Fieldwork in Geography and Environmental Sciences

Staff and students from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham talk about the benefits of fieldwork in Geography and Environmental Sciences degree courses.

TitleFieldwork: Geography and Environmental Sciences

Duration: 4.16 mins

Speaker Names (if given):

  • S1 Dr Lesley Batty, Senior Lecturer
  • S2 Sophie, 1st year undergraduate student
  • S3 Dt Iseult Lynch, Lecturer
  • S4 Jessica, 1st year undergraduate student
  • S5 Celia, 1st year undergraduate student
  • S6 Not given
  • S7 Darpit, 1st year undergraduate student


S1: Fieldwork is absolutely essential for applying everything that we teach in the classroom because until you get out and see things in real life it’s very difficult to put things into scale and application. How do these theoretical concepts work in real life because there is often a disparity between theory and reality? So it enables the students to think about the problems in actually applying what they’re learning  and they can see how the limitations of those theories can come up and maybe how they can come up with new ideas of how to tackle those problems.

S2: Well you can apply the same techniques that you learn, say, in the lab when we’re doing chemistry experiments; we’ve just done it now in the stream. So it helps you actually see how it can relate to the real world. It’s time for like bonding with your mates on the course and getting to know the lecturers.

S3: So our first decision is that we’re going to use the higher concentration of sulphuric acid. In first year the field trips are quite prescribed in that we’re teaching them the methods they need. Then for all of our students for Environmental Science and Geography the field courses they do in second year and so on depend on which particular modules they’ve chosen. So if they’ve chosen, for example, hydrology modules then they’ll go to Turkey or Bala, maybe Portugal. If they’ve chosen ones more related to geology, for example, we take them to Turkey or to Malta. So the field course really do depend on what the students are specialising in and they are tailored to being the best field site for the specific thing we are teaching.

S4: Are they single, linear or central? On the app which we used as tree id we could put in what the bark looks like, what shape the leaves are, how the leaves are on the tree (whether they’re alternate or opposite). Then it comes up with the most likely options – sycamore – so whichever one’s most likely we can have a look at the leaves and see if it fits in.

S1: We get the students to work in a team to tackle a problem of some description using the techniques that they’re learning. So that’s a really important skill for careers where they’re applying their knowledge to solving problems; management problems , things to do with human issues. And that allows them to really practice those skills that employers are looking for.

S5: Having an opportunity to practice this; first year, second year and then third year will definitely give me more skills and more chances maybe to get work because this is an experience that probably other people do not have.

S6: So if you’re a plant down here, when’s going to be the best time to grow? Yeah, autumn, winter, spring. So, clear off all the leaves, as they’ve recently fallen.

S1: But then we also have the specialist, subject-specific skills that are of interest to employers. Things like identifying plant species which is very important in, sort of,  conservation  and environmental subjects. We have measuring stream velocity and understanding those sorts of concepts. Very important for flooding management and those sort of aspects.

S2: Today we’ve been able to find lots of calcium in the water which, we’re able to do the titrations we see nice colour changes and they remember that and it helps them understand some of the work we do in the lab and some of the underlying principles.

S7: The fieldwork lets me understand the different ecologies in the system, what different vegetations are there, how does the river move and what organisms live inside the rivers. So it gives a better understanding of the ecology of the environment.

S2: So being out in the field, doing observations, doing measurements, doing the calculations and then using those to make decisions it’s something that can’t be taught any other way than out here in the field.