Time for fieldwork: four geographical days on the Jurassic Coast

Durdle Door

“Fieldwork makes geography come to life, puts everything into context in glorious 3D and helps students really grasp how geography literally shapes the world around us.”

Kate Humble, BBC Springwatch presenter (taken from Parkinson, 2009)

It doesn’t take long to persuade a geography teacher of the benefits of fieldwork and even less time to encourage them to get their students outdoors. A year ago, my department’s GCSE residential fieldtrip no longer satisfied the enthusiasm of our students, so we embarked on a new trip to the beautiful Jurassic coastline in Dorset. Now, having returned from this trip for the second time, I would like to share the itinerary of our trip to give you some food for thought if, like us, your department is re-thinking your fieldwork options.

Day 1

Our first stop was the impressive 18 mile long Chesil Beach. It’s a great example of a tombolo and an accompanying lagoon that was formed when Chesil Beach was ‘rolled’ towards the shore as the sea levels rose. This site offers a fantastic location to discuss coastal processes and environments including: erosion, deposition, prevailing winds, mudflats, and tourism. There is a small visitor centre to visit if the onshore winds become too much!

Following this, we made a short stop in the seaside town of Weymouth – famous for hosting the sailing competitions in the 2012 Olympics. Here, we considered how the coastline was being conserved and managed by conducting questionnaires along the seafront — not forgetting the obligatory ice-cream stop!

Day 2

On to more coastal environments, and this time we visited the striking sand dune system in Studland Bay. Formed over the last 500 years, the dune heath contains a large biodiversity, making it a perfect location for conducting a sand dune succession investigation.

Moving away from the coast, we then investigated a river environment. We visit the wonderfully named River Piddle in two locations – Puddletown and Wareham. In Puddletown, the river is narrow and rocky – perfect for looking at upper course processes. In Wareham, the river is much wider and our students donned waders in order to see lower course processes in action.

Day 3

Down in Dorset, it’s hard to keep away from the stunning coastline, so we then explored the concordant coastline around Lulworth Cove. No trip to this area of the world would be complete without a visit to Durdle Door to see the erosional processes forming the arch and the crumpled limestone in Stair Hole. We spent the whole day here, discussing geology, landforms and investigating a beach transect… and of course having a well-earned coffee in the visitor centre!

Day 4

Before embarking on our long drive home to Birmingham, we stopped by the small harbour settlement of West Bay, which you might recognise from its appearance in the television series Broadchurch. The coastline here is rapidly retreating and authorities are protecting it at a cost of £15 million. We looked at the hard and soft engineering in place, including rock groynes and beach replenishment, and conducted a bipolar survey based on observations.

Whilst I haven’t been a teacher for very long, this was the most enjoyable and beneficial fieldtrip I have embarked on. The coastline is beautiful and offers so many options for seeing geography in the real world. I am already looking forward to next year! Let me know if you would like more details on our itinerary, or if you have a similarly successful trip that I would love to hear about!

Rebecca Priest photoRebecca Priest is a Geography Teacher at King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham. She is currently studying for a MA in Geography Education at the Institute of Education and presented a session on ISM at the GA’s 2015 Annual Conference. 

Image: Shutterstock