Fancy getting a degree whilst studying outdoors?



Are you a naturalist? Looking to gain skills and experience in species identification and wildlife survey techniques? Fancy training in the open air alongside fellow enthusiastic naturalists?

Increase your employability and field skills with an industry recognised MSc in Biological Recording and Ecological Monitoring.

 Students attending an ‘Introduction to Phase 1’ Optional Unit course. Stiperstones, Shropshire.


As a reader of the FSC Biolinks Blog you are probably already well aware of the importance of accurate identifications, and the skills required to obtain it. You may also know a bit about how the recording schemes and societies work.

Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with the Field Studies Council offer a unique MSc and PGCert in Biological Recording and Ecological Monitoring, which gives you an exceptional grounding in biological recording and the skills needed to undertake habitat and species surveys for a wide range of taxa. This collaboration first developed nearly 25 years ago and culminated in this highly successful course, that has shaped many outstanding professional and amateur naturalists, many now employed by ecological consultancies, government agencies, charities and wildlife trusts.

By collaborating with the FSC, this course offers the best of both worlds. A first class training in species identification and habitat survey skills delivered by experienced field practitioners, in amongst some of the best landscapes within the British Isles; and a scientific rigour and understanding that comes from undertaking a research project of your choice.

Most of the units are taught at Field Centres across the British Isles, with access to the outstanding habitats that they are situated within or near to. You may find yourself studying grasses, sedges and rushes in the sand dune system of Kenfig National Nature Reserve in south Wales, visiting species rich limestone meadows studying the flora in Yorkshire, chasing solitary bees in Shropshire, getting wet looking at aquatic plants on the Montgomery Canal, hunting for Ferns and their relatives in the North Wales, and exploring abandoned quarries in the Marches looking for amphibians and reptiles.

Through a mix of laboratory, classroom and field based learning the student comes away from each course with a good grounding in their chosen group, an understanding of how to identify, survey for and record their chosen groups. Hands on practical identification skills are at the core of this course, with a large proportion of the time spent on identification or survey skill units. Taught in small groups with like-minded individuals, students get to experience field teaching at its best.


Cotoneaster bullatus – Hollyberry cotoneaster At Llanymynech, Shropshire Photo Mark Duffell Xanthostigma xanthostigma - a snake fly. New Vice County record for Montgomeryshire this year. Photo by Clare Boyes  

The course is taught part time over three years (core and optional units in first and second year, research project in third year). 

In the core units taught over the winter months, you are taught how to critically evaluate your own collected data as well as historical data, looking at different recording strategies, distinguishing best practise in recording techniques, record management, analysis of biological records, understanding the different roles of validation and verification. county recorders, recording schemes and societies and technology in recording.

The optional units are taken mostly during the field season but run between February-November, with choices from over 30 units. You have the option to specialise in a particular taxonomic group e.g. Botany/Entomology or go for a broader range of skills suitable for working as a general ecologist. Please follow the link below to the MMU webpage for a full list of units.

We have recruited students from all over the UK, and all walks of life from gravediggers and farmers, to lawyers and doctors; one thing they all have in common is an interest in flora and fauna, often coming to us with a well-developed focus in one or more areas of ID skills e.g. hoverflies, bats or botany. Likewise they vary in their abilities as biological recorders, some working professionally as Ecologists and wanting to develop and extend their existing field skills, others may have no professional role in the sector, but may already be a leading expert in a particular group or recording scheme. The blending of these students and their interests is one of the assets of this course, you might be sat next to an expert on solitary bees and be able to share your knowledge of flowering plants. It is rewarding to see how many alumni go on to become national experts in their particular groups, from identification referees for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (and many other societies and schemes), numerous county recorders and co-ordinators of recording schemes.

Interested? For more information see the MMU and FSC webpages:

Contact us at:


Here's what Emma Coulthard (Programme Leader) says about the course: 

Emma Coulthard - Programme Leader

Hi! My name is Emma and I’m the programme leader for Biological Recording at Manchester Metropolitan University.

