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The M.Sc. Conservation at University College London, UK


Aus FORUM der Geoökologie 23 (3), 2012
Von Jan Axmacher, Londonn


In 1959, the M.Sc. Conservation was established at the University College London (UCL) by the Departments of Botany, Zoology and Geography in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy, the UK government agency responsible for nature conservation at the time. It is the oldest nature conservation degree programme in the UK, and it has a strong vocational emphasis as it was specifically established to train nature conservation professionals. It is interdisciplinary, focussing on principles (conservation biology and ethics), policy (socio-economics, law and governance) and practice of conservation. The programme is unique not only on account of its very extensive alumni network, but also due to the involvement of nature conservation professionals in the delivery of the course.

Despite the focus on vocational skills, the programme also provides the scientific rigour needed for evidence-based analysis and understanding of the natural environment. The M.Sc. therefore provides an excellent preparation for employment with the full range of public sector and voluntary conservation organisations, environmental consultancies, as well as in academia. Accordingly, about 80% of our graduates secure jobs directly related to nature conservation.

Aims and core questions

Principles, policy and practice of conservation are investigated in relation to a number of inter-related driving forces like the loss of biodiversity, climate change, habitat degradation, fragmentation and land-use change, the spread of invasive species, globalisation, and diverging demographic trends. The dynamic nature of these factors raises a number of key questions, which are addressed as emerging themes throughout the programme:

  • What is the appropriate balance between top-down (regulatory) and bottom-up (community-based) approaches in conservation?
  • Should nature reserves remain as wilderness or be managed? If they are managed, how can priorities be identified?
  • How can conservation priorities be reconciled with global environmental change?
  • What is the appropriate balance between the conservation of protected areas versus conservation of the wider landscape?
  • What is the appropriate balance between the conservation of representative habitats/particular species versus conservation of ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services?

Students taking the M.Sc. will develop a sound understanding of current debates in ecology and of conservation ideas and practices, allowing them to engage actively with contemporary discussions of key conservation issues. They will also obtain a good understanding of the practices employed by conservation institutions and the regulatory frameworks relevant to conservation. They will furthermore develop identification skills for a range of different taxa, while also gaining insights into biological and physical ecosystem processes and into methods used to evaluate the conservation importance of habitats and species. Finally, our graduates will have acquired transferable skills in project design, management, report production and presentation, and have completed an independent study that has practical relevance to conservation and demonstrates advanced knowledge and application of research skills.


In line with most M.Sc. programmes in the UK, the M.Sc. Conservation is a one-year degree programme divided into three terms. The first term starts in late September, and students take four compulsory core modules, two of which comprise field class elements. The first field class in Norfolk is scheduled for the very beginning of the first term. Here, we explore, survey and sample a range of different coastal and freshwater habitats and discuss their management and conservation. The second field class in Snowdonia focuses on legal frameworks and governance issues, but also on the typical conflicts arising from the involvement of a variety of different stakeholder groups in environmental protection and landscape management. Further topics addressed in the first term core modules comprise field and laboratory techniques used to generate environmental datasets and the statistical approaches used to analyse complex ecological/environmental datasets, a critical evaluation of the theories, concepts, and ideas underpinning current nature conservation approaches and the consolidation of scientific writing and presentation skills. In the second term, students select four optional modules from a wide range of choices and start to develop an individual dissertation research project in meetings with a project supervisor. The modules are typically delivered through of a mixture of lectures, seminars, and practical classes. We see fieldwork as an important component of this M.Sc., and further field excursions are associated with some of the 2nd term choice modules. The following list shows the breadth of choices generally available in term 2 (subject to minor changes due to staff availability):

  • Changing Landscapes - Nature Conservation
  • Changing Landscapes - Nature, Culture, Politics
  • Marine Conservation
  • Coastal Change
  • Wetlands
  • Lakes
  • Aquatic Macrophytes
  • Environmental GIS
  • Politics of Climate Change
  • Biological Proxies of Environmental Change
  • Non-Biological Proxies of Environmental Change
  • field class element

The individual research dissertation of up to 12,000 words, which also includes an assessed oral presentation, will be conducted in term 3 and is to be completed by the end of August. While individual modules in term 1 and 2 each account for 8%, the dissertation contributes the remaining 36% to the overall degree result.

Admission and fees

Potential applicants are generally expected to have obtained a first or upper second-class undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline such as Geoecology, Landscape Ecology, Environmental Science, Geography or Biology from a UK university or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard. Nonetheless, we will also consider applications from candidates with relevant professional experience in conservation or environmental management.

Students whose first language is not English must provide recent evidence that their spoken and written command of English satisfies UCL requirements. Necessary grades are an overall grade of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.0 in each of the subtests (IELTS) or a score of 600 plus 5 in the Test of Written English (TWE) (TOEFL paper). In the internet-based TOEFL test, a score of 100 plus 24/30 in the reading and writing subtests and 20/30 in the listening and speaking subtests are required.

To apply, please follow the instructions on Applications normally close in late July for the following academic year. For up-to-date information on fees and costs of the M.Sc. Conservation and our other programmes, please visit the UCL web pages at Some optional modules in Term 2 incur additional fieldwork costs, particularly Changing Landscapes, with costs for the field class (the current destination is China) expected to amount to approximately £950. There are a number of scholarships and other types of financial support available - for further information, please consult the course homepage and handbook.

The university

UCL was founded in 1826 as the third English university, opening education to students regardless of their race, class, gender, or religion. As one of the worlds top universities, UCL excels across the physical and natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Students at UCL have access to excellent facilities, including world-class library resources, museum collections, and archives. Being located in London, UCL students furthermore have easy access to an incredible wealth of cultural and social venues and events.

The UCL M.Sc. Conservation is run by the Department of Geography, which enjoys an outstanding international reputation for both its research and teaching. The department admits over 100 M.Sc. students annually on 12 programmes (other examples include Aquatic Science, Climate Change, Environmental Modelling, and Environment, Science and Society), giving rise to a vibrant M.Sc. student community. Within the department, specialist laboratories are available for wet chemistry, sediment analysis, and microscopy with associated technical support. Furthermore, students on the M.Sc. Conservation can get access to a wide range of outside experimental facilities that can be used as part of dissertation projects by linking closely with nature conservation organisations.

Contact and further information
Course convenor M.Sc. Conservation
Dr Jan Axmacher
UCL Department of Geography
Pearson Building, Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT, UK
jan.axmacher at


Letzte Änderung: 26.01.2013