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Switzerland Field Course

Module titleSwitzerland Field Course
Module codeBIO2448
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Erik Postma (Convenor)

Dr Barbara Tschirren (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This field course will bring you to a stunning location in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by unique alpine habitats, including forests, meadows, boulder fields, glaciers and snow-capped peaks. You will learn about the adaptations that allow organisms to live in an environment that is characterized by extremes, the fragility of the alpine ecosystem, and observe typical alpine vertebrates (e.g. alpine ibex, alpine marmot, chamois, red squirrel, golden eagle, alpine chough, spotted nutcracker, crested tit, black redstart; with a bit of luck: bearded vulture, red deer, black grouse), invertebrates (e.g. glacier flea, alpine argus), and plants (e.g. Swiss stone pine, gentian, alpine rose). You will witness first-hand the effects that humans have on this unique environment, for example through cattle and sheep herding, see how glaciers are retreating at unprecedented rates due to climate change, and discuss human-wildlife conflicts. In addition to guided excursions and lectures, you will perform a research project that allows you to gain new insights into the behaviour, ecology, and/or evolution of alpine species: In small groups, you will formulate your research question, collect data, analyse them statistically and write a research paper. Note that as we will stay at 1800 - 3000 metres above sea level and explore difficult terrain, a reasonable level of fitness and no fear of heights are essential.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any visa costs and, if necessary, purchase anti-malarial medication and relevant immunisations. You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, e.g. walking boots, rucksack, binoculars. You may incur additional costs dependent upon the specific demands of the research project chosen. Details of specialist equipment, vaccinations and visas that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to promote your understanding of animal behaviour, biodiversity and ecology by means of first-hand experience, observation and learning in a field environment. It will complement and unify the other modules that comprise Stage 2. The module as a whole builds on the introductory fieldwork experiences of Stage 1, which are all based in SW England. Specifically, this will be achieved via field observations combined with collaborative and individual projects, set within a wider context of formal field-learning exercises, which themselves illustrate the fundamental principles of the core disciplines.

The Stage 2 field course modules as a whole will familiarise you with a range of European habitats and their characteristic organisms. During the module, you will become more familiar with methods of testing ideas on the function of animal behaviours in the wild. You will also investigate the ecological relationships among the different components of biodiversity from individuals to communities and the range of influences that might impinge on their conservation biology.  More generally you will also consolidate your abilities to identify organisms, using a variety of methods, and become more able to place them within a wider phylogenetic, ecological and conservation framework.

The skills you gain from fieldwork, teamwork, working in an unusual climate and in a foreign country, working with unfamiliar biodiversity, and working around the clock, will all stand you in good stead for careers in the environmental sector. Transferable skills to other sectors include data handling, experimental design, presentations, report-writing, focus groups and discussions.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Explain how to quantify and test ideas on the causes and consequences of biological variation
  • 2. Demonstrate knowledge of European animal and plant biodiversity
  • 3. Complete group projects, including study design and statistical evaluations of data gathered in the field
  • 4. Explain the links between behaviour, biodiversity, ecology and conservation

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in biosciences
  • 8. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 9. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 10. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 11. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 13. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 14. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements
  • 15. 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

During excursions you will learn about the characteristics of the alpine ecosystem, observe and identify its typical inhabitants and examine adaptations that allow organisms to deal with the extreme abiototic conditions that characterise this ecosystem. You will debate topical issues such as human-wildlife conflict (e.g. related to the return of large predators such as wolf, bear and lynx), the ecological impact of farming and tourism, and problems associated with the reintroduction of previously extinct species (ibex, bearded vulture), which will result in a position paper aimed at the local authorities. This will be followed by small-group projects on the behaviour, ecology, and/or evolution of an alpine species or species network of your choice. In small groups, you will formulate your research question, collect field data, and analyse them statistically, with the final aim to write a research paper. Throughout the module there will be evening seminars and discussions for which you will be expected to prepare material and contribute in the form of oral presentations and questions.

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 teaching1The module will be preceded by a formal lecture, before departure, advising you of the aims of the component field course modules, as well as focusing on how you should prepare in terms of learning, equipment, reference material, safety, comfort and health.
Scheduled learning and teaching49The core teaching method will be via guided observation and learning in the field, led by experts, complemented by key texts and references. Course leaders from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation will organise and oversee group and individual projects. Individual observations, investigations and study will also be fostered, under the general guidance of staff. Guidance will be provided on how to manage data collection in groups, and on the subsequent synthesis and presentation of data and concepts, both during and after each field course.
Guided independent study101Additional reading, research and preparation of two assessment reports.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the field courseOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

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
Project presentation during field course208 minutes5-12, 15Oral feedback during discussions
Report 140max 1000 words1-12Written
Report 240max 1500 words1-12Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Project presentation during field courseNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable
Report 1Report 11-12August assessment period
Report 2Report 21-12August assessment period

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 project presentation is not deferrable because it takes place during the field course and the mark comprises both group and individual components. If you are not able to participate in the presentation during the field course, and you are successfully granted mitigation, you will be awarded the group component marks for your presentation and this mark will be scaled accordingly. 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 re-submit report 1 and/or report 2. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • A wide range of field guides and reference works related to the identification, observation and study of behaviour of animals and plants in the field.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Animal behaviour, biodiversity, ecology, conservation biology, phylogeny, behavioural ecology, evolution, genetics, human-wildlife conflicts, climate change

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date