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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  Study  /  Graduate Taught  /  MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration

MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration


This MSc combines catchment hydrology, geomorphology, ecology, palaeoecology, aquatic conservation and restoration. In doing so, it gives you the fundamental interdisciplinary training needed for a career in aquatic environmental research, consultancy and protection.

Environmental issues such as pollution, habitat degradation, invasive species and climate change threaten the sustainability and quality of aquatic ecosystems. In response to these threats, the MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration (ACER) at UCL gives students an interdisciplinary understanding of the structure and functioning of aquatic environments from upland catchments to the coastal zone, encompassing lakes, ponds, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, groundwaters, estuaries and shallow seas. The programme integrates freshwater and coastal studies, emphasising the transferal of science to practical conservation, restoration and policy.

The course gives you an ideal foundation for PhD research or employment in environmental protection and conservation agencies and environmental consultancies. You will spend a considerable amount of time learning from aquatic conservation professionals through guest lectures and fieldwork. Species identification, both in the field and laboratory, is an important part of the degree as is fieldwork with major residential field classes to the North Norfolk Coast, Scottish Highlands and Dorset.

You will have the opportunity to specialise in subjects including:

  • Water pollution
  • Palaeolimnology
  • Environmental reconstruction
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • Hydrological modelling
  • Restoration ecology
  • Freshwater and marine conservation in relation to modern legislative frameworks
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Citizen science.

The course emphasises the importance of transferable skills in project, survey and monitoring design, environmental governance and working with stakeholders, science report writing and communication and numerical analysis. Plus you will benefit from our wide and engaged alumni network with regular invitations to course social events, allowing past and present students to mingle and learn from each other. You will also work closely with your fellow students in MSc Conservation and have access to a whole range of internal talks and events arranged by UCL Geography and the UCL Nature & Conservation Society , initiated by Course Convenor Carl Sayer.

Please note: Due to COVID-19 updates, there may need to be changes to planned field trips for this programme. This will depend on travel restrictions, social distancing measures, and the accessibility of relevant venues. We will keep you updated if any changes need to be made and on alternative options.


MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration is unique in the UK in providing students with the scientific knowledge and practical skills necessary to tackle current aquatic conservation and restoration demands. In this course you will:

  • Use the most up-to-date science to address urgent aquatic conservation and restoration demands
  • Learn about new approaches to aquatic conservation including rewilding
  • Take part in residential field courses (for example, in the North Norfolk Coast, Scottish Highlands or another area of upland Britain, Dorset, and southern England) to gain practical, hands-on training in sampling and learning how to identify the aquatic species we are trying to protect, including fish, mammals, crayfish, invertebrates, plants and birds
  • Learn how to reconstruct past aquatic environments using palaeoecological techniques alongside sediment core collection and analysis
  • Learn how to detect and monitor pollutants including growing issues like microplastics
  • Develop key GIS, data analysis and modelling skills to hugely increase your employability
  • Learn how to set up scientific studies, biodiversity audits and monitoring in aquatic environments
  • Learn about evolving techniques for aquatic monitoring such as eDNA
  • Develop a thorough understanding of the aquatic conservation scene including the policy and legislation that supports it
  • Develop skills in project design and management as well as in best practice stakeholder engagement and citizen science methods

    The MSc in Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration can be undertaken full time over one year or part-time over two years. Core modules take place in Term 1 (autumn) and consist of four courses which establish the fundamental principles of aquatic ecosystem science, key conservation issues and approaches, aquatic monitoring principles and application, study design, and data analysis. All courses take an integrated approach to aquatic ecosystems, recognising catchment-based approaches and links between fresh and coastal waters. In Term 2 (spring) you will chose from a substantial list of expert-taught specialist modules tailored to your key interests and future career plans.


    All students take four core Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration modules in the first term and choose a further four modules from a range of options in the second term. You will also carry out a piece of original research leading to a dissertation (60 credits) of up to 12,000 words with the support of an academic supervisor. Your course tutors will be there to encourage and support the write up of scientific papers for your dissertation work.

    The following modules are expected to be available for 2022/2023. Please note these may be subject to change.

    Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
    GEOG0093 Conservation and Environmental Management 15 credits
    GEOG0106 Environmental Data Acquisition and Analysis 15 credits
    GEOG0108 15 credits
    GEOG0173 Aquatic Systems and Monitoring with Fieldclass 15 credits
    Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
    GEOG0105 Research Project and Dissertation (Terms 2 and 3) 60 credits
    Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
    GEOG0035 Environmental GIS 15 credits
    GEOG0067 Surface Water Modelling 15 Credits
    GEOG0083 Politics of Climate Change 15 credits
    GEOG0091 Wetlands 15 credits
    GEOG0096 Lakes 15 credits
    GEOG0101 Ocean Circulation and Climate Change 15 credits
    GEOG0107 Aquatic Macrophytes 15 credits
    GEOG0112 Climate Change Impacts to Hydro-ecological Systems 15 credits
    GEOG0122 Biological Indicators of Environmental Change 15 credits
    GEOG0123 Climate Proxies 15 credits
    GEOG0135 Marine Conservation 15 credits
    GEOG0152 Introduction to Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing 15 credits

    Students in this programme will also carry out a dissertation between May and September. Thanks to our strong links with a wide range of experts in the conservation and environmental protection sectors, dissertation placements are offered each year within many key organisations. In the past, these have included PBA Applied Ecology, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), The Rivers Trusts, Thames Estuary Partnership and the National Trust. Combined with the wide range of aquatic science expertise available in the Department, this leads to a great variety of possible research topics for investigation.

