UCAS- Focus on Environmental Studies: Take a holistic view of the world

Environmental studies deals with the big picture: humans and their relationship with the natural world, as Simon Midgley discovered
According to George Hume, studying for a degree in environmental management at Northumbria University was "an absolutely fantastic preparation for the job I am doing at the moment."

Mr Hume, regional communications officer in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Going For Green, a charity which promotes sustainable development, graduated with a 2:1 BSc (Hons) in 1998: "Every aspect of what we have to do here was encompassed at one point or another during the university course. Promoting sustainable development: cutting down waste, using less energy, travelling sensibly, looking after the environment and reducing pollution - all those five aspects were dealt with."

Born and brought up in Newcastle, Mr Hume left school to train to be a quantity surveyor. After four years working in construction he became very critical of the adverse impact of building on the environment.

"I had always had an interest in environmental matters," he said. "The course seemed ideal for me. It was about what I wanted to achieve in life. It covered everything from ecology and life sciences to social sciences and sustainable development. I did my dissertation on The Effect of Religion on People's Perceptions of Nature.

"I really enjoyed the course. It's been fantastic. It's given me a thorough grounding in everything I have gone on to do."

During his degree Mr Hume also elected to study remote sensing - observing the earth through satellite imagery. He has now been awarded a pounds 7,000 grant by the National Environmental Research Council in order to study for a masters degree in remote sensing at Dundee University.

Karen Trigg, 32, a divorced single mother with a six-year-old son called Lewis, has just graduated with an upper second in environmental science from the University of Greenwich.

"The course looks at the environment as a whole and the effects that humans can have on the environment," she says. "It includes environmental impact assessment, ecological science, bio-monitoring of pollution, marine ecology, uplands ecology - it's a really broad spectrum of subjects taking a very holistic view of the environment."

Ms Trigg, who lives in Rochester, Kent, across the Medway from the university, says that working for her degree and coping with her son, who suffers from dyspraxia, a development and co-ordination problem, was difficult.

She opted to follow an ecological pathway through her course, while other students opted to follow environmental assessment or management pathways. During her third year Ms Trigg wrote a dissertation on barn owls. She studied at the RSPB nature reserve at High Halstow, Northwood Hill, in the north Kent marshes. She says that since 1950 barn owls in Kent have declined by 72 per cent, mainly due to habitat loss, road traffic accidents and pesticides.

In September she is organising a "conservation of raptors" event at the university to introduce children to owls, hawks and other birds of prey. Ms Trigg, who is now working part-time for the university, assisting the campus director, is to start a part-time MSc in conservation at the university this autumn. Eventually she is hoping to work in conservation education, perhaps for an organisation such as the RSPB.

Laura Snowball, 19, from Blyth in Northumberland, has just completed her first year of studying for a BSc in environmental conservation at Sheffield Hallam University. Ms Snowball has A-levels in general studies (A), biology (B), chemistry (D) and mathematics (D).

"The course is about conserving the environment so that it can be used for people and wildlife," she said. "It's a very general first year. There are elements of IT, social psychology, law, countryside and environmental issues and trends, ecology and landscapes, and conservation practice. The staff are very friendly and very easy to talk to if you have any problems. They will explain things and explain how things fit together with other units - how they connect."

Course members have to do a 10-week unpaid work placement in their second year. She is considering trying to get a placement at Earth Balance, an alternative technology/conservation centre in Cramlinton, Northumberland. When Ms Snowball was at school she gained work experience at a nearby countryside centre and the school also organised sand dune restoration work with the local council.

During the university course students get practical experience of tree felling and dry stone walling. Students are also encouraged to join conservation groups to gain further experience. Ms Snowball is eventually hoping to become a park ranger in a national park or perhaps a National Trust warden.

Sarah Hodges, 19, is studying environmental geology at the University of Greenwich. A first-year student from Ashford in Kent, she is studying the impact of geology on the environment.

"In the first year we study geological structures and processes. In the second and third year your studies are more specific to what you want to do. You can study tectonics, for example, and its relation to industry and the environment."

Ms Hodges first started to become interested in geology when she was about 12 years old and started to collect rocks.

"It's something I continued all the way through secondary school," she said. "I have always been very interested in vulcanology, plate tectonics and things like that."

At Canterbury College in Kent she took A-levels in geology (A), geography (B), environmental science (B), English literature (B) and English language (B). Ms Hodges hopes to pursue a career in the United States doing "hazard mapping" - advising industries about the dangers of building in earthquake zones with the attendant risks of damage, pollution and spillage.

"I decided I should pursue a career in something I enjoyed," she added. "I had an accident in the summer which left me numb from the waist down for a couple of months. I could not go away that far from home.

"Our college had some revision days at the university. I liked the atmosphere there and I decided that it would be probably best for me. I have had a lot of support from the university. I think that going to Greenwich was one of the best things I decided to do."