How to write your Personal Statement for MSc Conservation and Ecosystem Management


I am currently reviewing applications for my degree and some applicants clearly have not been taught how to write these well, so here is my guide:

  • Tell me why you are interested in conservation and ecosystem management e.g. what motivates you to study it, what you have seen or experienced that inspired you (avoid using the word ‘passionate’ if possible because it is cliched but make your passion shine through
  • Tell me a little bit about why you would be a good person for me to accept on my degree, give me examples of how you have been involved in conservation or other work that shows me you are hard working and enthusiastic. I should be beginning to feel like I am getting to know you a little as I find out what you have done and what you think
  • Say what it is about my course that made you choose this one e.g. the module content, the course aims, or things you have seen on my blog
  • And what it is about Newcastle that makes you want to come to live in this relatively small city

To summarise: I want to know that you want to come to Newcastle, that you want to do my particular course, and that you have the motivation to be successful.
I hope this helps. Helen

Notes for MSc CEM starters 2023-24


Hi all, this is reading for if you want to join us on MSc Conservation and Ecosystem Management from Sept 2023. Please also feel free to contact me at

In case you can’t find the induction timetable

I’ll post this when it becomes available

Facebook Group for 2023-24: Anyone want to set one up – if so please email me the link. I shall obviously check you have been accepted on the course too.
This is for people who are definitely coming – or very seriously considering it

What preparation can I do? Reading material?

Here are my suggestions:
1. Keep up to date by following e.g. Natural England and Defra on social media, but also Northumberland National Park, AONBs and other organisations
2. Read reports like the 25 Year Environment Plan – its updates and State of Nature (you don’t need to read every word, of course
3. If ecology is new to you, or you want a refresher, try
4. If you are feeling a bit anxious about stats or R, then
5. If you haven’t done much in terms of species ID I suggest the Collins books (the black ones) for wild flowers (Streeter et al) and for birds (Lars Svensson) and by all means use Apps (e.g. Seek) to help you – but start to look at plant families – and start to record sightings on iRecord. If you are a beginner in a habitat or group of species, then the FSC pull out guides are great. – I am not too proud to use them; they can be extremely helpful.
6. If you really want to – you can start to ‘play’ with GIS – QGIS is free software which you will use, but you will also use ArcGIS which the Uni has the license for. This is really only if you fancy having a look, GIS comes alive when you have your own data. You can find beginner tutorials on YouTube.
7. The Knepp and Carrifran rewilding books are good reads if you haven’t read them
8. The first module is forest and woodland ecology. This book is a good introduciton, but don’t feel you have to spend a lot of money. You will have the library at your fingertips when you register: Ecology of Woodlands and Forests: Description, Dynamics and Diversity (Thomas and Packham).
9. If you are coming from a different discipline, have a look at some journal articles in a topic that you are interested in. Use google scholar to search. DO NOT allow yourself to be overwhelmed – but do skim read them. Some will be better than others and easier to follow. In google scholar you can search for e.g. red squirrel conservation, or hay meadow management or ancient woodland indicator species – whatever you are interested in. You can limit to papers e.g. since 2017. Look at the abstract and glance through the structure, read the conclusion … just get the feel for them a bit

Please feel free to add comments and suggestions if you have read something good or want to share.

And in case you are wondering what happened to my posts – we are still having fun in the field, but I have reached my capacity for photographs, so I need some serious overhauling!

Another two more graduations

I don’t think I was prepared emotionally for yesterday’s graduation ceremonies.
Undergraduate tutees and dissertation supervisees: Shania, Rebecca, Alex, Rhiannon, and others like Rob (mature student whom I encouraged to do a degree while sitting on a hill voluntary botanising 5 years ago) and Tom (who was at school with my eldest son, and – having just had a year in work – told his classmates how important the Excel skills I was teaching are).

Then there was my tutee Rohan; Me: “I hardly ever saw, you Rohan, how are you?” – he did really well though and Rohan: “I knew where you were if I needed you!” Which to be honest, why would he want to spend time with a middle aged woman if everything is fine?

