Global field courses in Biosciences

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)
Cornwall








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

Azores
Borneo
Cornwall
Costa Rica
Cyprus
Galapagos Islands
Hong Kong
India
Isles of Scilly
Pembrokeshire
Pyrenees
Scotland
Switzerland
Tenerife
Yukon-Alaska

Click on the accordions below for more information.

This field course, run on the beautiful desert island of San Salvador, presents a fantastic opportunity to study ecology in a unique and exciting environment. The island is surrounded by coral reefs – many in excellent condition – and other associated habitats.

During eight days in the field, you will have the opportunity to snorkel patch reefs, a reef crest, a drop-off, sea-grass beds and mangroves. Off-shore sites are reached by boat; at these you may encounter a variety of turtles, sharks and rays in addition to typical Caribbean reef fish.

Run as a non-residential field course, the Practical Skills in Field Ecology module will introduce you to a range of skills for environmental monitoring and ecological assessment.

We will visit study sites local to Exeter (including coastline, freshwater habitats, and woodland), and discuss real-life case studies of habitat and species management.

There will be a strong focus on employability in the environmental job sector, and we will introduce you to a range of species protected under UK legislation and therefore of particular interest to conservation organisations, government departments and professional ecologists.

You will learn field sampling and habitat surveying techniques for both terrestrial and marine habitats and a range of analytical techniques for data interpretation.

Many wildlife management decisions are complex and may compete with other interests (for example the need for new housing). This module will therefore help you develop skills in effective communication using a variety of media, ranging from photography to written reports.

You will also learn about the value of biological records in providing data on the distribution and abundance of key species, and you will practice using information from public databases to inform planning policy decisions. 

This field course will expose you to a fantastic array of marine life and give you first-hand experience of research in the pelagic regions of the Atlantic.

The Azores are an under-explored marine paradise that were formed by volcanic activity along the Mid Atlantic Ridge as recently as 250,000 years ago (Pico island). Their location, 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal, mean they are a magnet for migrating and pelagic species alike. Amazingly, 27 species of cetacean including 5 species of dolphin, large aggregations of sperm whales and the largest mammal in the world, the blue whale are all visitors to the Azores.

Our learning on this field course will be delivered on boats, in laboratories and in learning space owned and operated by the University of the Azores who are collaborators on the trip. Exeter staff will guide content but you will also work with and be taught by, experts in Azorean marine biology from the host University during the trip.

We will visit three islands: São Miguel, Faial and Flores with each being the location of key themes of the field course.

You will gain first-hand experience of the skills required for a career in marine biology or field-based biology including bathymetric mapping of the sea floor, stock assessment of commercial fish populations, cetacean monitoring, fieldwork in biosphere habitats, island biogeography and marine plastic collection and quantification.

The philosophy behind this field course is that the best place to learn about conservation is in wild places that are not yet protected, and the best place to learn about biodiversity research is in places where there is still much to be discovered.

The field course takes you to North Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo where we undertake an expedition into virgin rainforest in the Heart of Borneo, the largest remaining rainforest in Asia.

We start in the coastal city of Tarakan where we visit a mangrove conservation park (proboscis monkeys), from where we travel inland up the Sesayap river to the Dayak village of Setulang. With the help of the villagers we then spend ten days exploring one of the most impressive and least-researched areas of primary rainforest left on earth – new species discoveries are the order of the day!

In the forest you will rotate around three purpose-built (basic) temporary camps in small groups, undertaking different practicals and research projects in each. Practicals focus on different taxonomic groups (invertebrates, fish, amphibians, birds, plants, etc). For most of the field course you will live, eat, sleep and study totally immersed in the rainforest. Naturally, there are no roads so travelling between camps is done on foot.

Field identification and recording is given a ‘local’ perspective exposing you to the broad taxonomic spectrum of animals, plants, fungi, etc. that occur in Cornwall and using a variety of media and approaches to record and identify organisms. In the field, you will be trained to find, identify and survey wildlife.

Conceptual themes within the module include the description and recording of species’ characteristics, the monitoring of wildlife populations, the seasonal events that define UK wildlife phenology, and the local, national and international groups and policies that guide wildlife conservation.

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 with over 27% of its landmass within dedicated protected areas.

A typical Costa Rica field course will introduce you to a range of tropical forest habitats from the humid and pre-montane forests (i.e. Tirimbina) to the Cloud, Atlantic and Pacific slope forests (i.e. Monteverde) before culminating in a visit to the Pacific coastal region (i.e. Playa Grande), world famous for its nesting leatherback turtles. Central to the field course will be your deep engagement in these ecosystems.

You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study the flora and fauna in such challenging environments 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 NGOs.

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.

Northern Cyprus lies in the Eastern Mediterranean, a global hotspot for biodiversity and endemism. It has a long history of human colonisation and conflict, and its biodiversity is shaped by aridity, isolation and its position on migration pathways of birds.

It is famous for its marine turtle conservation projects, but we will visit it in spring, when you will be exposed to extraordinary flora, insects, reptiles, mammals and birds.

