Ecological considerations factor among the key concerns facing our planet today. The decline of bee populations, for example, poses a real threat to agricultural crop yields and the health of flowering plants, and groundbreaking research at Royal Holloway, University of London is helping to uncover the reasons behind this crisis.
Studying Ecology and Conservation at Royal Holloway will teach you the fundamental principles of how plants and animals interact with each other and the wider environment, applying both theoretical and practical tools to understand diverse aspects of ecology including both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, behavioural ecology and conservation.
The first year of Ecology and Conservation provides a strong foundation in plant, animal and ecosystem topics, including vertebrate evolution and diversity, plant evolution, form and function, cell biology, genetics and biomes and ecosystems. Acquiring skills in biological data analysis and practical field ecology form a key part of the second year, alongside studies in evolution, invertebrate biology, and insects, plants and fungi. You can also choose to study animal behaviour, microbiology, or to attend the residential field course on marine biology. The final year includes the study of population and community ecology, and marine ecology and biodiversity. There are options to study conservation biology, evolutionary ecology, entomology, extreme animal physiology, circadian biology, as well as to take part in the overseas field course that examines Mediterranean conservation and ecology. This flexible course allows you to tailor your learning in years 2 and 3, to suit your own interests.
Our biodiverse campus is in easy reach of sites of special scientific interest including Windsor Great Park, Box Hill and Chobham Common, providing the opportunity for rewarding field work and independent study. You will gain practical experience across all three years of the degree, with many laboratory-based or field-based practicals in years 1 and 2, and an individual research project in year 3. The project can involve laboratory, field, or computer-based approaches, but whichever project you choose, you will join our renowned research culture.
Our flexible degree programmes enable you to apply to take a Placement Year, which can be spent studying abroad, working or carrying out voluntary work. You can even do all three if you want to (minimum of three months each)! To recognise the importance of this additional skills development and university experience, your Placement Year will be formally recognised on your degree certificate and will contribute to your overall result. Please note conditions may apply if your degree already includes an integrated year out, please contact the Careers & Employability Service for more information. Find out more
- Understand how ecological principles can be used to tackle conservation challenges.
- Learn the principles of how plants and animals interact with each other and the wider environment.
- Take part in an overseas field course that examines Mediterranean conservation and ecology.
Core ModulesYear 1
In this module you will develop an understanding of key scientific concepts and effective science communication. You will learn how to process and critique different forms of information, and how to communicate science to both scientific and non-scientific audiences using diverse media, forms and methods. You will also examine ethical issues surrounding research and intervention.
In this module you will develop an understanding of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell biology and the key functions of these structures and organelles. You will look at the origin of life and the principles of natural selection and evolution. You will also learn the practical technique involved in microscopy, including fixation techniques for the analysis of cell ultrastructure and aseptic techniques for bacterial culture.
In this module you will develop an understanding of genes and their behaviour in individuals organisms, in populations, and at the molecular level within the cell. You will look cellular genetics with respect to mitosis, meiosis, inheritance and recombination, and consider the fundamentals of gene expression, its control, and DNA replication. You will examine genome organisation, transcription, and translation, and gain practical experience of using techniques in microscopy, including slide preparation for the observation of chromosomes.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the key concepts of ecology and conservation, working up from organisms to populations and their interactions, through to communities and ecosystems. You will look at ecological patterns and processes and consider the fundamental interactions between species and their abiotic environment. You will also gain practical experience in using ecological sampling techniques, carrying out biostatistical analyses and experimental design.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the diversity and structure plants and fungi and how these can be used to reconstruct evolutionary history. You will look at the structure of the main Kingdoms of eukaryotes, examining their diversity and the relationships between the life-cycles of higher plants and fungi, and their single-cell or water-tied ancestors. You will consider the form, development and function, including photosynthesis, of higher plants, and then explore the relevance of plants to humans. You will gain practical experience in handling and observing preserved and live specimens, preparation of taxonomic keys, drawing, data analysis, interpretation and presentation.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how biological and ecological principles can help develop sustainable solutions to the problems encountered in the 21st Century. You will look at how ecological principles can be used to tackle conservation challenges and consider the importance of ongoing management of ecosystems which have been altered by humans. You will gain practical experience in using ecological sampling techniques and learn how to apply and interpret elementary statistical tests.
