Undergraduate Study

Field work in Geography and Environmental Science

Our field courses are among the most inspirational, rewarding and enjoyable experiences as an undergraduate student at the University of Exeter. They form an integral part of your degree, positioned at the very heart of our teaching in Geography and Environmental Science.

As one of the keystones of geographical understanding, field courses provide you with the ambition and ability to develop and apply the knowledge gained from our world-leading academic staff in the classroom to the central issues, concerns and experiences facing the world around us. They help you gain a greater understanding of how people and landscapes interact, as well as enhance your skills in teamwork and independent thought.

Each field course is carefully designed to bring theory to life, whether through developing fundamental field techniques in some of the most stunning landscapes the UK has to offer, or honing the more challenging, independent practical research skills that will ensure you develop and flourish as a geographer or environmental scientist.

Exact field course module options are specified on each degree course page.

Field course destinations

Please note that destinations are subject to change. To see where degree courses are based, check the programme pages.

For degrees based at Streatham Campus, Exeter:

The field course focuses on Antwerp as a city of flows. The course gets to grips with this major port city as a key node in flows of globalization, goods, cargo, chemicals, international cultures, urban exploration, and diamonds.

From visits to the cargo port, Antwerp’s diamond trading district, and its historical docks (from where millions of migrants sailed to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), to walks under Antwerp city centre following its covered canal network, the trip engages with the multiple networks and flows that have made it into one of Europe’s key cargo, trading and cultural hubs. Led by staff specialising in urban geography, migration, and industrial chemical flows, the trip will also enable you to test research methodologies including ethnography.

Field course themes:

  • Globalisation
  • Economic geography: flows of commodities
  • Cargo and port geographies
  • Migration and multiculturalism
  • Urban exploration and urban decay

Degrees that offer this field course:

Berlin has been central to many of the key political and urban issues of the last 100 years; at the heart of the turmoil during the rise of fascism; as the symbolic centre of the Cold War; and as a city now that exemplifies many of the key urban issues of the 21st century. Through a series of activities in various sites, both well-known (e.g. the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall, the Jewish museum) and lesser-known (e.g. the Stolpersteine memorials, the neighbourhood of Neukolln), and working in small groups with guidance and advice from academic staff, this trip equips you with the intellectual resources to undertake your own explorations and analysis of this fascinating city.

Field course themes:

  • Political, Urban and Cultural Geography
  • Cold War Histories and Legacies
  • Places and Spaces of Memorialisation
  • Geographies of Re-unification
  • Culture, Economy, and the City

Degrees that offer this field course:

This course offers an excellent opportunity to experience a biodiversity hotspot, the Atlantic forest (100 km north of Rio de Janeiro). Visits include key ecosystems such as mature and secondary rainforest, mangrove, restinga and coastal lagoons where fieldwork takes place and you will learn about ecosystem functioning and conservation.

Using state-of-the-art fieldwork techniques, you will monitor these ecosystems contributing to local research. You'll engage with local experts during visits to conservation areas such as the Poco das Antas reserve, home to the extremely rare Golden Lion Tamarin monkey, and learn about conservation strategies and challenges.

Field projects are based on each ecosystem and include data collection and analysis and a remote sensing application-extrapolation. Some examples include:

  • Impact of restoration of Atlantic forest on carbon storage
  • Influence of forest fragmentation on above ground biomass in the Atlantic forest
  • Impact of fragmentation and influence of land cover on microclimates in the Atlantic forest
  • Impact of invasive species on Atlantic forest structure
  • Changing water quality along the Sao Joao river water

Degrees that offer this field course:

Since the 1849 Gold Rush, ‘The Golden State’ has been a global leader in media, environmental engineering and management, high tech, alternative energy, and the iEconomy, and has an economy larger than the UK. Students study active geological processes, diverse biomes, environments, and challenges characteristic of the Pacific Rim.

The trip features local experts and research by Exeter students and staff, including unique learning opportunities in research sites not open to the public. We also conduct activities in parks with spectacular flora and fauna, including whales, eagles, bears, elephant seals, and ancient trees.

We explore California’s geographical and cultural diversity, and develop students' comprehension and practical skills through research-led exploration of an exceptional range of environments, topics, impacts, social challenges, and management strategies:

  • San Andreas fault (seismic risk), volcanoes, and redwood forests (highest carbon stocks).
  • The world’s largest geothermal facility, and California’s leading role in sustainable energy.
  • Sacramento River Float Trip (river processes), riparian biomes, and flood risk management.
  • Impacts from mining and agriculture, and the challenge of increasing urbanization.
  • The spectacular Sierra Nevada mountains and the glimmering glacial gem of Lake Tahoe.
  • Climate change and rapidly evolving risks from wildfires, sea level rise, and flooding.

Degrees that offer this field course:

This field trip is for students interested in interdisciplinarity: in how concepts and methods from BA and BSc Geography can be integrated to better address contemporary societal challenges. You will visit the iconic world heritage sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Vesuvius as well as Naples and the famous Amalfi coast, annotating field notebooks and developing skills in field observation, visual methods and risk analysis among other techniques.

