Course objectives

This one-year course aims to provide a critical and conceptually sophisticated understanding of biodiversity science and the socio-economic, political, cultural and institutional environments, within which management and policy decisions are made.

The course design is informed by the recognition that biodiversity conservation, as a domain of science and policy, needs to become more contextual and multi-level in its conception. The course content is rooted in our established strengthens in conservation biogeography, strategy and governance and in research design. However, the 2013 revised course design responds to the rise of market-based conservation including engagements with enterprise and the transformative potential of new technologies.

The specific course objectives are to develop the abilities of students to:

  • Critically engage with concepts and theory in biodiversity science and management from interdisciplinary perspectives and at an advanced level;
  • Describe by whom and by what space and territory is produced and governed in conservation over time;
  • Critically assess the modes through which conservation builds and extends power and describe in detail the factors that explain the emergence and performance of different governance modes;
  • Appreciate the role of ethics, values and norms in producing culturally attuned and effective conservation interventions;
  • Embrace the implications of new technological forces for the future of biodiversity science and management;
  • Link theory, hypothesis, methods, data and field work so as to identify and develop advanced research questions and design dissertation research that is identifiable with a professional research approach

In addition the course aims to facilitate the entry-process to those who wish to undertake further advanced study by research at Oxford and beyond.

Course description

The MSc course comprises:

  • core modules which are assessed by written examination;
  • two electives, which are assessed through essays and/or coursework;
  • an original and independent research dissertation;
  • training in research methods;
  • workshops, reading groups and additional seminars; and
  • field trips.

An outline time-table for the course is illustrated in the table below. The following description applies to the 2016/17 academic year. Applicants for future years should be aware that the details of the course change from year to year as we seek to keep the course up to date with developments in the field and as we accommodate new opportunities arising from staff arrivals or departures. Core modules and elective modules are taught in the first two terms leaving the third term for examinations and dissertation preparation.

MSc/MPhil in Biodiversity Conservation & Management
1st Term (Michaelmas Term, MT)2nd Term (Hilary Term, HT)3rd Term (Trinity Term, TT)
Conservation Biogeography (8wks)Conservation Landscapes (8wks)Examinations
Ecosystems (8wks)Species Responses to Climate Change (4wks)Methods workshops
Conservation Governance (8wks)Conservation & Society (4wks)Research Dissertation
(continues until 1 Sept)
Economics of the Environment (8wks)Research Methods (8wks) 
Professional Research Practice (6wks)Stowe & Waddesdon Study Day 
Induction Field tripConservation 2037 Inter-MSc event (tbc) 
Wytham Woods Field tripValues & Frames in Conservation Communication Workshop 
CITES Role Play WorkshopCEMEX (Mining & restoration) Study Day 
Oceans Policy SymposiumTenerife Field Trip 
WWF Study Day  

Teaching methods and contact hours

The teaching is concentrated in the first two terms. The course is taught through a combination of lectures for core modules, small group teaching for elective courses (maximum class size 10), practical sessions, fieldtrips and study days. In each week, there are approximately 12-14 hours of formal contact time. For core modules, there are normally 8-10 hours of lectures per week, delivered through two-hour lecture sessions. Electives are normally delivered in 4-6 sessions across the term, each lasting 90 minutes to 2 hours. Individual extended reading is an important part of the course programme and up to 3 hours of reading may be set in preparation for each two-hour class. In weeks with fieldtrips or study days, the number of contact hours will be greater.

Core modules

A summary description of each core module is given below. Reading lists are circulated a week to 10 days ahead of the first class.

Conservation Biogeography (MT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Prof Rob Whittaker

This module will equip you with a critical understanding of the science underpinning biodiversity conservation imperatives on the global stage through the lens principally of Conservation Biogeography: the application of biogeographical principles, theories, and approaches, to problems concerning the conservation of biodiversity. Within the course we examine key biogeographical approaches to the analysis of biodiversity, and to predictive modelling of species losses consequent upon human action. In addition to this applied content, we take a critical look at biodiversity science, focusing on problems of scale, uncertainty and scientific practice. Throughout, you will examine key assumptions and uncertainties within the science of biodiversity at a range of scales from the landscape to global.