In this module you will develop an understanding of origins of the vertebrate classes and their evolutionary history. You will look at functional aspects of the key morphological and physiological adaptations of vertebrates to life in water, on land and in the air. You will examine the processes of evolution, phylogeny, physiology and biomechanics of vertebrates, and consider the general anatomical organisation of chordates and vertebrates.
In this module you will develop an understanding of global biomes and ecosystems as well as biogeochemical cycles and energy flow through them. You will look at the key features of UK ecosystems and consider current ecological issues. You will examine the major principles of ecological science and gain practical experience in using sampling techniques, biostatistical analyses and experiemental design. You will also analyse variation in climate around the globe, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystsems, ecosystem services and habitat conservation.
In this module you will develop an understanding of invertebrate phyla, looking at their structure, diversity, levels of complexity, life styles, and evolutionary relationships. You will primarily examine body-plans and how structure relates to behaviour, but also consider invertebrate diversity and their ecological importance. You will learn to stain, mount, and interpret microscopic specimens and enhance your skills in scientific illustration, microscope use, identification and animal handling.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the life cycle of flowering plants, considering their evolution, developmental and functional biology. You will examine the role and biology of meristems in the structure and building of a plant muticellular body, and the role and mode of action of plant hormones in coordinating development. You will also consider a range of environmental and biotic factors affecting plants, including light, time of day, temperature, drought, and other organisms, and how plants respond to the challenges they pose.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the effects of herbivorous insects on plants and the ways in which plants defend themselves against attack. You will consider how insects can be beneficial to plants, examining their role in pollination, and how fungi mediate interactions between insects and their hosts, including pathogens, endophytes and mycorrhizas.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how to design and analyse ecological experiments. You will perform simple investigations into several different taxonomic groups such as mammals, invertebrates and plants, and consider the difficulties of designing experiments in the field, compared to controlled conditions. You will gain experience with techniques such as field sampling, identification using keys, and quantitative population estimation, as you carry out fieldwork in and around the College campus, with some daily excursions.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the use of statistical methods in biological sciences. You will examine how questions in biology can be answered using quantitative methods, looking at key concepts of statistical sampling and experimental design. You will consider how to select appropriate tests, how to apply them, and identify what can be deduced from them.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how organisms have changed through time. You will look at the historical origins of the modern concept of evolution, examining the evidence for it and the processes that have shaped faunas and floras. You will consider Darwinism and its development, the origin and maintenance of variation, and adaptation and selection. You will analyse how evolution can be studied using phylogenetic methods and the mechanisms of speciation, with a focus on human evolution.
You will carry out an individual laboratory or theoretical investigation, supervised by an appropriate member of staff, who will provide guidance throughout. You will apply the knowledge and skills learned throughout your studies, and learn to organise data in a logical, presentable and persuasive way. You will produce a report, around 8,000 words in length, and will deliver an oral presentation with a summary of your findings.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the major threats to biodiversity, including habitat loss and fragmentation, alien species, global climate change, intensive agriculture, pollution, and over-harvesting. You will look at the population and ecological processes that lead to species and habitat decline, and assess how conservation biology can be applied to redress this. You will also examine current areas of research in conservation biology, their ethical implications, and agri-environmental management plans.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of population and community ecology, focussing on the forces which structure communities of animals and plants. You will look at population growth, inter- and intra-specific competition, trophic relations and the factors which regulate populations, and will examine the ecological processes that contribute to community organisation, such as food web structure, body size, succession and natural disturbances. You will also consider the role of population and community ecology in the maintenance of biodiversity.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the effects of climate change on the interaction between plants and the environment. You will critically evaluate the application of novel technologies to crop improvement and assess the relationship between growth and responses to the environment. You will also consider issues surrounding human uses of plants and conservation.