The field trip will expose you to native, endemic and invasive species and their habitats. We will discuss the measurement of behaviour and biodiversity in insects, mammals, birds and plants. We will consider human-wildlife conflict issues that are special to the Mediterranean.

You will perform independent research projects on topics as diverse as insect-plant interactions, bird behaviour, diversity-disturbance relationships and impacts of feral donkeys on natural habitats. We will stay in eco-tourism establishments and you will meet local and international members of the conservation and environmental sector in this amazing country.

On 15 September 1835, the extinct volcanoes of San Cristobal were spotted from the Beagle. After just five weeks exploring the Galapagos Islands, the young Charles Darwin was indelibly marked by their biogeography, and this experience would prove central to his deduction that life on Earth evolved from common ancestry by natural selection.

Today, the Galapagos Islands are a melting pot where the locals meet tourists and each group meets scientists. A typical field course to San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands will introduce you the fauna of four key biomes: oceanic, coastal, lowland/urban and highland.

In each, we will introduce you to the interplay (which is often positive) of science, tourism and the local economy. To this end, we will aim to:

  • visit offshore sea stacks, where interactions with marine mammals, pelagic seabirds and snorkelling with rays and smaller sharks are a real possibility;
  • examine interactions between tourists/locals and coastal wildlife (including fish, marine iguanas, aquatic birds and sea lions) when snorkelling versus on foot;
  • understand the effects of invasive species on endemic wildlife, including giant tortoise, Galapagos petrel and Darwin’s finches;
  • provide a 21st century insight into species and speciation, supplementing contrasts of phenotypic traits with finger-printing techniques and phylogenetic analyses in Darwin’s finches.

You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study the plights of island flora and fauna through a series of guided tours, practical sessions, discussions and seminars by faculty from the Universities of Exeter and San Francisco, Quito, as well as staff from national parks.

You will then have the opportunity to conduct your own group-led research projects in ecology, conservation, animal behaviour and/or evolution – enabling the opportunity to answer big questions with newfound theoretical and practical knowledge.

Hong Kong is a bustling metropolis located in a region of high biodiversity. It therefore makes an ideal location to explore biodiversity and how humans interact with, influence, and threaten wildlife, from the exploitation of natural resources to things like the illegal wildlife trade.

Hong Kong is also surrounded by several comparatively preserved natural ecosystems, from tropical forests through to marine habitats. Despite intense urbanisation, several ecosystems have also recovered and biodiversity remains high in surrounding forests and marine zones (especially for birds, mammals, fish, butterflies, and other invertebrates).

Hong Kong therefore makes an ideal location to study biodiversity, ecology, evolution, and behaviour, and to explore the challenges facing wildlife on global and regional scales.

You will be based on HK island and undertake activities both in Hong Kong City, learning about threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, and more rurally studying ecology and behaviour, again especially focussing on human impacts.

The Western Ghats region of southern India is one of the world’s “Top 25 Biodiversity Hotspots” and has also been designated by Birdlife International as an Endemic Bird Area. The region is home to numerous endemic species of plants, insects, amphibians (80% are endemics), and birds (about 20 species are endemic), but it faces severe conservation issues (at least 325 globally-threatened species are found here) as India is one of the two most heavily-populated countries in the world.

The India field course will introduce you to two tropical forest types, which differ in their biodiversity and rates of endemism: (i) the South Deccan Plateau dry deciduous forests (we will visit this ecotype at the Cauvery River Wildlife Sanctuary, Biligiriranga (BR) Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary); and (ii) the South Western Ghats moist deciduous forests (Nagarhole National Park, famous for its tigers, leopards, crocodiles and elephants).


You will gain first-hand experience of the methods used to study and conserve the flora and fauna in such challenging environments, where human pressure is extremely high, by contributing to surveys of biodiversity, taking part in discussion groups, and receiving seminars from a variety of personnel including University of Exeter staff, and colleagues from Indian research institutions and conservation organisations.

During a 4/5 day stay at the BR Hills field station of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), you will conduct a short research project 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.

During this field course you will learn to study animal behaviour and biodiversity in a field setting, through observation, formulation of ideas and hands-on research.

The Isles of Scilly is an ideal location for this due to the wide range of marine, intertidal, and terrestrial habitats in a small area and the many habituated populations of birds and other animals whose behaviour can often be studied at close proximity.

You will carry out research projects on animal behaviour and practical exercises to survey biodiversity, using, for example, transect sampling, focal watches and camera traps.

During the module, you will have constant access to lecturers to discuss any ecological or behavioural topic, learn new identification skills, go on a boat trip to the wild Western Rocks to see seals and puffins and much more.

On this field trip you will visit some of the most important marine sites in Europe.

We will be based on the mainland with access to important intertidal regions that support a wide diversity of marine life. From here we will visit a number of key offshore sites.

Skomer Island is one of only three underwater Marine Nature Reserves in the UK and is also home to one of the most important assemblages of marine predators in Europe – more than half of the world’s Manx shearwaters and 100,000 pairs of Atlantic puffins nest alongside other large aggregations of seabirds.

