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About the BCM course

Course objectives

The conservation and management of biodiversity is one of the most important challenges facing humanity. The next generation of researchers, practitioners and decision-makers has the challenge of averting biodiversity loss and ensuring that conservation becomes a priority in this period of rapid social, technological and environmental change. The aim of the MSc/MPhil in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management is to provide a critical and conceptually sophisticated understanding of biodiversity science and the socioeconomic, political, cultural and institutional contexts within which management and policy decisions are made.

The specific learning objectives of the BCM course are to:

  • Appreciate the cross-disciplinarity of conservation science, critically engaging with core concepts drawn from across the social, natural and physical sciences
  • Identify and evaluate the leading drivers of global biodiversity loss in terrestrial and marine ecosystems
  • Describe how, why and by whom space and territory is prioritised and governed for conservation over time
  • Describe the role of ethics and diverse knowledge and value systems in producing culturally attuned, equitable and effective conservation interventions
  • Link theory, hypothesis, methods, fieldwork and data to identify and develop an independent research project.

Course description

The MSc course comprises:

  • Core modules which are assessed by written examination;
  • Electives, which are assessed through essays;
  • An original and independent research dissertation;
  • Introductory training in research design and analytical 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 2022/23 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.

BCM MSc - Outline Schedule 2022/23
Michaelmas Term Hilary Term Trinity Term
Conservation Biogeography Conservation Landscapes Revision classes and mock exam
Global Change and the Biosphere Conservation and Society Examinations
Conservation Governance Biodiversity Technologies Research Dissertation
(submission 1st September)
Economics and the Environment Biodiversity Responses to Climate Change  
Professional and Research Skills Decolonising Conservation Reading Groups  
CITES Roleplay Workshop Research Methods  
Induction Fieldtrip Knepp Wildland Project Fieldtrip  
Wytham Woods Fieldtrip Cemex/RSPB Restoration Site Fieldtrip  
BCM Student Symposium Tenerife Field Trip  
  BCM Research Symposium  

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 of 120), practical sessionsworkshops, reading groups and discussion sessions and 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 run in 2022/23 is given below. Reading lists are circulated a week to 10 days ahead of the first class.

Conservation Biogeography

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. We look at how historical biogeography, phylogenetics, long term ecological data and ecological biogeography may inform debates on conservation baselines and goals, covering topics such as habitat transformation, biotic invasions and homogenization. We also take a look at some important developments and initiatives that are being brought to bear on key biodiversity science problems, through the use biodiversity informatics and a variety of e-science tools. Throughout, we take a critical look at biodiversity science, focusing on problems of scale, uncertainty and scientific practice and on key assumptions and uncertainties at a range of scales from the landscape to global. Class discussion frequently explores the links between science and society.

Global Change and the Biosphere [shared with MSc/MPhil in ECM]

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 global change. It starts with a macro-scale view of the concept of the Anthropocene, global biosphere function and the global impact of humanity, putting contemporary environmental change into wider context. It then explores 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 forest and coral reef biomes. The module concludes by exploring nature-based solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation and the potential for large scale nature recovery.

Conservation Landscapes

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 to measure biodiversity, and whether 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 in case study applications of prioritisation, the module continues with lectures on evidence-based conservation and the related question of "what works?" and concludes 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.

Biodiversity Responses to Climate Change

Module Leader: Prof Marc Macias-Fauria

Climate change exposes global biodiversity to multiple challenges. This is compounded by an increase in other ways of human intervention on ecosystems and the Earth System as a whole. "How biota responds to climate change?" is one of the most salient questions posed to biodiversity scientists by policymakers. In this module, we will study and discuss the state-of-the-art scientific understanding of this question, which employs observations (when and where available), experiments and models, the latter being increasingly used in conservation planning and management.

Conservation Governance

Module Leader: Dr Chloë Strevens

Early models of conservation governance have been transformed over recent decades, moving from centralised, regulatory 'command and control' mechanisms towards more inclusive, self-regulatory approaches including community-based conservation, market-based approaches and voluntary codes of conduct. This module aims to equip you with a critical understanding of the complex web of institutions and instruments that underpin conservation governance and how they have changed over time. The importance of environmental and jurisdictional context will be discussed, comparing governance in terrestrial and marine environments and in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We will explore changes in the narratives and values that motivate conservation decision-making and the importance of informing and empowering the public to engage in the discourse on biodiversity conservation and lobbying decision-makers. Looking ahead, we will discuss the potential future direction of conservation governance and implications of continuing investment in self-governance and market-based approaches.

Conservation and Society

Module Leader: Prof Jamie Lorimer

This course will explore contributions of critical social theory to understandings of some of the cultural, historical and political aspects of nature and efforts to conserve it. It will demonstrate the importance of conceiving conservation as a social and political practice, questioning prevalent understandings of science as an objective arbiter of conservation policy. This module will equip you with a range of conceptual resources to help you think critically about conservation. It will also encourage you to reflect on how social theory might improve conservation science, policy and practice. On conclusion of the module you should be able to articulate these ideas with reference to a range of 'hot' topics in contemporary conservation practice.

