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

MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration

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Combining the fields of catchment hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and palaeoecology with those of aquatic conservation and restoration, the MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration (ACER) gives students the fundamental interdisciplinary training necessary for a career in aquatic environmental research, consultancy and environmental protection.

Environmental issues such as pollution, habitat degradation, invasive species and climate change threaten the sustainability and quality of aquatic ecosystems. Responding to these threats the MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration at UCL equips students with 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 MSc integrates freshwater and coastal studies and places special emphasis on the transferal of science to practical conservation, restoration and policy.

The MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration provides an ideal foundation for PhD research, or for employment within environmental protection and conservation agencies and environmental consultancies. Students taking the course have considerable interaction with aquatic conservation professionals, who give guest lectures and take part in 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. Students can specialise in subjects such as water pollution, palaeolimnology and environmental reconstruction, Geographical Information Systems, hydrological modelling, restoration ecology, freshwater and marine conservation as related to current-day legislative frameworks, stakeholder engagement and citizen science.

Students will gain transferable skills in project, survey and monitoring design, environmental governance and working with stakeholders, science report writing and communication and numerical analysis. The MSc has a substantial alumni base who attend regular course social events allowing past and present students to mingle and learn from each other. Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration students work closely with students from the MSc in Conservation and have access to a whole range of internal talks and events arranged by UCL Geography and the UCL Conservation Society that was initiated by course convenor Carl Sayer.

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MSc Aquatic Conservation, Ecology & Restoration is unique in the UK in providing students with the science knowledge and practical skills necessary to tackle current aquatic conservation and restoration demands. Key course highlights and unique features are:

  • Transfer the most up-to-date science to urgent aquatic conservation and restoration demands
  • Learn about new approaches to aquatic conservation such as rewilding
  • Take part in residential field courses to gain practical, hands-on training with sampling and learn how to identify the aquatic species we are trying to protect, including fishes, mammals, crayfish, invertebrates, plants and birds
  • Learn how to reconstruct past aquatic environments using palaeoecological techniques and sediment core collection and analysis
  • Learn how to detect and monitor pollutants, including evolving problems such as microplastics
  • Develop key GIS, data analysis and modelling skills that will hugely increase employability
  • Learn how to set up science 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 and in best practice stakeholder engagement and citizen science methods

The MSc in Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration can be undertaken full time over a full 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 linkages between fresh and coastal waters. In Term 2 (spring) students chose from a substantial list of expert-taught specialist options, tailored to key interests and future career plans.

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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. Additionally, students undertake a piece of original research leading to a dissertation (60 credits) of up to 12,000 words with the support of an academic supervisor. Course tutors encourage and support students to write up scientific papers from their dissertation work.

The following modules will be available for 2019/2020. Please note these may be subject to change.

COMPULSORY MODULES (Term One)
Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
GEOG0094 Aquatic Systems 15 credits
GEOG0095 Aquatic Monitoring 15 credits
GEOG0108 Scientific Basis for Freshwater and Coastal Conservation 15 credits
GEOG0106 Environmental Data Acquisition and Analysis 15 credits
OPTIONAL MODULES (Term Two)
Module codeModule titleUCL Credit value
GEOG0034 Coastal Geohazards 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
GEOG0067 Surface Water Modelling 15 Credits
GEOG0112 Climate Risks to Hydro-ecological Systems 15 credits
GEOG0122 Biological Indicators of Environmental Change 15 credits
GEOG0123 Climate Proxies 15 credits
GEOG0152 Introduction to Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing 15 credits
GEOG0107 Aquatic Macrophytes 15 credits
GEOG0035 Environmental GIS 15 credits


Students on the MSc Programme also embark on a dissertation which encompasses May to lasts until the end of the programme in September. The department enjoys strong links with the conservation and environmental protection sector and each year dissertation placements projects are offered with a number of key organisations including PBA Applied Ecology and 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 great variety of possible research topics for investigation.

Information on fees and funding can be found on the main UCL website.

  1. Fees
  2. Scholarships

Please note that the optional 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 Dr. Carl Sayer. Overseas applicants will need a recognised English language qualification. Some information relating to your country and UCL can be found here.

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Employability and graduate distinations

The MSc in Aquatic Conservation, Ecology and Restoration has seen near full employment of its students in freshwater and coastal science research, consultancy and in environmental protection and conservation organisations.

By integrating several external organisations into fieldwork and teaching, and especially through alumni involvement with the course and events that bring current and past students together, the MSc is constantly exposing students to careers possibilities, whilst also equipping them with key contacts. To prepare students for employment in aquatic conservation and research a series of dissertation “industry” placements are also offered. The programme’s focus on field working, species identification, water chemistry, study design, aquatic monitoring and modelling, citizen science, science communication and importantly stakeholder-conservationist-scientist interactions also increases employability by providing students with a skills set that is highly desired by employers.

Typically at least 30% of our graduates go on to undertake further research towards a PhD (at institutions all over the world) with recent subjects ranging 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)

P1060634.jpgI loved my time on the MSc in Aquatic Conservation, Ecology & Restoration! 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 to 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, and 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)

Olly_pic_testimonial.jpgThe 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 also offering modules in “core professional skills” such as hydrological modelling and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In addition to lectures which are held in small groups with renowned academic staff, there is good exposure to both field work and lab work. There are also opportunities to meet water sector practitioners, especially in the wildlife conservation sector, which was great for me helping me to see 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 and there is a real community atmosphere with a “revolving door” for past and present students to attend guest lectures, aquatic-themed workshops and social occasions.

Personally, the MSc provided me with 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. Before the end of the MSc, I was helped by my dissertation supervisor to apply for jobs as a Visiting Lecturer and as a Project Officer at a Rivers Trust, both of which I secured due to a combination of references and the knowledge and skills I gained during the MSc. Thereafter, it has been easy to find stimulating employment and to move through the expanding environmental water management and conservation sector in the UK. I have recently returned to UCL where I am currently undertaking a PhD on the effects of beaver dams on natural flood risk management. The course helped me in so many ways and I now get involved with some of the teaching on the MSc which I thoroughly enjoy.

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