Environmental Studies and Ecology

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While attempts to kick-start the Irish economy again are both abundant and sustained – as indeed they must be – it is important that any attempts at re-igniting economic growth do not compromise our environmental health. Increasing our knowledge of the natural resources available to us will not only allow us to safeguard their future, but will also enable us to harness them in a useful yet sustainable way.

From research on sustainable seaweed harvesting to the use of renewable energy sources, efforts to increase environmental conscientiousness are steadily on the rise. Dublin City Council has committed to a long-term programme to improve its sustainability performance and plans to implement a series of widespread measures that will transform the capital into a ‘diverse, smart, green-based economy’ over the next 25–30 years.


According to the city council’s Sustainability Report 2012, reducing carbon emissions, setting up pollution and weather sensors, and optimising the use of finite resources (e. g. water) are among the proposed initiatives. While environmental protection is one of the strategy’s priorities, so too is the promotion of the capital as a premier tourist destination – thus allowing the move towards sustainability to help feed the economic recovery.

It is an ethos that can be applied to many similar projects throughout the country; and it is also apparent in the scores of excellent postgraduate options that are available to students, many of which are available from UCD. Choices here include the MSc in Environmental Science (one year full time, two years part time). The course equips students with the necessary skills and knowledge for a career in environmental assessment and in the development of management, conservation strategies, and policy formulation. Training is given through extensive fieldwork, lab work, data analysis and information sourcing.

Another option at UCD is the GradDip in Rural Environmental Conservation and Management, which is a part-time programme of 18 months’ duration. This is a conversion course aimed at those interested in the conservation and sustainable management of our natural resources. Students will be gain an appreciation of farm management practices and the ecological status of rural ecosystems.

Anyone with a passion for preserving our flora and fauna but worried about finding the time to commit to a classroom-based postgraduate course will be interested in IT Sligo’s PGDip/MSc in Environmental Protection, which is facilitated through distance learning. This two-year programme covers a broad spectrum of topics, including ecology, geology, biology, water and waste management, and sustainability. Graduates are qualified to work in a wide range of industries, such as environmental management, enforcement, waste management, wastewater treatment, air pollution control, and research and development.

Due to the fact that fossil fuels are both finite and costly, finding new means of supplying energy also represents a significant component of most sustainability projects. Dundalk IT’s MSc in Renewable Energy Systems offers tuition on wind, solar, water and bio-energy systems. The programme is delivered through a combination of taught modules and individual research (at the end of which students are required to submit a thesis). Candidates should have a second-class honours degree in Laboratory Science or in an Engineering discipline. Alternate energy-related courses – such as in Renewable Energy, Energy Management and Sustainable Energy – are available at postgraduate level from a host of colleges, including NUI Maynooth, Sligo IT, DIT and UCC.

While a similar field of study to environmental science, ecology allows researchers to further explore the interactions beween the populations inhabiting an ecological system, thus helping them to explain the influencing evolutionary factors of a species. Though the course options in Ecology are relatively few, they tend to be both diverse yet thorough in their approaches.

The MSc in Ecological Assessment at UCC (one year full time), for instance, equips students with the key practical skills in the ecological assessment of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and ecosystems, thus enabling them to meet a growing demand for personnel skilled in methods of ecological assessment. Among the core modules are Habitat Classification and Survey, Plant Identification and Strategic Environmental Assessment. The programme is also designed so that it can be taken by those who are already in employment. Candidates are required to hold at least a 2. 2 degree in an area of Biological Sciences or a related field.

A more holistic approach is taken towards the subject at All Hallows College, which offers a two-year MA in Ecology and Religion (part-time). While the course does comprise  scientific aspects (for example, the identification and dissection of flora and fauna samples), it also places ecological issues within a theoretical, inter-disciplinary framework that is designed to explore how religious philosophies and traditions can make vital connections between the health of the planet and the well-being of its sentient inhabitants. Assessment is based in the successful completion of eight modules (out of the eleven on offer) and the submission of a dissertation. As with other courses, applicants should possess a 2. 2 honours degree in a cognate subject area. Those who meet this criterion will be invited to attend an interview.

Though the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s and 70s may have come and passed, it has been replaced by a kind of green evolution, as the area continues to play a vital role in the health of our economy and our environment, and persists in the equally important function of showing us the ways in which the two are connected.


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