Field work

In Biosciences, students on several of our degrees have the option of taking field course modules in destinations which provide fantastic opportunities for travel and studying your subject in superb locations, while also providing the chance to get to know fellow students and academics better. These are the times when long-lasting friendships are forged and valuable skills achieved. Exact field course module options are specified on each degree course page. Please note that field course destinations are subject to change.

Streatham Campus, ExeterPenryn Campus, Cornwall
At the Streatham Campus we offer two main field courses:

Coral Reef (Bahamas)

At the Centre for Ecology and Conservation the field courses we offer are:

Isles of Scilly
North Cyprus
Costa Rica
South Africa
Click on the accordions below for more information.

This course offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to study in the field with coral reef expert Professor Jamie Stevens. The course is held within exciting coral reef systems at the Gerace Research Center, San Salvador, Bahamas.

Our Exeter-based students have the opportunity to take the Practical Skills in Ecology field course in Cornwall. The University’s Penryn Campus is our base for reaching some of the best sites in the UK to study coastal and marine biology

On this field course you will gain an appreciation of the wide range of habitats within the Isles of Scilly and the biodiversity that they support. The entire archipelago is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a unique selection of wildlife, including endemic species such as the Scilly shrew. It is also (statistically) the sunniest area of the UK! Based on the main island of St Mary’s we visit some of the smaller and outlying islands to observe seals and seabirds (including puffins). The main focus of the course is on two aspects of field biology:

  • recording biodiversity, thereby gaining experience with identifying a wide range of organisms
  • observing animal behaviour and testing hypotheses on animal behaviour in the wild

You will carry out research projects in small groups with the potential to study topics ranging from risk taking behaviour, through to optimal foraging and territoriality. The Isles of Scilly field course runs in late Spring.

This field course runs during the Easter break and showcases the special ecosystems of North Cyprus. The trip consists of a mixture of structured teaching, site visits, guided tours and group research projects. Famous for its turtle beaches and coastal scrubland, endemic butterflies and migrant birds, North Cyprus has a long history of conservation problems caused by territorial disputes and tourism development.

We will stay for the most part in a hotel in Kumyali and in beach huts on Golden Beach, both of which are on the Karpaz peninsula or pan handle: the wild northeastern part of the island. We will pay a visit to the North Cyprus Herbarium in the Pentadactylos mountains and with local conservation experts learn about Cypriot endemic plants and the challenges facing them in a country like North Cyprus.

You will visit some unique habitats and ecosystems whilst staying at both locations and spend the time conducting group research projects. In the past projects have focused on: plant-pollinator interactions; food webs in juniper scrubland; the use of wetlands and forests by native butterflies; impacts of traditional agriculture on biodiversity; successional shifts in animal and plant distributions in the coastal sand dunes; and foraging and anti-predator behaviour of migrant birds.

We end the trip with a mini symposium in an atmospheric cave where you will present the results of your project before returning to Kyrenia.

The Iceland field course will explore key examples of the islands’ unique ecology and evolutionary biology. We will use the unique geothermally heated catchment of Hengill to analyse how temperature shapes the structure and carbon cycling of freshwater ecosystems. We will investigate the microbial communities of hydrothermal vents and discuss how these organisms played a key role in the early evolution of life on Earth. The patterns, processes and mechanisms that shape plant community succession will be analysed across lava flows of different ages. We will look at how dietary specialization in the Arctic Charr of Lake Thingvallavatn, has driven polymorphism in key traits associated with prey preferences.  This is a broad facing  field course where you will learn about a range of ecological, evolutionary and geochemical drivers that shape the structure and functioning of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

The Cornwall Field Course for students based on the Penryn Campus studies the grassland, heaths, ponds and seabirds of the Lizard Peninsula in late summer of the second year. The aim is to train you in a range of ecological techniques of the type that would be desirable to future employers such as conservation NGOs and environmental consultancies.

There are a series of one day projects, which may involve spending the morning in the field collecting data or material, moving to the lab in the afternoon to identify animals or for analysis of data. Daily activities include sampling of sea birds, freshwater plants and invertebrates, and the plants and invertebrates of the Lizard Peninsula’s unique lowland heath and coastal grassland. The overall results will be combined to train you in the process of a mock environmental impact assessment for potential wind farm development in Cornwall.

On this field course we study some of the important ecosystems of Scotland. We visit a number of unique Scottish habitats, including Caledonian Pine remnants in the Cairngorms, upland freshwater and moorland and coastal cliffs. These habitats are host to many species of high conservation priority in the UK, such as Red Squirrel, Pine Marten, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Black Grouse, Slavonian Grebe, Black-throated Diver and many more.

We will visit one of the UKs most impressive seabird breeding colonies which holds internationally important populations of auks and has breeding puffins and skuas. While conservation issues will be at the forefront of much of our discussions you will also carry out projects investigating hybridization and spatial segregation of carrion and hooded crows and regeneration in Caledonian Pine forests.

You will conduct individual-based projects at Handa Island (seabird colony) which could range from estimating the abundance of seabirds at the colony to collecting information on their foraging ecology.

The trip, which runs in the summer term, will consist of a mixture of structured teaching, site visits, guided tours and group research projects.

