MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation

Develop essential skills in conservation and restoration of biodiverse plant habitats, and conduct research across the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

Two researchers in the woodland at Wakehurst surrounded by bluebells, working with cameras and a computer

The 2024 Kew MSc open day is now open for sign ups! Find out more and join us.

Join Kew and Queen Mary University of London on a new and exciting MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation, where you will learn the fundamental science and practical application to restoring and maintaining natural habitats.

Students on this one-year MSc programme will become experts in biodiversity science, including the factors affecting biodiversity and solutions to stopping biodiversity loss. 

From global to local, students will learn how to collect and utilise data to inform understanding, alongside the practical methods and techniques to conduct in-situ and ex-situ conservation. 

This unique course exposes students to the very latest industry-standard equipment and practices, as well as hands-on experience working with leading biodiversity scientists and conservation NGOs. 

Students will undertake a two-week field trip to a biodiversity hotspot, plus a six-month research project exploring questions at the cutting edge of research in ecology, evolution, biodiversity and/or conservation. 

Graduates of this MSc will be well equipped for the workplace, ideally suited for roles with environmental NGOs, government bodies, ecological consultancies, conservation charities, botanic gardens, independent research organisations and universities. 

Video © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Queen Mary University of London

Course structure

The course is delivered by scientists from both RBG Kew and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and comprises:

  • five taught modules 
  • a field course module: Cabo Verde or Borneo (depending on your interests, although venues are subject to change) 
  • a six-month individual research project 

Students can choose between two unique streams on this programme: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, or Conservation and Restoration.

The main differences are which two elective (taught) modules you select, the field course location and your research project topic.

The stream you select will also affect the main location at which you’ll be based: 

Conservation and Restoration stream 

This stream is centred on the practical science of biodiversity and conservation (although both streams offer fundamental and practical conservation).  

It provides students with applied skills in conservation and restoration, focussing on terrestrial plant habitats. 

Students will typically spend around 80 per cent of their time based at Kew, where they’ll have access to its extensive collections (including the Herbarium and Millennium Seed Bank), research facilities, databases, global networks, and the research expertise of Kew’s 300+ science staff. 

You will explore how to conduct biodiversity surveys and species conservation assessments, and the ways that habitats are restored.  

The field course module will take place in a tropically biodiverse habitat (most likely Borneo, although venues are subject to change), where you will gain first-hand experience of conservation in action. 

You will then embark on a six-month research project, most likely at Kew, exploring a research challenge to inform and support conservation practices.

Many students select projects that involve field work, which may take place in the UK or further afield.

Ecology, Evolution and Conservation stream 

This stream is centred on the fundamental science of biodiversity and conservation (although both streams offer fundamental and practical conservation). 

Students typically spend around 80% if their time based at QMUL, where they will explore how ecosystems function and how they can be modelled to inform conservation practice. 

Your field trip will take you to a marvellous tropical forest or a marine biodiversity hotspot (likely to be Borneo or Cabo Verde, respectively, although venues are subject to change), giving you experience of its amazing biodiversity and the problems associated with its conservation. 

You will also analyse problems in biodiversity, evolution and conservation relevant to your project, before embarking on your six-month research project, most likely based at Queen Mary.

Teaching and assessment 

The five modules are taught in two-week blocks with a subsequent week’s study break for independent learning. 

Students will be assessed on coursework throughout the year, and on their final research project. 

The taught modules and field course together form 50 per cent of the final grade; the individual research project forms the remaining 50 per cent. 

Four huts next to a pond in a green tropical forest in Madagascar. The reflection of the huts and plants can be seen in the pond.
Huts in Madagascar © RBG Kew.
Two students crouched down in a forest. One student is smiling while pressing a plant specimen
MSc students in Madagascar © RBG Kew.

Research Frontiers in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation

Compulsory/core module. Taught at QMUL and Kew. 

This introductory module teaches key knowledge in conservation, biodiversity and evolution, and looks at cutting-edge research in these areas. 

Essential skills in writing, research and presentation are also taught, where students will learn to critically assess research, develop their own research questions, and design approaches to answering those questions. 

Statistics and Data Analysis 

Compulsory/core module. Taught at QMUL and Kew. 

This module provides essential training in experimental design, data handling and data analyses, in a context appropriate for biodiversity and conservation science. 

It focuses on how to select the appropriate method of analysis, how to analyse data using the statistical programming language R, and how to interpret the output of that analysis. 

Biodiversity Loss – Challenges and Solutions 

Compulsory/core module. Taught at QMUL and Kew. 

Students will study the direct and applied aspects of biodiversity loss and its mitigation across a range of ecosystems.  

Examining the reasons behind biodiversity loss from the global to the local scale, students will study some of the causes in detail including climate change, land use change, pollution, and the impacts of non-native species. 

Approaches to assessing the quality of biodiversity data and measuring biodiversity loss will be covered, including the relevance of fieldwork surveys and experimentation.  

Later in the module, students will examine the challenges facing science and policy development through a series of topical case studies. 

Biodiversity Survey and Spatial Analysis 

Elective module: Conservation and Restoration stream. Taught at Kew. 

Students will learn how to collect and work with genetic, geographical and biodiversity record data and how to draw conclusions about species distributions, status, and potential conservation approaches. 

Students will learn the main approaches to vegetation surveying and securing good quality data on which to base analysis of species distribution and status.   

You will then study the importance, theory, and practice of conservation genetics — examining, through case studies, how genetic diversity information can inform conservation decisions. 

Finally, students receive training in the requirements for assessing extinction threat in plants and fungi. The work includes preparing a conservation report and a preliminary red list assessment for one species. This is a professional competency using IUCN endorsed materials and approaches. 

Conservation and Restoration in Practice 

Elective module: Conservation and Restoration stream. Taught at Kew. 

