Ecological Census

Module titleEcological Census
Module codeBIOM4024
Academic year2017/8
Module staff

Dr Andrew McGowan (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module allows you the opportunity to experience first-hand the basic sample/census techniques that underpin a lot of ecological fieldwork and become familiar with the pros and cons of these to gain an understanding of some of the practicalities and difficulties in designing and conducting fieldwork. The module will begin with an intensive 3.5 day botany field trip to the Sharpham Estate in Devon and will be run in conjunction with AMBIOS ( The field trip will familiarise you with the five main plant families and teach you to be able to distinguish these in the field. It will also focus on the use of keys, and the variety of ways to survey, record and collect plants to classify habitat types. Many of these techniques are applicable to other taxa. Furthermore, you will have the opportunity to interact with sector experts and become aware of the range of job opportunities for those with some botanical skills and how to apply/approach these. Following on from the field trip the remainder of the module will also explore point count and line transect techniques and go into Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR) in some detail. You will gain some experience of conducting CMR analyses utilising the program MARK to explore survival and recapture. Finally, you will apply the knowledge you have gained to conduct a census project at a local nature reserve. There are no pre- or co-requisites for this module and it should be suitable for students with no or very little background in ecological census.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Almost all ecological and conservation work involves carrying out a census or survey of some variety and this module deals with the key issues and basic underlying methods involved in ecological census applicable to a variety of taxa. It will also cover the design and conduct of an appropriate census which is applicable to a wide variety of intended career sectors for graduates e.g. PhDs, ecological consultancy, non-government organisations. The module will consider material on the theory, processes and practice of key census techniques needed for a career in field-orientated biological science.

The teaching contributions on this module involve some elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as utilising point and line counts to assess avian populations and undertaking survival and recapture analyses.  Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the field trip, and census projects, as well as sourcing material for the census project write-up.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Using appropriate research methodology, describe and recall the role of ecological census techniques to a wide variety of disciplines, and conduct some of the techniques most widely used within the profession in a realistic set-up

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 2. Describe systematically and critically current problems and/or new insights in Applied Ecology, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of the field of study
  • 3. Give examples of some techniques applicable to research in Applied Ecology
  • 4. Apply knowledge originally, describing how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline
  • 5. Evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline, evaluate methodologies and develop critiques of them and, where appropriate, propose new hypotheses

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • 7. Tackle and solve problems independently and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional or equivalent level
  • 8. Work independently to advance your knowledge and understanding and develop new skills to a high level

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Topics covered include:

  • Why we undertake ecological census
  • Botanical ID skills and classifying habitats – 3.5-day field trip
  • Point Counts
  • Line Transects
  • Capture-Mark-Recapture Analysis using MARK software

The topics covered above will enable you to undertake substantial census projects on various taxonomic groups.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities11Lectures and help session – introducing and delivering a fundamental conceptual organisation and factual basis for the module
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities37Practical sessions enabling you to apply some basic census techniques. Specifically, you will be guided to carry out point counts, line transects, capture-mark recapture giving assessments of the potential for various faunal species/species groups.
Guided independent learning102Additional reading, research and preparation for module assignments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the modulesAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Census project502000 wordsAllWritten
Report based on desk study with data analysis501500 words plus appropriate dataAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Census projectCensus projectAllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July
Report based on desk studyReport based on desk studyAllDuring an appropriate specified time period before the end of July

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to redo the original assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Ecological Census Techniques 2nd Ed (2006), W.J. Sutherland, Cambridge University Press
  • Bird Census Techniques 2nd Ed (2000), Bibby et al., Academic Press

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Ecological census, ecology, conservation, taxonomy, desk study, point counts, line transects, distance analysis, capture-mark-recapture analysis

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date