In contrast, neighbouring Ramsey Island supports far fewer seabirds by virtue of the introduction of Norway rats. These have since been eradicated but this provides an illustration of the legacy of invasive species. Moreover, Ramsey has the largest grey seal pupping sites in Britain.

The diversity of marine life from the base of food-webs to the apex will be at the forefront of this field course, with an emphasis on marine conservation.

You will also carry out individual projects on topics ranging from behaviour, group-living and foraging ecology. Furthermore, you will be encouraged to use the fieldwork skills you have attained and further develop those skills to better equip you to apply them to practical situations in the workplace.

The Pyrenees bridge Central and Mediterranean Europe, separating the Iberian peninsula from the rest of Europe. They represent one of the key European glacial refugia and are characterised by steep altitudinal gradients, high biodiversity and endemism.

These mountains harbour some of Europe’s remaining megafauna such as brown bears and lammergeiers, and serve as the western migration corridor for many birds and insects.

The field trip will expose you to native, endemic and invasive species and their habitats. We will discuss the measurement of behaviour and biodiversity in insects, mammals, birds and plants. We will consider human-wildlife conflict issues that are special to the mountain ranges and the Mediterranean.

You will combine field-work with molecular ecology, contributing directly to on-going research on biodiversity in the Pyrenees.

You will perform independent research projects on topics as diverse as insect-plant interactions, bird behaviour, diversity-disturbance relationships and altitudinal gradients. We will stay in eco-tourism establishments and you will meet local conservationists and researchers working on the evolutionary ecology and conservation of this eco-region.

On this field trip you will visit a number of unique Scottish habitats, including Caledonian Pine remnants in the Cairngorms, upland freshwater habitats, moorland and coastal cliffs. These habitats are host to many species of high conservation priority in the UK, including the red squirrel, common dolphin, otter, osprey, golden eagle, black grouse, black-throated diver.

You will visit one of the UKs most impressive seabird breeding colonies with auks, breeding puffins and skuas. While conservation issues will be at the forefront of many of our discussions you will also carry out individual projects at Handa Island (seabird colony) on topics ranging from behavioural thermoregulation to foraging ecology.

Furthermore, you will be encouraged to use the fieldwork skills you have attained to enhance your own interests in ecology and conservation and further develop those skills to better equip you to apply them to practical situations in the workplace.

This field course will bring you to a stunning location in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by unique alpine habitats, including forests, meadows, boulder fields, glaciers and snow-capped peaks.

You will learn about the adaptations that allow organisms to live in an environment that is characterised by extremes, the fragility of the alpine ecosystem, and observe typical alpine vertebrates (eg alpine marmot, chamois, red squirrel, golden eagle, alpine chough, spotted nutcracker; with a bit of luck: alpine ibex, red deer, wall creeper, black grouse), invertebrates (eg glacier flea, alpine argus), and plants (eg Swiss stone pine, edelweiss, gentian, alpine rose).

You will witness first-hand the effects that humans have on this unique environment, for example through cattle and sheep herding, see how glaciers are retreating at unprecedented rates due to climate change, and discuss human-wildlife conflicts.

In addition to guided excursions and lectures, you will write a grant proposal for a study that allows you to gain new insights into the behaviour, ecology, evolution and/or genetics of alpine species: in small groups, you will formulate your research question, collect pilot data to support your funding request, and analyse them statistically.

The Spanish Island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, is located over 1000 kilometres from the mainland, and is crowned by the volcanic Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain. It has a diversity of over 600 endemic species.

This field course will demonstrate the adaptations of plants and animals to habitats ranging from arid scrublands to humid laurel forests, and coniferous woodlands. You will examine behaviour and interactions of animals and plants in these habitats, conducting observational and experimental studies.

The course involves walks, tours, small-group projects, discussions and presentations.

Once back in the UK, you will present a poster on your projects, and a short video on a topic of interest to you.

The Yukon Territory and Alaska are home to some of the largest remaining wilderness areas in the world, amazing wildlife spectacles, and have yielded major research breakthroughs in our understanding of ecology and evolution.

In this field course we will explore wilderness habitats starting from the boreal forests, lakes, and taiga of Kluane Lake, through the alpine tundra and icefields of the St Elias mountain range, the coastal rainforest of southern Alaska, culminating in Sitka at the rocky shore and kelp forest of the Pacific ocean. You will study how these ecosystems formed and how they function.

Along the way we shall try to spot moose, beaver, grey wolves, Canadian lynx, wolverine, pine marten, ptarmigan, Dall sheep, bald eagles, sea otters, humpback whales, and grizzly and black bears feasting on the migrating salmon.

You will encounter key study systems including the coupled population dynamics of lynx and snowshoe hare, the behavioural ecology of Kluane red squirrels, and mountain habitats as indicators of climate change.

You will develop your own research skills by undertaking field studies in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments, and by developing projects in small groups.

Professional researchers, local experts, stakeholders and conservation NGOs will discuss with you the complexities of conserving wilderness given the conflicting interests of foresters, first nations people, trappers and hunters, the mining sector, fisheries, aquaculture, and oil companies.

Studying a wealth of habitats at first hand offers the opportunity to gain essential skills for a career in conservation, evolutionary biology, or ecology.

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.