School of Biological and Marine Sciences

BSc (Hons) Conservation Biology

Why should we conserve biodiversity? How can we manage and restore habitats? With a hands-on approach, we’ll give you the scientific tools to address these issues, developing your understanding of plant and animal biodiversity in the UK and abroad. Develop your knowledge of key areas such as population ecology, evolutionary processes, behavioural ecology, conservation genetics and habitat management, and prime yourself for a career in ecology, conservation or environmental monitoring.

This programme focuses on conservation in terrestrial, marine and freshwater environments. You will experience two compulsory overseas residential field courses in years one (Spain) and two (Mexico), giving you first-hand experience of a range of ecosystems in other parts of the world. There’s no extra to pay: it’s all included within your tuition fees. You’ll participate in an optional work placement year, giving you the opportunity to apply your knowledge in a real world context.

The skin of the jewelled chameleon, native to the central highlands of Madagascar. It has been declared as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List due to bush fires and habitat loss caused by both local human activity and anthropogenic climate change.

Key features

  • Explore the varied natural habitats for fieldwork on our doorstep in Devon and Cornwall.
  • Experience two compulsory overseas residential field courses in years 1 (Spain) and 2 (Mexico), giving you first-hand experience of a range of ecosystems in other parts of the world. There’s no extra to pay: it’s all included within your tuition fees.
  • Benefit from enthusiastic, committed, and approachable staff whose expertise is endorsed with years of research and work in the private conservational sector -  100 per cent of students said that staff were good at explaining things [source: UNISTATS].
  • Participate in an optional work placement year, giving you the opportunity to apply your knowledge in a real world context. 
  • Benefit from our strong links with local organisations such as Paignton Zoo, the Eden Project, the Devon Wildlife Trust and Dartmoor National Park, along with various countryside management teams.
  • Equip yourself with the academic background and skills training for careers in ecology, conservation, environmental monitoring and habitat management. 
  • LABplus is a unique open access laboratory and resource centre designed for students studying science and engineering courses. The lab provides a flexible workspace, computing facilities, specialist software, access to microscopes, microscope cameras and bespoke resources. 
  • Take part in small group tutorials running throughout Years 1 and 2.
  • Boost your practical skills using our specialised facilities including controlled environment chambers, experimental glasshouses, and an electron microscopy unit.

Course details

  • Year 1
  • In your first year, you’ll establish a solid foundation in ecology, biodiversity, natural history, taxonomy, genetics, evolution, microbiology, animal and plant physiology, and animal behaviour. You will gain essential practical field skills through local field trips and a residential course in southern Spain. You’ll also begin to develop useful personal and transferable skills through individual and one-to-one meetings with a personal tutor.
    Core modules
    • BIOL111 Animal and Plant Physiology

      This module is an introduction to the fundamental principles of comparative physiology, and the structure and function of the body systems of plants as well as animals. The module also introduces the concept of environmental physiology; how organisms respond to their environment.

    • BIOL119 Introduction to Biology

      This module is designed to give you some fundamental basic skills and information to help you start to become an independent biologist. The module will cover data and information gathering, analysis, evaluation and presentation. Much of the module will be based around field/lab activities providing you with data for analysis and presentation.

    • BIOL122 Behaviour and Ecology

      This module introduces fundamental principles in behaviour and ecology. Key topics include Tinbergen's `Four Whys', the mechanism, development, function and evolution of animal behaviour, and applying these concepts to scientific study of behaviour. It also examines patterns of life on Earth past and present, and how an understanding of these supports efforts to conserve biodiversity and manage resources sustainably.

    • BIOL123 Field Biology

      This module provides an introduction to the natural history, taxonomy, identification and sampling methods for the major groups of organisms with opportunities to explore and test hypotheses based on these concepts in the field.

    • BIOL127 Evolution

      This module introduces students to the core concepts of evolution, from the basic structure and inheritance function of DNA, to other units of change, from genome to individual to population to species and other taxonomic groupings. The latter part of the module explores the patterns of biodiversity that evolutionary processes have given rise to, from both historical and extant perspectives.

    • BIOL129 Professional Development in Biological Sciences 1

      Skills in fieldwork, e.g. in identification, or in the laboratory, e.g. in liquid handling, are an important aspect of any biology degree, and can contribute to the employability of graduates. The purpose of this module is to track the progressive acquisition of a range of basic field, laboratory and transferable skills of relevance to each degree programme, and delivered in the other Level 4 modules.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL124PP Biology of Sex

      This module will introduce you to the following topics; the evolution of sex, competition for mates, sperm competition, mate choice, sex & disease and other elements of the biology of sex. Each week will start with a discussion of the main areas of exciting research on that topic, across a range of species including humans. Students will then develop their learning in supervised workshops.

