Mammal and Reptile Survey Methods


About the course

This part-time tutored online course is designed to equip students with the skills, techniques and know-how necessary to undertake surveys of mammal and reptile populations or individuals with confidence. The course aims to create a rich workshop experience, encouraging direct student and tutor interaction and discussion.

You will receive highly practical expert training, helping you to:

  • make your own spatial and temporal observations and recordings of mammals and reptiles
  • explore how to design appropriate sampling strategies and protocols
  • investigate trapping and restraint techniques, with access to guidelines with legal and ethical considerations
  • examine and understand best practice for scat and print field sign surveys, camera traps and video surveillance

Who the course is for

Professional ecological consultants, environmental managers and rangers, research and postgraduate students, and volunteers that are seeking flexible study combined with expert training. The techniques covered are universal, and we use international case studies and examples.

Field Techniques for Surveying Mammals and Reptiles is part of the wider Ecological Survey Techniques Programme that offers a range of standalone short courses. At its heart rests the Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques, aimed at those wishing to take their professional development to the next level with an Oxford qualification.

Flexible online learning

Students typically study on this course alongside their work.

You can take this online course from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection.  You can log on at any time of the day and access our specially designed course materials, e-learning resources and tutor-led discussion forums. You will have access to the Bodleian Libraries’ online, which provides an excellent range of e-books and e-journals, enabling you to conduct your research and reading in your own time.

Chartered status

The course can help you to apply for Chartered Status (such as Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Ecologist), and to meet relevant professional competency thresholds. Further information can be found in our Chartered status and essential skills guide.

Programme details

Topics covered

  • Introduction to mammals and reptiles: ‘A good detective knows their mark’; what is a mammal?; what is a reptile?
  • Rationale for surveying mammals and reptiles - why survey?: Ecological objectives; legal objectives; utilisation objectives; model or indicator species objectives
  • Conducting a survey - basic considerations: Defining the principles; first steps and considerations; the observer effect
  • Choosing a survey technique: direct and indirect techniques: direct and indirect techniques (trapping, noosing, hand capturing, marking individuals); A classification of direct and indirect survey techniques
  • Direct techniques: observations, total counts, trapping and restraint
  • Indirect techniques: field sign surveys; camera traps and surveillance
  • Designing a sampling strategy or protocol: Standard protocols; random, systematic and stratified samples; line transects and quadrats; mapping and trapping
  • Recording and storing data: Designing a data recording sheet; storing data
  • Data application - making sure you have the right data to accomplish your survey goals: What type of data?; Indices for analysing mammal and reptile survey data
  • Case study: the badger project, Wytham Woods, UK

Teaching methods

Your course tutor will guide you through a series of key topics via reading materials, online activities, and discussion forums. Discussion forums are the primary space where students are able to interact with one another and their tutor to discuss questions, solve problems and share ideas just as they would expect to do in a face-to-face classroom setting.

Level and demands

The course is designed for Master’s-level students, and you are likely to be studying alongside students on our Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques.

You can expect

  • to engage with and contribute to the course around ten to 15 hours per week (depending on whether it is taken for credit or not)
  • your course tutor will engage online for no less than six hours per week (usually distributed across each week and will focus on particular topics and activities)
  • topics to be covered following a suggested calendar of activity (so that activities, discussion and reading are completed within the course week duration, and at an even pace)
  • the course can be taken with or without Masters-level credit. Credit enables students to demonstrate their academic achievement and can count towards further postgraduate study


You can choose to study for academic credit or simply for the learning experience.

Accredited study

Students taking the course for credit submit an assignment of up to 2000 words or equivalent. The assignment is a written plan of an ecological survey of a named site. 

We offer Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for the course. By contributing to all the forums and successfully completing the assessment you will obtain 10 CATS-equivalent points (FHEQ level 7) which may count towards a Masters-level qualification. You will also receive a University of Oxford Certificate of Attendance.

For information on CATS points and credit transfer, including conversion to US academic credits and European academic credits (ECTS), please visit our CATS Points FAQ page.

Non-accredited study

Students taking the course not for credit do not submit an assignment.

By actively participating in at least one online course forum post per week, to the satisfaction of the course tutor, and successfully completing the course, you will receive a University of Oxford Certificate of Attendance.

Certificate of Attendance

You may receive a Certificate of Attendance whether you opt for accredited or non-accredited study (provided that you have met the requirements stated above).


Description Costs
Accredited study £1170.00
Non-accredited study £740.00
Student rate £520.00


Dr Thomas Hesselberg

Course Director

Thomas is a zoologist who has studied spiders, insects and worms for more than 15 years in both temperate and tropical climates. In addition to his teaching for the Department for Continuing Education, he is a lecturer in biological sciences at St. Anne's College.

Dr Chris Newman


Dr. Chris Newman is a Zoology Research Fellow with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. His work is highly inter-disciplinary, drawing together insights from population dynamics, animal behaviour, physiology, genetics and parasitology to better understand wildlife biology. His specialist interest is in the effects of weather conditions and climate change on ecological responses, and he has caught around 10,000 badgers as part of his long-term population studies in Wytham Woods, Oxford. Chris also serves as the Mammals Officer on the Zoology Department’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Board. He collaborates extensively with other researchers internationally, particularly in Asia, and is an author of over 100 peer reviewed papers and book chapters. As a former Earthwatch Principal Investigator, he is an advocate of public and corporate participation in conservation initiatives. Outside of academia he manages 350 acres of Forest Stewardship Council woodland in Nova Scotia, Canada, including 16 acres growing Haskap berries.


Application/registration processing will close 6 weeks before the start of the course. Please contact with any related questions.

Apply to take the course not for academic credit

If you do not wish to take this course for academic credit you will need to register using the ‘Book now’ button under course details.

Apply to take the course for academic credit

If you are applying to take this course for academic credit you will need to click on the link below and complete the online application form and include a copy of your CV as an attachment.

You will also need to complete the reference section of the application form, and input the email address of your referee. Upon successfully submitting the application an email will be sent to your referee asking them to provide a reference in support your application for the course.

Please only complete this form if you wish to take the course for academic credit.

Online application form

Selection criteria

All candidates will need to:

  1. Hold a minimum qualification equivalent to a first Honours Degree (BA, BSc, etc). Non-graduates may be considered if they are able to demonstrate considerable experience in a relevant field. If in doubt, please email;
  2. Offer some first-hand knowledge and/or experience of field work or conservation issues;
  3. Satisfy the minimum required English language criteria set by the University, being either a native English speaker, or able to offer test results as specified. Applicants with borderline scores may be accepted on condition that they attend a language course and gain an acceptable score;
  4. Demonstrate an ability to be able to commit the necessary time to study;
  5. Have good access to a computer and a fast/reliable internet connection;
  6. Demonstrate an ability to work alongside fellow students and tutors as part of an online community and independently.

Apply to take the course at the discounted student rate (non-accredited study)

If you are applying to take this course at the discounted student rate, you will need to click on the link below and complete the online application form and include evidence that you are a current student. This could be either your student ID card (with the name of the institution and end date) or a letter or reference from your institution. Please note that the student rate is for non-accredited study only.

Please only complete this form if you wish to take the course at the discounted student rate.

Please contact with any related questions.

Online application form

IT requirements

This course is delivered online and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system (for the course assignment). In order to meet course requirements, students will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.