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Do you have an interest in the science behind climate change? Are you interested in how we can protect biodiversity? Would you like to find out how human activities can be managed in a way to reverse the decline in biodiversity and combat climate change? Do you want to be part of a sustainable solution that involves technological innovation and behavioural change? Do you like to think creatively and link different subjects and skills in the way real-life does? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then Environmental Science maybe the subject for you!
Environmental Science is the study of how human society interacts with the natural environment and uses this understanding to help make better decisions individually, locally, and globally. It uses knowledge and skills in scientific subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Physics to understand the role of law, consumer behaviour, data handling, technology, engineering, and social and economic factors to strike a balance between human needs and protecting the environment. In fact, protecting the environment helps us to meet our needs into the future, and there are a growing number of “green” jobs in many sectors.
Environmental Science is an A Level taught from the AQA board. It is a linear qualification which means you do not sit the AS exams at the end of the first year. At the end of the second year, you will sit two examination papers. In most cases Environmental Science counts as a scientific subject to meet entry requirements for a science-based courses at university, such as nursing, as the research and methodologies involved follow the same scientific principles. There is a minimum of 4 days of practical/field work, some of which will take place away from college.
A minimum of five GCSEs at grade 4 and above, including English Language.
A grade 5 in GCSE Maths and a grade 5 in a GCSE Science.
There are seven units in total with four studied in the first year and three in the second year.
1. ‘Living Environment’: You will study conditions for life on Earth and how life has developed. You will analyse how life processes work in the biosphere, explore what habitats are and how they are legally protected. You will examine the ways that ecology can be monitored, conserved and habitats created.
2. ‘Physical Environment’: In this unit you will explore the non-living physical aspects of the environment. You will explore the processes in the atmosphere and hydrosphere and examine how mineral resources form and are exploited. You will also investigate biogeochemical cycles and soil structure and function.
3. ‘Energy’: – This unit focuses on both the need for energy and the affect it has. You will examine energy resources and supplies, how we use energy and resource depletion. Additionally, you will explore sustainable energy alongside new conservation techniques.
4. ‘Research methodologies’: To gain an understanding of the skills needed to undertake research you will also complete a unit that develops these skills. You will learn different sampling techniques and strategies and how to collect and manipulate data. You will come back to this unit several times during the course to further develop these skills at relevant points of the course.
*At the end of the first year there is a mock examination to assess progress. You will also undertake some practical laboratory work in a professional setting to explore sampling techniques.
5. ‘Pollution’: You will study the properties of pollution and how environmental features affect the severity of pollution. You will consider the impact of pollution as well as strategies to control pollution.
6. ‘Biological Resources’: In this unit you will study a range of topics related to biological resources. You will explore agriculture and forestry as well as aquatic food production. You will then consider how sustainable practices can be incorporated to protect biodiversity while maximising food and resource supplies for a growing human population.
7. ‘Sustainability’: This unit explores sustainability in-depth. You will look at dynamic equilibria and how climate change has occurred. You will examine energy resources and carbon footprints along with material cycles. You will also investigate the circular economy and how it works.
You will take A Level Environmental Science alongside two other A Level subjects (or equivalents). Good subject combinations to take alongside include Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, Maths, Law, or Sociology A Levels, or BTEC L3 Applied Science. All of these have common themes and would help develop knowledge and skills in Environmental Science.
If you enjoy the subject, you could take it at university either as an Environmental Science degree or something more specialised such as Ecology or Civil Engineering. There are also an increasing number of Apprenticeships available that also allow you to earn money while taking a degree (albeit over a longer period as day release). Options for this include Town Planning, Environmental Practitioner and Civil Engineering apprenticeships. Career options are many and varied: from forestry to farming, conservation to corporate social responsibility, water industry to waste industry, consultancy to councils and government bodies, energy sector to ecologist.
There are a variety of ways to extend your learning outside of the classroom with environmental science. There are several trips which are organised as part of the course. There is a trip to the University of Gloucester to use their hi-tech laboratories to develop ecological monitoring techniques and soil sampling and analysis skills. There is a trip to Snuff Mills in Bristol to undertake kick-sampling of invertebrates and monitoring of a biotic factors to monitor health of aquatic habitats as well as to the Wild Place Project to explore conservation, captive breeding, and release programmes. You can also choose to join our Sustainability Academy to further develop your skills and attributes in this area of study.