    • BIOL125PP Scientific Method and Ethics in Biology

      This module explores how modern scientific research is conducted; the importance of professional ethics in science, based on principles of rigour, respect and responsibility; the essential elements of effective science communication; and the development of critical scientific thinking involving graphical, numerical and statistical approaches. It includes examples of reliable (`good') and unreliable (`bad') science.

  • Year 2
  • You will develop a deeper understanding of animal behaviour, population and community ecology, population genetics, and ecosystem monitoring. You will also tailor your skills ready for the workplace, by specialising through optional modules in aquatic systems or plant-environment interactions. During an overseas field course to Mexico (which is included in your tuition fees), where you will experience a wide range of ecosystems from mangroves to rainforests, you will put these concepts into context, developing your practical and transferable skills, 
    Core modules
    • BIOL204 Principles of Conservation Biology

      Successful conservation is dependent on a thorough grasp of fundamental biological principles. The conceptual aspects of population, molecular, & evolutionary ecology which are central to understanding the dynamics of, and future threats to, extant populations of organisms are reviewed.

    • BIOL205 Animal Behaviour

      The module addresses why animals behave in a particular way and the methodology involved in studying them. This involves understanding the causation, development, function and evolution of behaviour. We will also discuss how this knowledge might be applied in practical situations.

    • BIOL214 Ecology

      An understanding of basic concepts is needed to solve ecological problems. This module explores key concepts in ecology at the levels of individuals, populations and communities. The concepts are supported with examples taken from terrestrial and aquatic systems, and provide a useful insight into the search for general theories in ecology.

    • BIOL215 Methods in Behaviour and Conservation

      Using programme specific activity this module will equip students to perform laboratory and field studies in biological sciences using appropriate methods with regard to safety and risk assessment. The students will also learn to use methods of experimental design and data analysis.

    • BIOL219 Ecology Field Course

      Residential field course to familiarise students with the ecology, biogeography and history of resource management of a range of ecosystems not found in the UK. Students investigate and characterise the ecological communities encountered and explore the consequences of different types of management.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL217 Environmental Plant Physiology

      This module looks at plant-environment interactions in specific habitats, including those affected by human activity. In all cases the challenges associated with the particular environment or biotic interactions are examined as well as the stress responses which may occur in the plants growing there. The features of plants which are well adapted to exploit the opportunities provided by particular habitats are explored.

    • MBIO220 Applied Aquatic Biology

      This module introduces the main effects that humans have on key freshwater and marine ecosystems throughout the globe, as well as strategies for the monitoring, conservation and sustainable use of these systems.

  • Optional placement year
  • You’ll be encouraged to undertake an optional placement year in order to gain experience of the professional world of conservation biology. Successful completion leads to the Certificate of Professional or Work Experience.
    Optional modules
    • APIE303 Biology:Placement

      This module provides an opportunity for professional training of at least 26 weeks duration with an approved company or host organisation between Stage 2 and 4. While on placement, students will gain work experience related to their degree programme, be able to apply their biological knowledge and expertise, and learn further skills and relevant techniques.

  • Final year
  • Your personal research project forms a major part of your final year. Alongside this, you’ll build on advanced skills and concepts in biological disciplines as well as skills in applied conservation biology. You’ll select modules from a range of options including plant biotechnology, environmental policy, global change biology, behavioural ecology, marine vertebrate ecology and conservation and biodiversity, which will prepare you as a conservation biologist ready to enter the workplace.
    Core modules
    • BIOL307 Advanced Skills and Concepts

      Students will select from a catalogue of short, intensive courses relating to biology, developing skills and concepts to an advanced level. The courses offered will be focused on developing the students¿ skills sets and career aspirations, enhancing student employability.

    • BIOL308 Applied Conservation Biology

      Focuses on application of biological theory to successfully managing populations in wild and captive environments. The emphasis is on how theory feeds into and informs working practice. Along with advancing their theoretical knowledge, students develop knowledge of the major approaches, analytical tools, techniques and software that individuals working in the public and private conservation sectors apply in practice.

    • BIOL315 Personal Research

      The largest component of the module comprises a research study element that incorporates the design, collection, analysis and interpretation of data. Other elements include a conduct of study component and a communicating science element. Students will also complete a comprehensive introduction to the research report that incorporates a brief literature review of the topic that addresses wider issues of relevance to their field of research study.

    Optional modules
    • BIOL301 Plant Biotechnology

      Despite the increasing importance of 'food security' in a changing world, plant biotechnology has had much negative publicity. This module will give students an appreciation of the science and also the ethical and social issues that surround the subject and show why these techniques are so important to secure our food supply.