Ecosystems [part with MSc/MPhil in ECM] (MT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi

This module examines the roles played by the biosphere in global and local environmental change, both in how it is affected by environmental change and in how changes in the biosphere can affect environmental change. The module commences with a macro-scale view of global biosphere function in Earth history and the global impact of humanity, putting contemporary environmental change into wider context. It then explores the linkages between biodiversity and ecosystem services before showing how ecologists explore the responses of the biosphere to global change through field studies, satellite remote sensing and modelling, focussing on examples from contemporary research in tropical biomes. The module concludes with a critical introduction to the ecosystem service policy frame.

Conservation Landscapes (HT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Dr Richard Grenyer

How can we choose what to do? Or, in more conservation-specific terms, "how can we choose what/where/how to conserve?" This module seeks to explore current and future problems in conservation decision making, with reference to the underpinning techniques and scientific understanding. It begins with the history and controversy over how and why to divide the world into areas of differing conservation importance, either in the form of protected areas, priority regions or multi-use landscapes. It then introduces key planning principles and tools that have shaped conservation action and specifically networks of Protected Areas at multiple scales. Grounded by two case study applications of state-led (Tenerife) and market-led prioritisation (the High Conservation Value Approach), the module concludes with lectures on evidence-based conservation and the related question of "what works?" and on the challenges of extending conservation planning to deal with food security, demography and the social. Through participation in this module you will understand how spatial responses to biodiversity conservation operate across scales and governance modes and have contributed to the institutional make-up of contemporary conservation.

Species Responses to Climate Change (HT): 4 classes

Module Leader: Dr Marc Macias-Fauria

Climate change poses a challenge to many species globally. This is compounded by an increase in other ways of human intervention on ecosystems, such that we may witness increasing rates of biodiversity decline going ahead. The question of how species respond to climate change is one of the most salient and challenging posed to biodiversity scientists by policy-makers, not least because the configuration of protected areas represents a form of 'spatial lock-in' that requires a long lead in time to adjust if biodiversity policy is to respond to the impacts of climate change. This module will equip you with a state-of-the-art understanding of the scientific approaches to this question, and in particular the sophisticated models under development to predict climate-induced habitat loss and species performance, which are increasingly used as a source of information in conservation planning and management. Through participation in this module you will develop the foundations to engage in research in this field, or if you aspire to a career in policy, to critically appraise the state of scientific advice to policy.

Conservation Governance (MT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Dr Chloë Strevens

This module will equip you with a critical and grounded understanding of the origins and practice of contemporary conservation. It will introduce conservation governance as a situated collection of practices with particular characteristics in different eras and settings. Conservation bodies traditionally pursued regulatory (command and control) approaches, but since the mid-1980s a range of non-state market-led approaches (such as FSC and more recently REDD) have come to the fore. In addition, voluntary, self-governance approaches are now being developed to deal with more specific and/or localised issues. These developments amount to a complex and dynamic conservation governance landscape that invites conservationists to select governance approaches that best suit a particular issue, culture or locality and/or that blend elements of different approaches. You will develop a critical understanding of analytics and modes of governance that will equip you to research, act within and shape 21st century approaches to biodiversity governance. You will examine established regimes and mechanisms, for example those relating to species conservation, but the emphasis of this module will be forward-looking, with a focus on conservation's growing engagement with markets, enterprise and technology.

Conservation and Society

Module Leader: Dr Maan Barua

Conservation is a multifaceted endeavour. This course will explore the contributions of Human Geography to understanding some of the cultural, historical and political aspects of nature and efforts to conserve it. The series of four classes will pick up on and extend themes in the course relating to multiple natures and the varied geographies of conservation policy and management. It will introduce concepts from social theory that support a critical understanding of contemporary conservation policy and practice. This course of study will develop your ability to theorise why some species attain iconic or flagship status, the relationship between power, knowledge and conservation action and why certain conceptions of nature have prominence in conservation policy. Through such understandings you will be able to engage more fully in contemporary debates in conservation.