As someone who has worked as an ecological consultant and now deals with consultancies, wildlife trusts and other conservation agencies through my work, I know the importance of identification skills in this line of work. Many employers I talk to say that they find it hard to find graduates who have the practical identification and surveying skills they really need to do the job. Many academic courses focus heavily on the theoretical side of things, which results in graduates who know in theory how to do jobs, but often need a lot of training when they gain employment. Our courses are different. We include that more theoretical academic content, but also allow students to pick from a huge range of optional field units delivered by the FSC, as well as teaching skills such as statistical analysis and data organisation.

I am proud to manage these courses and often wish that I had been able to do the MSc myself before going into my PhD, but I just didn’t know about the world of biological recording. Luckily for me I get to live this dream vicariously through my students, who study a range of taxa from earthworms and aquatic invertebrates to bats, plants and birds. I’ve supervised some fantastic MSc projects lately which have been turned into scientific papers, something which just shows the standard of work these students are carrying out.

If you are thinking about getting into ecology and want to develop your identification skills whilst in postgraduate study, our programme is the place to do it! We have a range of national experts involved via the FSC, and our courses are unique in offering this level of training for such a wide range of taxonomic groups at a university level. Current student Clare Boyes says:

 Quotes from some of our students 

 Current student Clare Boyes says:


I’ve attended FSC courses for over 20 years and completed the University Certificate in Biological Recording in 2013. This led to a passion for aculeate hymenoptera, so I took the plunge and retired in 2018 from a very full-time job, to allow time to study for the MSc. Through the teaching, I have gained research skills such as data handling, statistics and mapping. However, the skills gained in identification of invertebrates have been most useful resulting in taking on the role of Montgomeryshire vice county recorder for aculeate hymenoptera. I have also gained the confidence to become involved in the national recording scheme and am secretary for the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS). I also act as a data checker for BWARS which involves validation of the records coming into the scheme. The MSc has also led to an awareness of under-recorded groups, and I now make the effort to record whatever invertebrates I can.  A number of recent records were vice-county firsts, which is very satisfying! 

One successful recent graduate is Ashley Deane who works for the Wildlife Trusts. She says:


The Biological Recording MSc was the best education qualification I have had the privilege of gaining; in terms of teaching standards, course content, site access and skills gained. Completing this MSc was by far the greatest professional and academic decision I have made and the knowledge I have acquired during the course has been invaluable. I work in the wildlife conservation sector for a Wildlife Trust and this course has bolstered my knowledge phenomenally and given me a huge amount of skills and confidence which are directly beneficial to my career. I’ve not only gained a tremendous amount of skills during the course, but it has also enhanced my professional kudos as the course is so highly regarded in the ecology and conservation sector. I now feel vastly more equipped and knowledgeable in the delivery of my current job but also my degree of mobility in the sector has increased as a result of having gained this widely recognised accreditation. It is a course I would, and actively do, recommend to anyone with a passion for wildlife and desire to make a difference to habitat resilience in this changing climate. Having the skills to not only identify and record species data, but also understand how to handle data, research population changes and decline, and understand action points within a monitoring regime are extremely valuable skills in the sector, and this MSc truly bolsters your ability to make a difference.’


Another successful recent graduate was Keith McSweeney who works for the Forestry Commission. He says:

I chose the biological recording course because it had a focus on identification, which I am interested in and wanted to improve. It is rare to find a course so field based. The course certainly did improve my ID skills. I really valued the chance to focus on my area of interest, while covering broader ecological principles like survey techniques. 
Report writing isn't the most exciting or glamorous of skills but I regularly use these skills in my work. Critical thinking is invaluable in personal and professional life. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, the teaching staff were fantastic and it was great to be on a course with so many like-minded people with such varied interests and backgrounds. 


By Mark Duffell, Jenni Duffell and Emma Coulthard