There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.Year 1
- All modules are core
In this module you will develop an understanding of some of the key concepts in microbiology, including the study of bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotic microbes. You will look at how microbes are distinguished and classified, and discuss bacterial growth and differentiation. You will examine the importance of microorganisms in health and disease, including human welfare issues such as opportunistic infections and the role of microorganisms in cancer.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the causation, development, function and evolution of animal behaviour, assessing the variety of behaviour occurring across the range of animal taxa and in different ecological situations. You will examine the major theories that seek to explain animal behaviour, such as kin selection, optimal foraging and game theory. You will look at the main methods used to study behaviour, including observation, experiment and the comparative approach, and consider how they can be applied to the study of different types of behavioural questions.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the molecular tools and techniques currently available to investigate the genetic diversity of a range of organisms. You will examine how genetically modified organisms can be produced via a number of methodologies, and will consider their application in areas such as crop improvement, pest management, and vaccine development. You will also look at how molecular genetics has improved our understanding of human inherited diseases and led to the development of human gene therapies.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of the marine environment and their influence on marine organisms. You will look at of a broad range of marine taxa, in particular invertebrates, but also vertebrates and algae, sampled alive from their natural habitats. You will carry out intertidal sampling (rocky and sandy shores) and sampling from a research vessel (plankton and subtidal benthos), gaining experience of collecting and identifying a range of littoral organisms. You will consider behavioural, ecological and physiological aspects, morphological adaptations, systematic relationships and also the economic significance of selected groups.
You will carry out a literature research project on a biological or biochemical topic of your choice, producing a written report around 7,500 words in length. You will critically evaluate recent scientific publications on your chosen topic, highlighting how data has been used to generate and test hypotheses.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of parasitism and the protective mechanisms used by immuno-competent hosts to limit the spread of infection. You will look at the biological strategies used by a range of unicellular and multicellular organisms to colonise host causing disease in human and non-human hosts. You will consider studies on the pathology and the cellular immunity elicited by various parasites, and the immune evasion strategies used by widely distributed human parasites to protect themselves from immune attack. You will also address the principles and prospects of anti-parasitic vaccination in the 21st Century.
In this module you will develop an understanding of insect biology, addressing aspects of their physiology and biology. You will look at why insects are the most numerous animals on the planet and examine the practical applications of entomology. You will assess modern methods of crop production and pest control and analyse the conservational importance of beneficial insects such as pollinators and saproxylic (dead wood-feeding) species, considering reasons for their decline.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the ecology of the Aljezur region of Portugal, and the conservation threats presented by tourism, infrastructure development and agricultural change. You will look at conservation ecology in marine, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, with a focus on key species and habitats. You will carry out practical work, including an ecological risk assessment for coastal ecosystems, invertebrate sampling in native cork forest, bird monitoring, river-based surveys for invasive crayfish and otters, marine surveys, pollinator surveys on invasive plants, and kayak-based surveys for aquatic infauna.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how ecologists investigate the behaviour of animals, looking at recent advances in behavioural ecology research. You will analyse the functional and evolutionary hypotheses that seek to explain how animals find and use key resources, such as food, breeding territories and mates, and consider how simple models, such as game theory, can be used to test these.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the diversity habitats in the marine environment and the range of responses seen in marine biota. You will look at the diversity of organisms, considering the key processes operating in coral reefs, the deep ocean and hydrothermal vent systems. You will consider the behaviour and conservation of marine species, the impact of marine pollution and climate change on marine biodiversity, and examine the adaptation of mammals to marine life.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the historical background of major questions in evolutionary ecology, focussing on studies using vertebrate systems. You will look at the interactions between and within species and consider the evolutionary effects of competitors, mutualists, predators, prey and pathogens. You will examine specific topics such as life-history theory, evolutionary medicine, phenotypic plasticity, ecological specification and the evolution of sex.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the physiological mechanisms underpinning adaptation to hostile environmental conditions such as anoxia, high hydrostatic pressure and extreme temperatures. You will look at how animals perform extreme feats such as high-speed running, flying, and swimming, perform long-distance migrations, and enter periods of hibernation and torpor. You will also consider how physiology, morphology and anatomy combine to allow survival in harsh environments and make extreme behaviours possible.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the variety of rhythms in nature and their importance. You will look at the rhythms throughout biology, in microbes, plants and animals, and consider the impact of the internal circadian clock on behaviour, physiology, environmental responses and wider implications for fitness. You will examine how the clock interacts with environmental signals, how the clock can be set to the right time, how the clock can moderate environmental responses, and how the clock can allow measurement of day length for the timing of annual events.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the importance of seeds and fruits for food chain security, the seed industry, and ecosystem conservation. You will look at the principles and importance of seed banking and the seed conservation work at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank to mitigate against climate change. You will examine the developmental and biochemical processes of seed storage reserve deposition, germination and reserve mobilisation, including the environmental control of seed germination. You will analyse the key advantages of the seed habit, considering the morphological diversity of modern seeds and fruits which have evolved.
