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Scotland Field Course

Module titleScotland Field Course
Module codeBIO2444
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Andrew McGowan (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

On this field trip you will visit a number of unique Scottish habitats, including Caledonian Pine remnants in the Cairngorms, upland freshwater habitats, moorland and coastal cliffs. These habitats are host to many species of high conservation priority in the UK, including the red squirrel, common dolphin, otter, osprey, golden eagle, black grouse, black-throated diver. You will visit one of the UKs most impressive seabird breeding colonies with auks, breeding puffins and skuas. While conservation issues will be at the forefront of many of our discussions you will also carry out small groupl projects at Durness ranging from orchid distribution to foraging ecology in oystercatchers. Furthermore, you will be encouraged to use the fieldwork skills you have attained to enhance your own interests in ecology and conservation and further develop those skills to better equip you to apply them to practical situations in the workplace.

To address the climate emergency and potential impact of this module we carefully consider the carbon budget of staff travel and subsistence throughout the course and offset any additional costs of this. We actively encourage students taking this module to carefully consider their travel options and where possible minimise their carbon expenditure. We aim to provide vegetarian/vegan food and avoiding mammalian protein when subsistence is provided via the course organisers on the last evening. We also use low emission buses for transport wherever possible for internal travel within Scotland, and encourage students to consider how they will manage their carbon impact. Students will also be encouraged to avoid single use plastics and other avoidable impacts on the local environment and engage in sustainable practices throughout.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any costs of travelling to the starting point of the field course (Aviemore) . You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, eg. walking boots, rucksack, sleeping bag, binoculars. Details of specialist equipment, that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to promote understanding of the skills and techniques that ecologists use to measure and survey animals and plants 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 the types of approaches ecologists use to assess a range of phenomena (biodiversity, population size, species ranges, foraging behaviour), understanding how these interact with a changing environment and why it is important that we are able to measure them.  More generally you will become familiar with a range of habitat types, consolidating 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.

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on avian ecology (McGowan & Russell), mammalian ecology and management (McDonald) and foraging specialisations in seabirds (Bearhop). Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the mini research projects and sourcing material for factsheets and subsequent discussion.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Explain how to quantify and measure a range of ecological phenomena and the significance of such measurements
  • 2. Analyse UK and European animal and plant biodiversity
  • 3. Complete a group project, including statistical evaluations of data gathered in field
  • 4. Describe how the environment might shape phenomena such as biodiversity, population size, species ranges and foraging behaviour

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

Group projects will begin on day one with data collection for an investigation into hybridisation and spatial segregation of carrion and hooded crows (this will run the entire length of the field course). Other group-based exercises will include regeneration in Caledonian Pine Forests and measuring variation in biodiversity along an altitudinal gradient. Small group projects will be carried out at Handa Island (seabird colony) and could range from estimating the abundance of seabirds at the colony to collecting information of their foraging ecology. Throughout the course there will contributions from local conservation experts along with evening seminars and discussions during which students 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 students of the aims of the component field course modules, as well as focusing on how students should prepare themselves in terms of learning, equipment, reference material, safety, comfort and health.
Scheduled learning and teaching48The 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 for the assessed 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
Continuous assessment based on contribution to group exercises, discussions and field workOngoing throughout the week long field course 1-12, 15Oral during sessions
Project presentation during field course8 minutes1-12, 15Written

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
Pre-field course factsheet251 side of A41-6, 9-15Written
Project report751000-1500 words1-12Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Pre-field course factsheetFactsheet1-6, 9-15August assessment period
Project reportProject report1-12August 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 the project report and/or the factsheet. 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, animals and plants in the field (books and research articles provided).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Ecology, conservation, phylogeny, statistics, biodiversity, animal behaviour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date