Economics and the Environment

Module Leader: Dr Michael Clark

This module offers a survey of economics that covers foundational concepts and models, explores new frontiers of thinking and draws lessons from a wide range of case studies and contexts. PHASE I of the module helps students understand the major economic concepts and models relevant for understanding contemporary environmental, natural resource and sustainable development challenges and the different policies and property rights economists recommend. PHASE II of the module shifts from foundations to specialised tracks for each MSc with interactive lectures and exercises. In the case of BCM, we focus on the major themes and trends related to the economics of biodiversity, including the unique challenges posed by the ecological and social dimensions of biodiversity. Students will understand economic causes of environmental and sustainability challenges, and the role of economic incentives and policies in responding to these challenges; compare, critique and apply different economic frameworks and methods to environmental and sustainability challenges; identify the main trends and debates of economics in a logical and systematic way; review the strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies for policy analysis, instrument design and evaluation; and learn how economic ideas and methods intersect with other disciplinary and normative perspectives in the humanities, natural sciences, engineering sciences and social sciences.

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 Co-ordinator. The portfolio of electives on offer may change from year to year.

The following electives were run in 2022/23:

Elective Title Module Leader / Teaching Staff
Climate Change, Communication and the Media James Painter
Energy and the Environment Chris Jardine
Essentials of ESG and DEI Ranita Rajan and Laurence Wainwright
Exploring human migration and mobility Anna Tsalapatanis and Lisa Hsin
Flood Risk Management Edmund Penning-Rowsell
Global Environmental Change and Food Systems Monika Zurek and Saher Hasnain
International Environmental Law Catherine Mackenzie
Remote Sensing of the Environment Cristian Rossi
Seascape Ecology and Conservation Lisa Wedding
Strategy for Earth Giulio Boccaletti
Transboundary Conservation Mohammad Farhadinia
Valuing Nature: Ethical Frameworks and Policy Implications Séverine Deneulin and Tim Howles
Water Justice Martina Korzenevica-Proud and Catherine Grasham
Water, Wastewater and Sludge Treatment in the Urban Context David Thomas
Colonial Histories of Nature Sneha Krishnan
Complexity Sciences for Environmental Policy Peter Barbrook-Johnson
Land Tenure and Sustainability in Africa Festus Asaaga
Poverty, Justice and the Environment Mark Hirons
Development, Environment and Health Katrina Charles
Ecological Economics and Degrowth: Transformative Pathways to Sustainability Erik Gomez-Baggethun
Environmental Governance and Conservation: ASEAN Case Study Mari Mulyani
Finance and Sustainability Ben Caldecott
Human-Wildlife Conflict and Coexistence: Theory and Practice Alex Zimmerman
Implementation Strategy for Climate Initiatives Abrar Chaudhury
Land Tenure and Sustainability in Africa Festus Asaaga
International Biodiversity Conservation Law Catherine Mackenzie
Martine Ecosystems, their Conservation and Management Gwilym Rowlands and Simon Pittman
Topics in Climate Change Economics and Policy Sam Fankhauser
Transforming Organisations: A Change Agent's Toolkit David Scrymgour
Urban Infrastructure Futures Anna Plyushteva

Workshops, symposia and reading groups

The course includes a set of research skills clinics, workshops, symposia and reading groups that provide opportunities for interactive, small group and in-depth explorations of themes in environmental governance and policy.

In 2022/23 we ran the following:

  • Two BCM symposia, one in each of the first two terms, where students present their work to their peers to gather feedback and practice their presentation skills
  • A CITES role-play workshop to explore the decision-making procedures and politics of a standing committee
  • A research ethics workshop providing baseline training in research ethics for MSc students working in both the social and physical sciences. We will outline the critical debates and approaches to ethics in physical and social geography research, covering issues such as subjectivity, reflexivity, participation, co-authorship, and data representation and ownership of results
  • Weekly sessions on professional research skills including academic reading, writing, and public speaking and research methods, introducing some of the most common analytical approaches used in BCM dissertation research
  • Students are also encouraged to attend seminars hosted by SoGE and other Schools in the University.

Residential field trips

We run two residential field trips each year. Attendance on these is mandatory and the cost of attendance is covered in your fees.

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

Held one week before the beginning of the first term, the aims of this induction fieldtrip are:

  1. To get to know each other and chat about our respective interests;
  2. To introduce the course ethos and philosophy and;
  3. To visit a set of sites that illustrate conservation in England and the interactions between its landscapes, conservation actors and 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 aims to consolidate and extend learning on the key themes covered in the course. For example: 1. Factors determining the distribution and ecologies of species over space and time; 2. The role of base-lines in shaping conservation science and policy; 3. Conservation governance across scales and institutions and; 4. Techniques for engaging diverse publics in conservation action.

Transferable skills training

Integrated into the course 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, 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.