Economics of the Environment (MT): 8 classes

Module Leader: Dr Dustin Garrick

The Economics of the Environment module equips MSc students in SoGE with the foundational concepts, methods and analytical tools to navigate the interface of economics and the environment across a range of contexts, scales and threats. In 2017-18, the module will be organised in two phases during Michaelmas term, leveraging the world-class interdisciplinary economic research and teaching across the School. Phase I covers the foundations of economics and the environment, examining the economic roots of environmental problems and providing a survey of economic approaches to environmental policy ranging from pricing to property rights. The second phase of the module shifts from foundations to applications, organising the students into specialised tracks tailored to each MSc with interactive lectures and exercises. The specialised tracks in phase II are problem-based, fostering critical examination and application of economics to biodiversity challenges.

Professional Research Practice (MT): 6 classes

Module Leader: Dr Chloë Strevens and Dr Mari Mulyani

This module will develop your understanding of the research process and the key transferable skills that you will need to develop and master to succeed in a career in conservation research, policy and/or management. It focuses on developing core understandings and competencies in the fundamentals: reading, writing, generating and assessing research questions, securing funds to take research forward and communicating research ideas and findings. A key message is that the research process is not a linear process but one that involves multiple-pathways and iterations. The themes covered are equally relevant to natural and social scientific research and touch on questions in the philosophy of science about the nature of asking questions; the practice of generating 'data'; and the role of 'writing' in the research process. You will gain an understanding of the principles involved in academic research and communication, both to inform the execution of your research dissertation and as a prelude to developing expertise in specific methods.

Research Methods [with MSc/MPhil in NSEG] (HT): 6 classes and a practical project

Module Leader: Dr Chloë Strevens

This module will focus on developing competences in a suite of common and emerging research practices and methods employed in biodiversity science, policy and management research. The format of classes in this module will be an introductory seminar followed by a practical exercise. This module supports and interacts with a series of dissertation preparation surgeries.

Elective Modules

Elective Modules offer a tutorial-style teaching and discussion environment within smaller groups, based on a suite of contemporary research themes that reflect the specific interests of core faculty and visiting research associates. They involve eight hours of instruction that may be organised in different formats. Each student has the opportunity to identify elective modules of particular interest, though there is a selection process for these electives through committee at the start of term. As such, the teaching aim is to foster discussion and debate between academic staff and students to identify and explore theory, methods and practice in an academic space that encourages a critical dialogue.

Fuller details of our current range of electives are available from the Course Director. The portfolio of electives on offer may change from year to year.

Electives currently offered are listed below:

  • Analytical Skills in GIS
    Dr Robert Dunford, ECI
  • ASEAN Environments
    Dr Mari Mulyani, SoGE
  • Behavioural Economics and Field Experiments
    Prof Bob Hahn, SSEE
  • Cities, Mobility and Climate Change
    Prof Tim Schwanen, TSU
  • Climate Change and Extreme Weather
    Prof Myles Allen, ECI
  • Climate Change, Communication and the Media
    Dr James Painter, Reuters Institute
  • Corporate Social and Environmental Accountability
    Prof Gordon L Clark, SSEE
  • Development, Environment and Health
    Dr Proochista Ariana, Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, and Katrina Charles, SoGE
  • The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
    Dr Erik Gómez-Baggethun, SoGE
  • Ecosystem Services for Development
    Dr Alex Morel and Dr Mark Hirons, ECI
  • Energy and the Environment
    Dr Chris Jardine and Dr Sarah Darby, ECI
  • Energy Policy
    Prof Nick Eyre, ECI
  • Environment and Development
    Dr Camilla Toulmin, IIED
  • Environmental Governance and Development
    Dr Ariell Ahearn, SoGE
  • Environmental Risk: Experts, Uncertainty, Publics
    Dr James Palmer, SoGE
  • Flood Risk Management
    Prof Edmund Penning-Rowsell, SoGE
  • The Forest Governance Group
    Dr Connie McDermott, ECI
  • Gender, Geography and the Environment
    Dr Carmen Hopkins and Dr Kerrie Thornhill, SoGE
  • Global Environmental Change and Food Systems
    Dr Rebecca White, ECI
  • Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
    Dr Tom Thornton, ECI
  • International Environmental Law
    Dr Catherine Mackenzie, SoGE
  • Multidisciplinary Environmental Research as a Social Process: The MaRIUS project
    Dr Catharina Landström, SoGE
  • Resiliency Thinking and Community Organising for Environmental Action
    Robert H. McNulty
  • Rewilding
    Dr Keith Kirby, Oxford Martin School
  • Tackling Climate Change: Innovation, Society and Policy
    Dr Rob Bellamy, InSIS
  • Transformations Towards Sustainability: Sharing Economy as the Lens
    Dr Yuge Ma, ECI
  • Urban Ecologies
    Dr Maan Barua, SoGE
  • Urban Water and Wastewater
    Dr David Johnstone, SoGE
  • Water, Climate and Society in the Middle East
    Dr Troy Sternberg, SoGE

