Field work

The beautiful and biodiverse landscapes of Kenya play host to three separate field courses associated with our MSc Conservation and Biodiversity, MSc Conservation Science and Policy, and MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology programmes.

Whilst the courses travel to many of the same locations – including the iconic Great Rift Valley, Mount Kenya, Amboseli National Park, and Lake Nakuru – the purpose and length of each of these visits are different, reflecting the unique scholarly flavour of each of the programmes.

Click on the on accordions below to find out more.

Module Convenor: Professor Brendan Godley

This field course presents the philosophy, sociology, ecology and practice of large-scale conservation. You will develop a practical understanding of these issues through visits to some of Africa’s most important protected areas, as well as by an introduction to some of the day-to-day problems faced by conservation biologists in developing nations.

We study the behaviour of animals in a natural ecological setting with a focus on large mammals, birds and insects, while guided by input from local practitioners. Practical work is conducted in part during a safari through contrasting African ecosystems and you'll acquire techniques for monitoring populations and communities.

We will see an amazing wealth of biodiversity, from mountains and forests to lakes and savannahs, meet a range of conservationists and develop a deep understanding of the complicated nature of conservation in the developing world.

In the field, with tutoring from experienced academic staff from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, you will develop skills in taxonomy, ecology, biogeography, conservation and evolution while collecting data on the abundance and behaviour of a variety of species across a range of different habitats. Safari observations are reviewed, synthesised and analysed during small group seminars in structured discussions of the ecological, sociological, political and economic issues relating to conservation in Africa. After returning to the UK, you will present a poster that discusses one of the major conservation themes observed during the trip.

Amongst the many skills you'll develop during the field course is the ability to describe, systematically and critically, current problems and new insights in conservation and biodiversity. In addition, the confidence and skill to deal with complex issues in a rigorous but creative manner, make sound judgements in the absence of complete datasets, and communicate conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Module Convenor: Dr Dave Hodgson

This field course seeks to explore and understand the implications of conservation policy for Kenyan ecosystems and the humans and wildlife who live within them. Central to this goal is an analysis of Kenya Vision 2030, a framework developed by the Kenyan government to promote both economic prosperity and environmental health – two achievements that are often in conflict. Keeping in mind the aims of this influential policy document, you will travel to a range of Kenyan habitats and debate how to balance ecological and economic goals.

While exploring savannahs, lakes, and montane forests, we visit with a variety of stakeholders, including industrialists, conservationists, government officials, and NGO employees. You'll also have a rare opportunity to interview Maasai tribespeople in order to understand how indigenous peoples are affected by urban growth – and to hear about conservation solutions that can simultaneously help protect both the Maasai culture and the ecosystems in which the tribespeople live.

In the field, we expect to see charismatic fauna such as hippopotami, elephants, lions, and cheetahs. Expert academic staff from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus provide information on ecology, biogeography, and evolution, while also discussing whether these species are best served by top-down or bottom-up conservation approaches. Game drives, boating trips, and hikes allow students to see first-hand the effects of a wealth of conservation policies enforced – or not – by agencies at the local, regional, and national level.

On this field course you will learn how to interact with a range of stakeholders, interpret policy, evaluate scientific and sociological data, and navigate difficult discussions about conservation. This endows you with the confidence needed to critically engage with complex management issues not just in Kenya, but anywhere in the world. After returning to the UK, you will have an opportunity to share your newfound knowledge and expertise at a poster session where you individually present an analysis of one of the issues you learned about during the field course.

Module Convenor: Dr Sasha Dall

On this field course you will have an opportunity to visit sites where many of the leviathans of behavioural ecology conducted some of their most iconic research. At beautiful locations such as Samburu, Lake Nakuru, and Amboseli, we observe fascinating animal behaviours and consider the evolutionary processes that have shaped traits such as communication systems, mate choice, and cooperation.

Whilst exploring Kenya’s biodiverse Afro-tropical habitats, we encounter an array of species ranging from widowbirds and sparrow-weavers to hyaenas and lions. You'll even have an opportunity to get up close and personal with a troop of habituated baboons at the Twala Cultural Centre. 

Tutored by experienced academic staff from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus, you will learn how to develop hypotheses, make predictions, collect and analyse data, and interpret their findings in order to explain the world around them. By conceiving, designing, and executing a research project, you'll gain a better understanding of the scientific process, a firmer knowledge of field techniques, and a greater sense of independence. You'll also hone your skills in describing and effectively communicating the practical and theoretical issues surrounding animal behaviour and ecology, and in applying theory to practical problems in the field.

These skills are evaluated during the field course through assessed project discussions and presentations. After returning to the UK, you will performs a statistical analysis of data collected during the trip, and create a poster presentation sharing the results and conclusions of this work.

Rebecca Enderby, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity, NERC/ESRC-funded PhD studentship, King

I am just in my first year of an interdisciplinary NERC/ESRC funded PhD project. My research is looking at the ecological and social impacts of growing the biofuel Jatropha, on so called “wasteland” in southern India. So far I love it! I know it's going to be really tough at times but I've always been keen to do research and this is perfect, combining my interests in human geography and the environment. I definitely wouldn't be doing this PhD if it hadn't been for my MSc though, both in terms of the skills I learnt but also the subjects we covered, which gave me a real insight into the human side of development/conservation projects and their issues. All the practical experience we gained was also great: small mammal trapping, bird identification, GIS, and poster presentations. The highlight had to be the two week field trip to Africa, where we got to see large scale conservation in practice and lots of big animals! More importantly though, this trip opened my eyes to some major issues behind large scale conservation projects and, again, sent me on my current path.

Rebecca Enderby, MSc Conservation and Biodiversity, NERC/ESRC-funded PhD studentship, King's College London

Kenya field course

Join staff and students on their MSc field course in Kenya from the University of Exeter where they are focusing on the biodiversity and conservation of this exciting region. View full size.

Field Course Fortnight

Each year MSc students from our Penryn Campus visit Kenya to learn about animal behaviour, evolution, biodiversity and conservation.
Find out more about their experiences.