Someone standing on a flooded Port Meadow
Port Meadow
(Image credit: Michelle Jackson)

EcoWild (NERC CDT)

About the course

The EcoWild programme will deliver the next generation of innovative researchers and conservationists needed to protect the Earth’s vulnerable wetlands.

Biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate. Multiple stressors, such as climatic extremes and chemical pollution, are driving many of these declines. Wetlands and fringing ecosystems are exceptionally biodiverse, critical for combating the climate emergency and essential for enhancing community resilience to extreme weather events such as storms and floods. These ecosystems are among the most threatened globally, impacted by multiple environmental stressors. However, our understanding of these impacts is limited, thereby hindering conservation and restoration efforts, and impeding their potential as nature-based and bioengineered solutions.

The EcoWild NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) programme has been designed to deliver the next generation of innovative researchers and conservationists needed to protect some of the Earth’s most vulnerable and valuable ecosystems.

EcoWild is a unique partnership, led by Heriot-Watt University, that brings together research expertise and innovation across various fields including environmental toxicology, ecology, multiple stressor theory and modelling, wetland conservation and restoration, socioeconomics, community engagement, management and governance; and involves some of the leading UK experts in these fields. Full research themes and details of the partnership can be found on the EcoWild website (For links see Further information and enquiries). 

The course is available in both full- and part-time study modes. If you are studying full-time, you will spend four years (or eight years if studying part-time) at Oxford working on your DPhil project with your main supervisor. For full-time students, NERC funding will cover three years and eight-months and a comparable proportion of the duration of part-time study. You will have a co-supervisor from one of the other academic partners (Heriot-Watt University, University of York, University of the Highlands and Islands, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) and a co-supervisor from a non-academic partner (such as Natural England, the Freshwater Biological Association, Scottish Government Marine and Fisheries). Each year you will also receive world class taught training in multi-stressor science and wetland ecology in a mix of in-person cohort-building events and online training. The training is enriched through the active involvement of our associated partners, who contribute to the design and delivery of the programme, organise challenge events, and offer secondments and internships. This provides students with valuable real world experience in addressing environmental problems and working in a professional environment. In addition to specialised training, EcoWild students will attend careers events and established workshops, including for data management, time management, leadership, writing skills and viva preparation, aligning with the Vitae Research Development Framework.


The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Biology and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Biology.

Students will meet with the supervisor at least twice a month.


All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of six terms as a PRS student if studying full-time (around 12 terms if studying part-time), you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status. This application is normally made by the fourth term. (likely to be by the eight term for part-time students).

A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require a report that will consist of an introductory part that could become the introduction to the thesis, one rather well-worked analysis of preliminary data representing roughly the equivalent of one thesis chapter, and a plan for the other chapters in the thesis including a detailed timetable. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that your work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission if studying full-time (around 18 terms if studying part-time).

Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.

Full-time students will be expected to submit a substantial thesis of up to 50,000 words after four years from the date of admission (after eight years for part-time students).

To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Biology you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.   

Graduate destinations

DPhil graduates in biological sciences at Oxford continue to a wide range of careers after graduating. Between 2012 and 2017, 83% of DPhil graduates continued in bioscience-related posts, of which almost three quarters involved academic research.

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic, epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.

Initial assessment by Heriot-Watt University

You will apply to and be initially assessed by Heriot-Watt University. 

If your application passes this initial assessment, you will be invited to submit an application to the University of Oxford (please refer to the How to Apply section of this page for further details). A successful application to the University of Oxford is a requirement of entry to this course. Your application to the University of Oxford will be assessed against the entry requirements shown below. 

Entry requirements for entry in 2024-25

Proven and potential academic excellence

The requirements described below are specific to this course and apply only in the year of entry that is shown. You can use our interactive tool to help you evaluate whether your application is likely to be competitive.

Please be aware that any studentships that are linked to this course may have different or additional requirements and you should read any studentship information carefully before applying. 

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:

Proven and potential academic excellence

The requirements described below are specific to this course and apply only in the year of entry that is shown. You can use our interactive tool to help you evaluate whether your application is likely to be competitive.

Please be aware that any studentships that are linked to this course may have different or additional requirements and you should read any studentship information carefully before applying. 

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in subjects appropriate to the DPhil project.

Appropriate subjects include:

  • Zoology
  • Biology
  • Natural science
  • Ecology

Admission does not normally require a master's level qualification.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

It would be expected that graduate applicants would be familiar with the recent published work of their proposed supervisor and have an understanding of the background to their proposed area of study.

English language proficiency

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.

Declaring extenuating circumstances

If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.


You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.

Interviews will take place in May for applicants for 2024-25. In following years, interviews are expected to be held in February. 

The interview panel will be made up of staff from both the University of Oxford and Heriot-Watt University. It will last for up to 30 minutes and will take place online. Interviewees will be expected to answer questions on topics relevant to the advertised project. Answers should demonstrate general knowledge, understanding of and enthusiasm for the particular area of research, competence in the English language, and where appropriate, numeracy in the treatment of biological data.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements described under that heading.

References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process. Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed

Shortlisting and selection

Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:

  • socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
  • country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
  • protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.

Processing your data for shortlisting and selection

Information about processing special category data for the purposes of positive action and using your data to assess your eligibility for funding, can be found in our Postgraduate Applicant Privacy Policy.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

Other factors governing whether places can be offered

The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
  • the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
  • minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.

Offer conditions for successful applications

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about offers and conditions

In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)

Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.