Here students will learn the latest approaches to preserving plant diversity, the recovery of priority species, and restoration of habitats using UK and overseas case studies.   

Students will learn about the practice of seed banking and cryopreservation, and the use of ecological horticulture for species reintroduction and recovery.     

Students will then go on to examine the opportunities and approaches for restoring functional biodiverse habitats that will be resilient to climate change and will contribute to livelihoods and natural capital values. 

Ecosystem Function and Assessment

Elective module: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation stream. Taught at QMUL. 

Ecosystems provide multiple services, yet are under continued and growing threat from human activity. To manage and protect ecosystems and landscapes effectively, we need to understand their characteristics and functions, as well as how they respond to disturbance and change. 

In this module, we will examine links between key services (e.g. provision of water and biodiversity) and functions (nutrient supply) in the context of global change, covering issues such as predator loss, invasive exotic species, eutrophication and climate warming. Working across aquatic and terrestrial systems, students will learn about contemporary ecological, biogeochemical, molecular-genetic and ecological assessment methods for evaluating the consequences of local and global environmental changes on ecosystem processes. 

This integrative approach, in which empirical cutting-edge perspectives will be complemented with hands-on practical training, aims to equip students with essential components of the modern ecological toolkit.

Spatial Analysis and Emerging Technologies in Conservation.

Elective module: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation stream. Taught at QMUL. 

In this module, students will learn how to compile relevant information to prime their research project. 

The module will introduce students to new technological approaches for monitoring species, populations and individuals. Students will learn spatial analyses, including geographical information systems (GIS), as applied to species distribution modeling, habitat assessment and studies of animal movement. As part of this, we will look at the role of technologies such as drones, and remote sensing methods, including LiDAR. We will also examine the use of bioacoustics, camera trapping, environmental DNA sampling, and the application of genomics in molecular ecology. Finally, we will consider the emerging role of citizen science and social media platforms. Examples will cover animals and plants from terrestrial and aquatic systems.

Biodiversity and Conservation Field Course 

Compulsory/core module. Taught by QMUL and Kew. 

This module focusses on developing field skills in topics related to biodiversity and conservation. Students will be trained for two weeks at one of three field trip locations, depending on their interests and elected stream: 

(a) Students electing to take the Conservation and Restoration stream will travel to a tropically biodiverse forest in Borneo*, learning essential fieldwork skills, and how to put these into practice through conservation projects.

Working in groups, students will learn how to conduct full botanical surveys, specifically in relation to ongoing habitat restoration.

You will work alongside local guides and botanists, gaining real-life experience of understanding species diversity in one of the world's most diverse and unique biomes.

You will visit in-country conservation projects to explore and understand how to develop successful conservation initiatives overseas.

You will also learn about the political and social aspects of setting up conservation projects, as well as how to develop partnerships and collaborations.

Gaining local knowledge and community support in the practicalities of land management and horticulture will also be explored.

Students electing to take the Ecology, Evolution and Conservation stream can choose between the following two field trip locations:

(b) Students interested in the conservation and ecology of terrestrial ecosystems will travel to a biodiversity hotspot in a tropical forest in Borneo*, where they will be particularly exposed to a wealth of animals.

Topics will encompass aspects of taxonomy, ecology, biogeography, conservation and evolution.

Specific areas of focus will include ecological processes in tropical rainforests (decomposition, pollination and seed dispersal); rainforest structure and defining characteristics (including the importance of rainforests as centres of biodiversity) and anthropogenic factors affecting rainforests (including disturbance, forest fragmentation and agriculture).

Students will be trained in a range of survey methods covering diverse taxonomic groups.

The module will also provide training in data collection, analysis and presentation. 

(c) Students choosing to specialise in freshwater and marine ecology will travel to a marine biodiversity hotspot in Cabo Verde*, where they will focus on the diversity, behaviour, ecology, physiology, conservation and management of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and marine turtles.

You will cover issues such as the life history and migrations of turtles, their diving ability and behaviours, the social behaviour of dolphins, and the conservation of whales.

You will also take a brief look at the seabirds and sharks that will likely be seen during field excursions.

For part of the module, students will be taught in the archipelago of Cabo Verde, with boat trips for whale and shark observations, and sea turtle monitoring. 

*Note: Field trip locations are subject to change based on travel advice from the Foreign Commonwealth Office, or for practical/logistical reasons. 

Biodiversity and Conservation Research Project 

Compulsory/core module. Projects can be based at Kew, QMUL or Wakehurst in Sussex (home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank). 

Students will undertake a unique, six-month research project exploring questions at the cutting edge of research and practice in ecology, evolution, biodiversity and/or conservation. 

Your research project will provide valuable knowledge and experience of modern techniques in biodiversity and conservation, including but not restricted to: evolutionary analyses, ecological modelling, community ecology, spatial analysis, habitat assessment and restoration, laboratory work, modelling, analytical work, statistical analysis, field research and more.

You will also learn how to write up your results suitable for publication in an international scientific journal. 

Each year, there are opportunities for national and international fieldwork, as well as the use of Kew’s collections, gardens and landscapes, and the laboratory facilities at both Kew and QMUL.

How to apply 

The degree is awarded by QMUL, and all applications are conducted through QMUL.  

Applications are now open: For full details including course fees, funding and entry requirements, visit the QMUL course webpage

You can also contact the Postgraduate Admissions Office, School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences, Queen Mary University of London. 

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3328  


Apply to MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation


QMUL logo

Further details 

Two co-directors are responsible for the structure and content of the course: Steve Rossiter from QMUL and Kalsum Yusah from RBG Kew.

If you have any questions about the MSc content or structure, please contact them. 

For details about the course fees, funding and entry requirements, visit the QMUL course webpage

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