14 GCSE Geographers undertook five days of fieldwork in the Shropshire Hills and Snowdonia as part of the practical element of their IGCSE syllabus. Following the ‘Route to Enquiry’ they completed investigations into Water Quality, River Channel Characteristics, Flood Hazard Management, Urban Land Use Change and experienced a taster of Glacial Environments. They developed skills of data collection, analysis and presentation; applying rigorous methodology, sampling techniques, ArcGIS software and statistical tests to reach conclusions to their hypotheses. They worked hard and fully immersed themselves in their tasks to enrich their knowledge and understanding of geographical fieldwork.
Day 1 – Friday 20 October 2017 River Water Quality
After an early start, leaving Wisbech Grammar School at 7am we travelled by minibus Preston Montford, a Field Study Centre on the outskirts of Shrewsbury in the picturesque Shropshire Hills. Upon arrival and without delay we began our first fieldwork task, utilising two ponds set within the grounds to investigate the factors which can affect water quality.
The first pond was created in a protected area of meadow and natural ash and oak woodland, whilst the other was part of a facility used for the decomposition and filtering of waste water from the Centre.
Pupils conducted abiotic tests on samples of water to indicate levels of dissolved oxygen, nitrates, nitrites, temperature, turbidity and pH. They employed sampling techniques using fine mesh nets to collect biotic samples of invertebrates, caddisfly larvae, waterboatman nymphs and rat-tailed maggots as indicator species for water quality.
Back in the classroom the pupils worked late into the evening evaluating their results, applying the BMWP Index to establish scores for each pond and the impact of human activity on water quality
Day 2 – Saturday 21 October 2017 Urban Environments
Storm Brian meant a change of plans, with our river enquiry switched to Sunday. Pupils spent the day in Shrewsbury investigating how well the town confirmed to the Core Frame model of urban land use. In small groups pupils completed transects radiating out from the town centre, observing changes in the function and age of buildings, environmental quality and pedestrian footfall. From there observations, they were able to establish the links between land value and the changing nature of land use within the CBD. Zones of discard and assimilation were noted along with statistical analysis to establish the correlation of change over distance. In completing their investigation pupils followed the structure of geographical enquiry, establishing hypotheses, questioning the validity of their data and methods of data collection, before reaching conclusions in response to their original hypotheses.
Day 3 – Sunday 22 October 2017 River Characteristics
The Cardingmill Valley in the Shropshire Hills, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was the setting for our river Investigation. The entrails of Storm Brian meant that a chilly, blustery day provided an additional challenge for our pupils, to ensure the data was measured and recorded with accuracy and precision. A steep 3km climb led us close to the source of the river, an ingenious game of ‘I spy with my Geographical Eye’ ensured that we fine-tuned our observation skills to the myriad of river landforms and processes evident around us.
Pupils then embarked on a systematic survey of all the key features of the river, flow rates, channel dimensions and bedload, at eight sites down the river.
Back at the field study centre, the pupils recharged themselves with hot beverages and cake, before another extended session of work into the evening. Presentation of results was the focus, with pupils calculating river discharge rates before using ArcGIS software to pot their data as an overlay on digitised maps. They also undertook the ‘old school’ technique of drawing cross-sectional graphs by hand, to show how channel morphology changes with distance downstream.
Day 4 – Monday 23 October 2017 Hazards – Evaluating River Flood Management
On a day when flood alerts had been issued for the River Severn in Shrewsbury is was particularly pertinent that this day was spent investigating factors which contribute towards flooding and evaluating flood management strategies. We started the day learning case study material on the last major floods which affected Shrewsbury in 2004 and how this prompted the investment in flood management barriers within the town. The first practical task was to use the Centres flood basin simulators, conducting experiments to demonstrate the role of different surfaces in affecting the rate of run-off and consequently river levels. The afternoon was spent examining the various flood prevention measures installed around Shrewsbury, linking the investment made to the value of land and land use. Pupils conducted interview questionnaires with local businesses to establish attitudes towards the flood management schemes. The final evening at the centre was again spent working hard, creating choropleth overlays on digital maps to represent the link between flood risk and land use/value. Throughout the week the GCSE Geographers developed a wide range of practical fieldwork skills, as well as their understanding of the finer points of how to conduct an enquiry, ensure their data was accurate, precise and valid, employ sampling techniques and statistical calculations to test their hypotheses and reach conclusions.
Day 5 – Tuesday 24 October 2017
The last day of the trip presented an opportunity to go off-piste from the GCSE syllabus and investigate the A-level topic Glaciation. Despite inclement weather, the forecasts provided a window of opportunity for us to travel to Cwm Idwal in the Nant Ffrancon Valley, Snowdonia. Pupils were suitably attired in wind and waterproof gear as they ascended via footpaths to the corrie and tarn lake. With spectacular views of the glaciated valley, each staff member took turns to explain the glacial processes which had created the landscape in front them. A circumnavigation of the tarn was interrupted with various stops to examine evidence of glacier formation, abrasion, plucking and weathering, as well as orientating striations to establish the direction of glacial flow.
A six-hour minibus ride home then ensued for our exhausted but inspired troop of well weathered but now experienced practical geographers.