Fuller details of our current range of electives are available from the Course Director.

Workshops, symposia and study days

The course includes a set of workshops, symposia and study days that provide opportunities for interactive, small group and in-depth explorations of themes in environmental governance and policy.

We aim to offer two workshops and one or two study days in both Michaelmas and Hilary Term. To ensure that the course is up-to-date we may introduce new workshops. In 2016/17 we are planning the following:

  • An Oceans Policy Symposium will profile cutting-edge initiatives to create meaningful governance approaches in the marine environment;
  • A study day to WWF-UK to see a modern conservation work-place, discuss current issues with WWF representatives and work together to explore a contemporary issue;
  • A day study tour to Waddesdon Manor and Stowe Landscape Gardens in Buckinghamshire, to study the origins of positive perceptions of nature in western thought and the landscape 'tastes' and practices that have shaped protected area selection and management;
  • A study morning to a CEMEX aggregate quarry in Hampshire to explore the interactions between mining and ecological restorations;
  • A workshop on Values and Frames based on the widely admired Common Cause for Nature report that will develop your critical understandings of conservation communication and messaging;
  • A CITES role-play workshop to explore the decision-making procedures and politics of a standing committee;
  • In addition, we are planning a new event involving other conservation MSc that will develop and debate your visions for conservation twenty years hence.

Field trips

Fieldwork is a significant and well-resourced element of the programme's teaching philosophy and is designed to complement and extend the class room provision. We run two field trips each year. Attendance on these is mandatory and the cost of attendance is covered in your fees. This excludes the costs associated with obtaining the appropriate visa required to attend the non-UK based fieldtrips. Non-EEA nationals might require a visa's in order to travel to the country where the fieldtrip is being held and any costs associated with obtaining the appropriate travel visa is the responsibility of the student.

An Induction field course: Isle of Purbeck and the New Forest National Park, Dorset

The aims of this induction fieldtrip are exceedingly straightforward, namely i) to get to know each other and chat about our respective interests, 2) to introduce the course ethos and philosophy, 3) To visit a set of sites that illustrate both a European approach to conservation and the interactions between landscapes, actors, institutions over time.

A week residential field course to Tenerife, Spain in the Easter vacation

Coming at the end of the taught component of the course this trip aids to consolidate and extend learning in relation to key themes in the course. For example: 1) Factors determining the distribution and ecologies of species over place and time, 2) The role of base-lines in shaping conservation science and policy, 3) How interplay of multi-level conservation governance and the specificities of place in producing conservation territories, 4) Techniques for engaging diverse publics in the conservation cause.

Transferable skills training

Integrated into the course and in particular the Professional Research Practice module are various activities and exercises designed to help you develop the professional skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace. These include popular and executive science writing, verbal communication, negotiating and lobbying, developing personal brand and a social media presence, interviewing, writing grant proposals, and basic project management. In addition, the University's IT and Library services offer a full range of IT and information skill courses.

Please note: The actual course content may vary from the information provided online and should therefore be taken to be indicative rather than tightly prescriptive.