The field course to the Bahamas (for students based on the Penryn Campus) runs over two weeks in January and takes place on the island of Eleuthera, based at the Cape Eleuthera Institute. Located on the outer fringes of the Bahamas Archipelago, the island of Eleuthera is a marine biodiversity hotspot and home to globally important marine and terrestrial species. The field course focuses on tropical marine biology, avian biology and ecosystem connectivity. Throughout the course you will gain experience of surveying and identification of species within coral reef, coral sand, sea grass beds, mangrove and endemic forest habitats. The course also aims to provide you with a detailed understanding of the threats to these ecosystems, many of which are due to anthropogenic pressures such as reef fishing, tourism development and the impacts of climate change such as global warming and sea level rise.

Student made films from Bahamas Field Trip 2014

This field course, which runs over two weeks in January, takes the form of an expedition to an area of rainforest that has received little or no biodiversity research to date. You will gain experience in using a range of techniques for studying tropical biodiversity such as camera trapping (mammals), mist netting (birds, bats), seine netting (fish), surveying transects (plants, invertebrates). In addition, you will experience and observe the pressure that economic development places on this unique ecosystem and there will be opportunities to interact with many local stakeholders, including indigenous communities, government officials, NGO staff, and representatives from logging and mining companies.

The field course will be organised in collaboration with staff from the Heart of Borneo Project, who are experienced in organising expeditions in Kalimantan, and the data gathered during the course will form an integral part of their conservation efforts and biodiversity research in Indonesian Borneo.

Student made films from Borneo field trip in 2014

Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of any country in the world and is renowned for its highly progressive conservation and environmental policies. This field course will introduce you to a range of tropical forest habitats from the humid and pre-montane forests of Tirimbina to the Cloud, Atlantic and Pacific slope forests of Monteverde, before culminating in a visit to the Pacific coastal region of Playa Grande, world famous for its nesting leatherback turtles. You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study the flora and fauna in such a challenging environment through a series of practical sessions, discussions and seminars from a variety of personnel including faculty, professional researchers, local experts, stakeholders and prominent experts from in-country conservation NGO’s. You will then have the opportunity to implement all you have learned and conduct your own group research projects on an aspect of ecology or animal behaviour, allowing you to acquire some of the essential field skills and experience needed to help you pursue a career in tropical conservation and ecology.

Based at the Field Studies Council’s Dale Fort, the Pembrokeshire Field Course provides an opportunity to study marine life at an unprecedented scale. The emphasis is on understanding the diversity and challenges of life across the entire size spectrum, from microbes to top predators. We will visit diverse habitats including estuaries, rocky shores, sandy shores and neritic waters and take samples back to the laboratory for identification and analysis to develop a detailed insight into the diversity of life at the base of marine food webs. We will also visit Skomer Island and Ramsey Island which boast some of the most important top marine vertebrate assemblages in Europe, including Manx shearwaters, Puffins and Grey Seals. Visiting these two islands will enable you to conduct projects on seabird and seal behaviour, as well as the chance to compare the variation in both marine and terrestrial management strategies to see how they can influence the diversity of life we see. This field course will enable you to develop key skills relevant to the study of marine life and cover important concepts relating to marine food webs and trophic exchange.

On this course you will gain first-hand experience of many of the organisms, concepts and principles that you have spent the previous few years learning about. The course aims to provide you with an improved understanding of a range of African ecosystems with respect to their ecology, evolution, conservation, and practical and ethical issues in the management of natural resources in developing countries. This will be achieved by a series of exercises, guided tours/walks and discussions. You will encounter a range of habitats (fynbos, marine, savannah etc) and animals (great white sharks, many ungulates, the big five, plus numerous bird and insect species).

The South Africa field course runs over two weeks in January.

Student made films from South Africa Field Trip 2014

The Tenerife Field Course aims to provide you with an understanding of the biodiversity and ecology of an island which has high levels of endemism and a variety of habitats, and at the same time hosts a large tourism industry. The island has an incredible rugged landscape born of volcanoes which have created the highest mountain in Spain and an altitudinal gradient which allows us to visit radically divergent ecosystems in the space of a few kilometres.

We will examine the adaptations of plants and animals to habitats ranging from arid scrublands to humid laurel forests, coniferous woodlands and rocky shores. We will consider issues of human/wildlife conflicts and synergies on the island. This will be achieved through a series of walks, tours, a boat trip, exercises, research projects and discussions.

Mel Smee, Conservation Biology and Ecology student

The amount of fieldwork we do is unequalled in other similar courses; from Scottish Highlands to African plains, we see it all. All the trips are not just amazing opportunities to learn in the field and explore the natural world, they are brilliant chances to get to know both fellow students and lecturers too.

Mel Smee, Conservation Biology and Ecology student

Field Course Fortnight

285 students. 35 academics. 8 field courses. 6 countries. 4 continents. 1 challenging fortnight. January 2017. Join us!

Field work video

Find out the importance of field work to undergraduate programmes in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation. View full size.

Coral Reef field course video

Staff and students from Biosciences give a flavour of the Coral Reef field course in the Bahamas. View full size.