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Borneo Field Course

Module titleBorneo Field Course
Module codeBIO3404
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Frank Van Veen (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The philosophy behind this module is that the best place to learn about conservation is in wild places that are not yet protected, and the best place to learn about biodiversity research is in places where there is still much to be discovered. The field course takes you to North Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo where we undertake an expedition into virgin rainforest in the Heart of Borneo, the largest remaining rainforest in Asia. We start the field course in the coastal city of Tarakan where we visit a mangrove conservation park (proboscis monkeys!), from where we travel inland up the Sesayap river to the Dayak village of Setulang. With the help of the villagers we then spend ten days exploring one of the most impressive and least-researched areas of primary rainforest left on earth – new species discoveries are the order of the day! In the forest you will rotate around three purpose-built (basic) temporary camps in small groups, undertaking different practicals and research projects in each. Practicals focus on different taxonomic groups (invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, plants, etc) and each is set in the context of study topics set out in the handbook (see module page on ele). For most of the field course you will live, eat, sleep and study totally immersed in the rainforest. Naturally, there are no roads so travelling between camps is done on foot. The terrain can sometimes be challenging but the distances are not great and it is not an endurance test. While this course requires an adventurous mind set, it is not high-risk and just as safe as other field courses.

To address the climate emergency and reduce the potential impact of this module we aim to provide vegetarian/vegan food, use low emission transport wherever possible for internal travel, and encourage students to consider how they will manage their carbon impact over-and-above carbon offsetting. 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 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, eg. walking boots, rucksack, mosquito net, sleeping bag, binoculars. Details of specialist equipment, vaccinations and visas that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to develop your scientific knowledge and understanding within three main areas: Conservation, Ecology and Biodiversity, while based in a developing country. We will cover:

  • Conservation topics: flagship species, the importance of local people, conservation value of disturbed areas
  • Ecology: ecosystem processes, 3-D structure of tropical rain forest, niche differentiation
  • Biodiversity: biogeography (large and small scale), endemism, techniques for studying biodiversity of range of animal groups

The module is ideally suited for students interested in a career in conservation. It will give you a clear insight into what it is like to work at the forefront of conservation and biodiversity research, You will gain first-hand experience in working with local people (villagers and Indonesian students) and will learn new skills for carrying out biodiversity assessments in challenging and under-explored areas.

The module forms the foundation for a developing research programme to which staff and students actively contribute. You will experience first-hand how the various field course activities contribute to conservation of the rainforest and the applied significance of the academic content is therefore always in evidence. The emphasis in the educational activities, in this field course in particular, is on enquiry-based practicals, rather than on observation of the work of third parties.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Explain the debate on single species versus landscape conservation and consider critically the extent to which they are mutually exclusive
  • 2. Explain the potential importance of understanding animal behaviour and cognition in designing and implementing effective conservation strategies
  • 3. Explain how the needs and traditions of local people affect the protection of the rainforest and how this is affected by economic, cultural and religious changes
  • 4. Explain the arguments and evidence for the value of selectively logged forest in the context of tropical rainforest conservation
  • 5. Describe general patterns of variation in tropical forest type from global to local scale and discuss the various explanations that exist for these patterns
  • 6. Explain biogeographic principles and theories for why there so many more species in the tropics than in temperate areas, why Borneo has more species in common with mainland SE Asia than with the neighbouring island of Sulawesi and why there are more endemic species in the North East of Borneo than in the South West
  • 7. Explain ecosystem processes and nutrient cycles in tropical rainforests, and how these relate to agriculture in these regions and how they affect climate at different spatial scales
  • 8. Employ a range of biodiversity census techniques and modify these effectively to the challenging conditions often encountered in a rainforest environment

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 9. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 10. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 11. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 12. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 13. Describe and evaluate in detail 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...

  • 14. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 15. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 16. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 17. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 18. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 19. 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

A preparatory lecture in term 1.

A preparatory walk in term 1 to learn rules and skills for moving around the rainforest safely and for fitness self-assessment.

An expedition-style field course will take place in early January in Indonesian Borneo. The two week field course will include a visit to mangrove forest and school or university in Tarakan, a stay in a remote Dayak village and an expedition into virgin rainforest. Accommodation will be basic hotels for the first few nights, family stays in the village and bunkhouse, and traditional forest camps during the expedition into the forest (seven nights). Transport using boats and coaches will be organised by CEC and Beyond Exploration staff. Depending on water levels in the rivers, there may, under extreme circumstances, be a hike of up to two hours, carrying luggage in a rucksack, to get to the forest base camp. CEC staff will provide leadership and tutoring throughout.

Poster session held approximately three weeks after return.

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 teaching1Pre-field course lecture to prepare students academically and practically for the course
Scheduled learning and teaching5Pre-field course walk in Cornwall to prepare for expedition environment and to self-assess fitness
Scheduled learning and teaching100Field-based tutoring from members of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in biodiversity, ecology, conservation and other biological topics
Scheduled learning and teaching15Discussions led by staff and keeping of detailed field journal according to instructions
Guided independent study179Additional reading and research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during the field courseOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Proboscis monkey behaviour task notes and write up3 note book pages1-2, 9-19Written (individual) and oral (group)
Mangrove Park field observation notes Up to 3 notebook pages8, 12, 18-19Written (individual) and oral (group)

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
Tasks write-up301500 words + tables and figures1-16, 19Feedback sheet
Field observation notes25Field diary1-8, 12, 15, 17-19Feedback sheet
Post-field course poster30A0 Poster 4-8, 9-18Feedback sheet
Post-field course Communicating Science short video release (group work)153 minutes 1-8 (one of), 14, 15, 17-19Feedback sheet


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Tasks write-upTasks write-up1-16, 19August assessment period
Field observation notesNot applicableNot applicableNot applicable
Post-field course posterPost-field course poster4-8, 9-18August assessment period
Post-field course Communicating Science short video release (group workPost-field course press release (individual work)1-8, 14-19August 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 field observation notes are not deferrable because they take place during the field course. 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 tasks write-up and/or the poster and/or an individual press release (in place of the video). The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Text book: Tropical Rain Forest Ecology, Diversity and Conservation – Jaboury Ghazoul and Douglas Sheil.
  • Tourist guides to travelling in Indonesia
  • Field guides on any plant and animal group in Borneo
  • Reading list of primary literature associated with seven study topics

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Tropical rainforest, biodiversity, conservation, expedition, identification, survey methods, ecology, biogeography, Borneo, Indonesia

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

BIO2426 Analysis of Biological Data

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date