And Ian (MBiol) who I met on the bird ID field trip when he was in stage 1 – he got 100% and I got 74% (I was ostensibly a demonstrator, but was there to learn!) and now he posts the best wildlife pics ond Twitter (follow him! – see below). There is a chair and computer in KGVI Lawn cluster where we did stats that will remember Ian for some time, I think!

And beautiful Rafef (MSc Conservation and Ecosystem Management) who wrote her first essay in English with us (rather than Arabic), and has been such an enthusiastic, dedicated, hard working and kind of the CEM students, graduating a bit later than the others for personal reasons, but that meant I had her and her husband to myself for our celebratory meal afterwards.

What an amazing day and I’m so pleased we won’t lose touch.

We’ve got Ellie back :-)

Ellie graduated from our #MScconservationandecosystemmanagement degree back in my first year as DPD – in 2019. I’m sure there will be some early blogs with her in. And now she is with Natural History Society of Northumberland at the Natural History Museum (Hancock) on campus. I’m not sure who is most happy about this, Ellie, NHSN or me! She has such a gift for enthusing and engaging people and is so creative – I know she will be brilliant.

Ho-Yin – Orchids – Holy Island

Would love to have a day out with HoYin on Lindisfarne looking for orchids – perhaps if I work ridiculously hard today and tomorrow, I will allow myself out?

Our students are encouraged to show their work off on social media – not just because it makes my blogging a lot easier! Ho-Yin is tagging all the relevant organistaions, BSBI, Butterfly Conversation and is working with the Natural History Society of Northumberland too and getting his work out there and his face know.

Roudsea Nature Reserve Field Trip

Our habitat assessment and monitoring module where we do the new Phase 1 survey, Phase 2 NVC, we think about how to analyse ecological data in RStudio and this is our residential in the beautiful south lakes where we hit the woods, the mire and the sadly, rapidly disappearing saltmarsh

I just love the colours of the sea thrift and the lichens on the rocks. Simple pleasures
These are our wonderful technicians, Fiona and Dave, who are likely to help you with your dissertations if you are doing lab work or are out and about. We had a sneaky visit to the saltmarsh while students were surveying the woods. Carlos, our external examiner joined us too for the day – and helped us out with a bit of ID while he was on

Careers Event

Alice, from Northumberland Wildlife Trust: “Helen, I’ve had a couple of applications from your students whom I couldn’t interview because they didn’t seem to know how to fill in an application form. Please can I come and talk to them?”
Me: “yes please! Covid year – we did have a session on app forms but it is not the same as when you guys come and meet students”
Theo (former student, Plymouth Council): “Helen the careers event you put on when I was a student was brilliant; it was so helpful for me. Please can I come and talk to your current students?”
Me: “definitely”
Alice: “I’ve got a couple of friends would like to come – ecological consultancy, and greening officer”
Me: “yes – and Georgie, former student, from Defra is also coming”
– Alice passed on valuable tips and tricks regarding how to fill in an application form
– Georgie talked about competency questions
– we had Speed Interviews – 2mins to answer a Q, 2mins for feedback (a bit reminiscent of musical chairs)
– and CV cover letter workshops – where students showed the employers their cover letter examples
– the buzz is evident I hope from the picture of the speed interviews below

Bioblitz – Hepple wilding project

We joined the first Hepple rewilding/wilding project bioblitz looking at “Meg’s purple moorgrass and rushy pastures” (as we now call them). She is doing her dissertation with Marjorie from Natural England, characterising this under-described, under-appreciated (not by Marjorie) northern habitat. Getting our heads around the sedges again: flea, carnation, flaccid, common, tawny, yellow x2, common, brown – think I must have missed one

Meg and I had the tiniest taste of the gin, cos it seemed wrong not to …

… and I just spotted Ho Yin’s clever Twitter handle! His dissertation is on orchids, there were plenty of them too