    Fees and scholarships information can be found on the main UCL website.

    MSc Studentships

    Applicants to MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration may be eligible to apply for studentship awards supported by the British Hydrological Society, JBA Trust and Environment Agency.

    Find out more about the MSc Studentship Award Scheme.

    Field Courses

    Please note: The optional GEOG0107: Aquatic Macrophytes field-based module in term 2 has modest additional costs associated with accommodation and transport.

    You can apply for a place on this Programme via UCL Admissions.

    Potential applicants are expected to have a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree in a relevant discipline (e.g. Environmental Science, Geography, Oceanography, Biology, Chemistry or Engineering) from a UK university or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard.

    Applicants with relevant professional experience in aquatic science or environmental management will also be considered.

    Advice is available from the programme tutor Prof Carl Sayer.

    Overseas applicants will need a recognised English language qualification.


    Employability and graduate distinations

    Most graduates of the MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration course are employed in freshwater and coastal science research, consultancy and environmental protection and conservation organisations.

    By integrating a wide range of external organisations into our fieldwork and teaching, you will be exposed to the variety of career possibilities the sector offers. Plus our strong alumni network, and their continued involvement in the Department, brings together current students and their predecessors in an informative and engaging way.

    We also offer a series of dissertation 'industry' placements to prepare you for employment in aquatic conservation and research.

    Your employability will be further increased through training in key skills employers expect of graduates, including:

    • Field working
    • Species identification
    • Water chemistry
    • Study design
    • Aquatic monitoring and modelling
    • Citizen science
    • Science communication
    • Stakeholder-conservationist-scientist interactions

    Typically at least 30% of our graduates go on to study for their PhDs at institutions all over the world. Recent subjects have ranged from micro-plastic pollution, fisheries ecology, underwater sound ecology, paleoecology, beaver ecology and natural flood management.

    Other students have taken up careers in aquatic environmental consultancy, conservation management (especially for the Rivers Trusts, Natural England and Coastal Partnerships), environmental protection (especially with the Environment Agency), policy design and delivery (Defra), environmental education (for the Wildlife Trusts, Field Studies Council and Citizen Science delivery organisations) and company greening and sustainability.

    Kesella Scott-Somme (part-time MSc student 2016-2018)



    I loved my time on the MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration course. It provides a really varied skillset, with a wide range of optional modules which can help you tailor the course to personal interests. Department staff are overwhelmingly supportive and helpful and will guide you through the inevitable occasional struggles of MSc study with kindness and understanding. You will be taught by a huge range of guest lecturers, as well as your regular teachers, and so will have the added benefit of learning from, and being put in contact with, a whole host of interesting and informed people working in the aquatic realm.

    There are several field trips which help to hone your field and practical skills (as well as being incredibly good fun). My favourite part of the course was the support for personal development and the huge availability of extra-curricular activities and field working opportunities that helped me develop contacts and which led to my first job working for the Thames Estuary Partnership. I use the skills I learnt at UCL every day in my current job as an Aquatic Consultant. Plus the contacts I made have been incredibly helpful in furthering my career.

    If it were possible, I would definitely go back and do the course again, but as this is sadly not a practical option, I can only suggest that you should apply instead.


    Olly van Biervliet (full-time MSc student 2012-2013)



    The MSc provides the solid foundation required to understand aquatic systems, their physical, and chemical settings, but also their long-term history and development as illuminated by data from sediment cores. The course also gives excellent coverage of contemporary challenges faced by water managers whilst offering modules in core professional skills including hydrological modelling and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In addition to lectures, held in small groups with renowned academic staff, there is good exposure to both field and lab work. There are also opportunities to meet water sector practitioners, especially in the wildlife conservation sector, which was great for helping me find career opportunities and the 'why' of the course.

    In UCL Geography, a host of very friendly and highly enthusiastic staff do all they can to make students feel supported. There is a real community atmosphere with a revolving door of past and present students to attend guest lectures, aquatic-themed workshops and social occasions. Personally, the MSc gave me the background and contacts needed to make a smooth transition from working as a high school Biology teacher to getting involved in cutting edge environmental water management projects. My dissertation supervisor helped me apply for jobs as a Visiting Lecturer and Project Officer at the Rivers Trust. I secured both of these things through a combination of references and the knowledge and skills I gained during the MSc.

    Since then, it has been easy to find stimulating employment and move through the UK's expanding environmental water management and conservation sector. I also returned to UCL to carry out my PhD on the effects of beaver dams on natural flood risk management. The course helped me in so many ways which is why I've found it so enjoyable to get involved with some of the teaching on the MSc as a graduate.

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