide that is recommended (partly because individuals differ in their preference for either drawings or photographs). However, do make sure that whatever you use focuses on British species as it is often confusing as a beginner to have reference texts which also list North American species.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Ecology, environmental impact assessment, habitat survey, marine ecology, biodiversity

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO1336 Ecology

Module co-requisites

BIO2076 Ecology and Environment

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date