    • BIOL309 Environmental Policy and Conservation

      Develop an understanding of the complex issues associated with the implementation of environmental policy for the conservation of habitats, species and sustainable land use management. Case studies will reflect on policy initiatives and subsequent impact on the conservation of global biodiversity.

    • BIOL310 Global Change Biology

      This module provides the student with an in-depth overview of the likely consequences of climate change for plant and animal species biology and distribution over the coming century. From this starting point we will show how an understanding of climate change biology is vital for conservation theory and practice over coming decades.

    • MBIO317 Behavioural Ecology

      This module examines the theory underpinning key conceptual models in behavioural ecology (e.g. optimal foraging, ideal free distribution, game theory). These models will be critically discussed in relation to empirical studies.

    • MBIO339 Ecology and Conservation of Marine Vertebrates

      Marine vertebrates are vulnerable to depletion through over fishing, industrial development, pollution and habitat degradation. This module will examine the ecology of these animals in their natural environments and explore methods for surveying, monitoring and managing populations and species. There is a strong emphasis on current research and hot topics with numerous case studies used throughout the module.

Every undergraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the course aims, the course structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest course structure and may be subject to change:

BSc Conservation Biology Programme Specification September 2017 4453

The modules shown for this course are those currently being studied by our students, or are proposed new modules. Please note that programme structures and individual modules are subject to amendment from time to time as part of the University’s curriculum enrichment programme and in line with changes in the University’s policies and requirements.

Entry requirements

UCAS tariff

112 - 128

Please note that we do interview some applicants for this programme, at the Admissions Tutor's discretion.

112-128 points, to include grade B in A level Biology, Environmental Science, or Environmental Studies and a C in a second science (Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Geography or Geology). For candidates that do not have a second science subject at A level, please contact: admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.

18 Unit BTEC National Diploma /QCF Extended Diploma in Animal Management - 128-144 points (DDM-DDD) - note that this is subject to the exact modules you have studied - please contact admissions@plymouth.ac.uk, stating explicitly the full list of modules within your qualification.

International Baccalaureate 30 diploma points overall, to include 5 diploma points in Biology (Higher Level) plus 5 diploma points in second science at Higher Level. English and Mathematics must be included.

Science-based Access To Higher Education diplomas, 33 credits in science-based units at merit including a minimum of 12 credits in biology units. We would usually expect GCSE English and Mathematics at grade C, or equivalent.

For a full list of all acceptable qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

English language requirements

For candidates that do not have traditional qualifications, our BSc (Hons) Biology with Foundation Year programme provides a route onto this degree.

Fees, costs and funding

New Student 2017 2018
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Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per a number of credits. Fees are correct at the time of publication and may be subject to change.

How to apply

All applications for undergraduate courses are made through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 

UCAS will ask for the information contained in the box at the top of this course page including the UCAS course code and the institution code. 

To apply for this course and for more information about submitting an application including application deadline dates, please visit the UCAS website.

Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email international-admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.



Undergraduate study in the School of Biological Sciences

Watch and find out more about studying in the School of Biological Sciences at Plymouth.

Additional fieldwork and equipment costs

This course includes residential fieldwork. Typically, where the fieldwork is a compulsory part of the course, transport, accommodation and the majority of food costs are paid by the Faculty.

Some courses offer alternative or optional field courses with an additional cost.

Find out more information

More information on conservation biology

We promote an international outlook, with field courses to Spain and Mexico, so that you can learn about conservation in other parts of the world.

Find out more about conservation biology.

Dr Paul Ramsay - Programme Leader

Research interests: biodiversity, conservation, sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems; mountain ecology. Teaches: ecology, restoration ecology, statistics, scientific writing, field ecology.
Find out more about Dr Paul Ramsay

Dr Mairi Knight - Deputy Programme Leader

Research interests: gene flow and dispersal in and between populations, species delineation, mating systems and speciation mechanisms. Teaches: molecular ecology and conservation genetics; field ecology.
Find out more about Dr Mairi Knight

Potential High Achievers Scheme

In the School of Biological and Marine Sciences we are passionate and committed to both teaching and research and we are looking for talented and motivated students to share in this passion for biology in all its forms. We know that our applicants will thrive in the hands-on environment we can provide, and we want to ensure our best applicants become our future.

The scheme is now open for students who have applied to study, from September 2017, a range of full-time undergraduate courses across the biological sciences subject areas. We will be contacting applicants who are not only on course to achieve top marks but who have an outstanding personal statement, in order to offer them a chance to receive an unconditional offer immediately.

Find out more about the scheme.