The Department of Biology has research strengths spanning from evolution to ecology, behaviour to biomechanics, and development to disease. Researchers in the department work on wide range of organisms, including plants, animals and microbes. This diversity of research interests is reflected in the wide range of research facilities that are used by members of the department, including labs that are for cell and molecular biology, controlled growth facilities, field stations, and unique plant collections. Many of our students also carry out field work at in locations ranging from the Amazon rainforest to the Antarctic.

Within the department are several research institutes, including the Edward Grey Institute (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) , the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), and the Ineos Oxford Institute for Antimicrobial Research (IOI).

The EGI, founded in 1938, conducts research into the ecology, conservation, behaviour and evolution of birds, and is well known for its long-term population studies at Wytham Woods. Professor Ben Sheldon is the current EGI Director and is the Luc Hoffmann Professor in Field Ornithology.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) work at the interface of social and ecological systems, using a range of methodologies and interdisciplinary approaches to address key issues in current conservation. The research is focused around better understanding and influencing human behaviour and its impact on nature. Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland is the Group Leader.

The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), directed by Professor David Macdonald CBE, is based at Tubney House eight miles from Oxford and seeks solutions to conservation problems through scientific research.

The IOI was established in 2021 to transform our approach to combatting antimicrobial resistance, which is one of the biggest health challenges of our time. Research at the IOI focuses on understanding the factors that drive the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the settings where it poses the greatest threat to human health and on developing new antimicrobials. Professor Timothy Walsh played a key role in the establishment of the IOI and he is one of the academic leads of the institute.

In 2024, the Department of Biology plans to move into the new Life and Mind Building. The Life and Mind Building will transform the education experience for students, providing new laboratories and meeting spaces for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers, as well as lecture theatres, specialised support laboratories and opportunities for public engagement with our research. It will be the largest building project the University has ever undertaken and will be a catalyst for the advancement of psychological and biological science both at the University of Oxford and on a global platform.


The Department of Biology is one of the leading UK university departments dedicated to research and teaching in biology, possessing world-class strengths across the breadth of modern biological science research.

The department’s research is organised into five sections:

  • Behaviour and Biomechanics
  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Evolution and Developmental Biology
  • Microbiology and Infectious Disease
  • Molecular Plant Biology

There is considerable overlap between these sections, with many members of the department working in more than one section, and many research projects that cut across section boundaries. Indeed, a key characteristic of the department is that it works as a well-integrated whole with collaborations developing naturally between researchers working on diverse topics

All of the department’s laboratories are excellently equipped for modern cell and molecular technologies. In addition, you will have access to a range of unique facilities in the form of the living collections and arboretum of the University’s Botanic Garden and two on-site herbaria of international standing.

There are two routes into undertaking your doctoral research at the department. You may apply directly to the DPhil in Biology. Alternatively, you may apply to one of the University’s Doctoral Training Programmes. The latter are fully-funded, four-year graduate training programmes which involve a training period of taught courses for around three to six months before deciding on a DPhil project. Applicants are encouraged to consider both entry routes.


We expect that the majority of applicants who are offered a place on this course will also be offered a fully-funded scholarship specific to this course, covering course fees for the full duration of your fee liability for the course, and a living stipend for three years and eight months (for full-time students) or seven years and four months for part-time students.

For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.

Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:

Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.


Annual fees for entry in 2024-25

Full-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees


Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.

Part-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees


Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.

Information about course fees

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

Continuation charges

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

Where can I find further information about fees?

The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.

Additional information

Full-time study

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees (or, after fee liability ends, continuation charges) and living costs. However, please note that, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Part-time study

Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2024-25 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,345 and £1,955 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. The current economic climate and high national rate of inflation make it very hard to estimate potential changes to the cost of living over the next few years. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2024-25, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of around 5% each year – although this rate may vary depending on the national economic situation. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.

If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

College preference

Students enrolled on this course will belong to both a department/faculty and a college. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 43 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as societies and permanent private halls (PPHs). 

If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. Before deciding, we suggest that you read our brief introduction to the college system at Oxford and our advice about expressing a college preference. For some courses, the department may have provided some additional advice below to help you decide.

Before you apply

Application process

The first stage of admission to the EcoWild programme is administered by Heriot-Watt University.  You should visit the Heriot-Watt website for application instructions and deadline information. To apply and for further details about the course you are advised to contact Heriot-Watt using the details on their website. 

Your application will be initially assessed by Heriot-Watt University. If your application passes this initial assessment, you will be invited to submit an application to the University of Oxford using the standard graduate application procedure.

Application fee - waived for all applications to this course

The application fee of £75, which is usually payable per course application, will be waived for all applications to this course. When you submit your application you will not be shown the screen that collects payment details and you will not need to enter a waiver code.

Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?

You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply, but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course. 

Stage 1: Apply to Heriot-Watt for initial assessment

You must first apply to Heriot-Watt by the deadline shown in the Heriot-Watt application instructions.

How to Apply to Heriot-Watt 

Stage 2: Apply to the University of Oxford

If your application has passed the initial assessment by Heriot-Watt, you will be invited to complete an application to the University of Oxford. Only candidates who have been invited to proceed should submit an application to the University of Oxford.

You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents

If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.

Proposed field and title of research project

Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.

You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal. You will be able to upload your research supporting materials separately if they are required (as described below).

Proposed supervisor

Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. 

Three overall

You do not need to add your referees to your application as the department will receive these from Heriot-Watt. Please enter Referee1 ([email protected]), Referee2 ([email protected]) and Referee3 ([email protected]) in the referees section and tick the boxes to confirm that you are happy for the referees to be contacted. This should enable you to submit your application.

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.


A CV/résumé is compulsory for this course. You can re-use the CV you provided in your Heriot-Watt application.

Statement of purpose:
A maximum of 1,000 words 

A personal statement is required and must be in English. You can re-use the statement provided in your Heriot-Watt application.