Teaching & assessment
Each year you take module worth a total of 120 credits. Most module are worth 15 credits; in the final year, your Individual Research Project is worth 30 credits.
You will attend a mixture of lectures, seminars and small-group tutorials, with class sizes that range from 6 students to 180 students. Practical classes are a major part of all first and second year module and include experiments that are integral to the subject, helping to familarise you with material and augment your understanding of key topics. These are either laboratory-based or field-based with laboratory follow-up. In your third year, you will complete an individual research project supervised by one of our academics, which may lead to you contributing to a published scientific paper. The individual research project is assessed on the basis of a written report, supervisor in-course assessment and an oral presentation.
You will be assigned a personal tutor who will provide support, guidance and advice throughout the three years of your degree course. You will also have access to the comprehensive e-learning facility Moodle, which features lecture handouts and other supporting materials including lecture slides, self-test quizzes, relevant video clips and scientific papers.
During your first and second year, continuous assessment (based on essays and reports you write during the course unit) makes up 25-30% of your course mark. The remaining 70-75% is based on written examinations. Marks from most third year lecture course units are 20-30% by continuous assessment and 70-80% by final examination. Third year assignments include a range of activities such as preparation of posters, oral presentations, creation of leaflets and podcasts, coursework essays, mock research grant applications and scientific news-and-views articles, as well as analysis of data from online repositories in mini-research projects.
The first year is formative, while outcomes of your second and third year contribute one third and two-thirds of your final degree classification respectively.
A Levels: ABB-BBB
- Including either Biology, Geography or Environmental Science; plus 1 other science (Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Further Maths, Statistics, Psychology, Geography, Environmental Studies, Applied Science, Geology). A Pass is required in the practical element of all Science A-levels taken.
- At least five GCSEs at grade A*-C or 9-4 including English and Mathematics.
Where an applicant is taking the EPQ alongside A - levels, the EPQ will be taken into consideration and result in lower A-level grades being required. Socio - economic factors which may have impacted an applicant's education will be taken into consideration and alternative offers may be made to these applicants.
Other UK and Ireland Qualifications
International & EU requirements
English language requirements
All teaching at Royal Holloway is in English. You will therefore need to have good enough written and spoken English to cope with your studies right from the start.
The scores we require
- IELTS: 6.5 overall, with no subscore lower than 5.5.
- Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. No subscore lower than 51.
- Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
- Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.
For more information about country-specific entry requirements for your country please visit here.
For international students who do not meet the direct entry requirements, we offer an International Foundation Year, run by Study Group at the Royal Holloway International Study Centre. Upon successful completion, you may progress on to selected undergraduate degree programmes at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Your future career
Follow your passion for Ecology and Conservation at Royal Holloway, University of London and you’ll graduate with a portfolio of skills to make you an attractive prospect to potential employers.
You’ll gain invaluable lab experience from year 1 onwards, and pick up transferrable skills including scientific and academic writing, logical thinking and presentation. You’ll join our renowned research culture as you complete your independent research project in year 3. Take these experiences in to the workplace and you could join our alumni in sectors including practical conservation, environmental monitoring and nature reserve management.
Our close-knit graduate network means that Royal Holloway alumni often visit to share their knowledge and experience with current students, while opportunities including internships, research project placements and outreach events help you to make the first step towards your future career.
Fees & funding
Home and EU students tuition fee per year*: £9250
International students tuition fee per year**: £20900
Other essential costs***: £303
How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, scholarships and bursaries. UK students who have already taken out a tuition fee loan for undergraduate study should check their eligibility for additional funding directly with the relevant awards body.
*The tuition fee for UK undergraduates is controlled by Government regulations. For students starting a degree in the academic year 2019/20, the fee is £9,250 for that year, shown here for reference purposes only. The tuition fee for UK undergraduates starting their degree in 2020/21 has not yet been confirmed. The Government has also confirmed that EU nationals starting a degree in 2020/21 will pay the same fee as UK students for the duration of their course.
**Fees for international students may increase year-on-year in line with the rate of inflation. The policy at Royal Holloway is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see fees and funding and our terms and conditions.
***These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.