You then conduct and present your own research based on ideas you develop prior to the trip. Past students used this opportunity to further hone interdisciplinary research skills to examine perceptions, behaviours, governance, policy practices and environmental change, connecting with a range of research participants including tourists, residents, hoteliers, tour operators, fishers and local businesses.

Field course themes:

  • Heritage and Tourism
  • Sustainability and human wellbeing
  • Climate change and adaptation
  • Disaster planning, risk and resilience
  • Urban re-development and the neoliberal city

Degrees that offer this field course:

As the archetypical twentieth century global city, New York provides a wonderful location to study processes of urban change and development, from the individual street and neighbourhood level right up to the scale of global governance and finance.

As a heterogeneous space of enormous cultural, social and economic variety New York offers both a backdrop and a stage to explore and investigate the differential forces that play upon, both positively and negatively, urban communities, distinctive locales with specific social and economic histories, particular populations and ethnicities and original cultural identities. Finally, as a densely built environment, New York reveals a set of complex relations with elements of the ‘natural’ world that surround it, from the tidal surges of Hurricane Sandy to the melanistic squirrels of Tompkins Square. All of this, and more, is the focus of the New York trip.

Field course themes:

  • Gentrification, social change and resistance
  • Nature and the City
  • Power, space and the Urban form
  • Migration, Immigration and Emigration
  • Communities, Place and identity
  • Global cities

Degrees that offer this field course:

The Seville field course explores the city that lays claim to being the birthplace of Flamenco and Tapas, the city’s place in legacies of colonialism and the work underway to transition to a more sustainable and ‘smart’ city. Through working in a group to prepare an independent research project you will develop your project design, analysis and presentation skills in an exciting and dynamic urban setting. The trip encourages you to be curious, critical and questioning about the social, economic and cultural processes operating in an urban landscape.

Students work in groups to undertake projects on themes including:

  • Smart and sustainable cities in an age of climate change
  • Imperial legacy and colonialism in the urban landscape
  • Everyday mobility in the city
  • Geographies of creativity and performance
  • Tourism and ‘consuming places’

Degrees that offer this field course:

Our second-year residential field course to Slovenia tours the Julian Alps mountain range and focuses on the evolution of alpine landscapes. We will explore a range of environments, processes and landforms through the snow-capped peaks, mountain passes, gorges and river valleys of Triglav National Park. Students will gain first-hand experience of data collection using cutting-edge environmental survey technology, including GIS and drone-based remote sensing. Learning activities during the trip are delivered by academic staff with expertise in rivers, landslides and geomorphology. There will also be opportunities to explore the spectacularly scenic surroundings, with accommodation based near the world-famous Lake Bled and in the Soča Valley.

Field course themes:

  • Alpine landscape evolution
  • Fluvial geomorphology
  • Landslides and alpine hazards
  • Cutting-edge survey techniques
  • Mountain geomorphology

Degrees that offer this field course:

While we seek to make all of our field courses accessible, if you would prefer not to travel internationally we offer two virtual field courses.

Human Geography Virtual Field Course 

This field course is aligned with the New York field course. The module contains alternative material and assessment as a replacement for the residential component. On this module, you will design and undertake a short individual research project based upon one or more aspects of New York City, using documentary and virtual resources, which can include film, audio, and other media. The theme and precise nature of your research project is up to you—in discussion with the Virtual - and New York - field course staff.

Field course themes may include:

  • Vertical geographies
  • The Harlem Renaissance, and the spatialisation of race and culture
  • The parks and parkways of New York
  • Mapping New York City
  • New York on the silver screen

Degrees that offer this field course:

 

Physical Geography Virtual Field Course 

The physical geography virtual field course offers an opportunity for you to develop and apply your research skills in a virtual real-world environment. Cutting-edge data collection methods are presenting a new opportunity for realistic field experiences, which will allow you to develop field and research design techniques without needing to travel for the field trip experience.

Field course themes:

  • Virtual environments
  • Landscape evolution
  • Research Design methods
  • Various data collection methods
  • Data visualisation

Degrees that offer this field course:

For degrees based at Penryn Campus, Cornwall:

Hong Kong is a bustling metropolis located in a region of high biodiversity. It therefore makes an ideal location to explore biodiversity and how humans interact with, influence, and threaten wildlife, from the exploitation of natural resources to things like the illegal wildlife trade. Hong Kong is also surrounded by several comparatively preserved natural ecosystems, from tropical forests through to marine habitats. Despite intense urbanisation, several ecosystems have also recovered and biodiversity remains high in surrounding forests and marine zones (especially for birds, mammals, fish, butterflies, and other invertebrates). Hong Kong therefore makes an ideal location to study biodiversity, ecology, evolution, and behaviour, and to explore the challenges facing wildlife on global and regional scales.

You will be based on HK island and undertake activities both in Hong Kong City, learning about threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, and more rurally studying ecology and behaviour, again especially focussing on human impacts. Further information on the module will provided in term 2 of the final stage, including practical details about the field course.

Degrees that offer this field course:

The week-long field trip to the Isles of Scilly is taken by all first year students studying for Geography and Environmental Science degrees and it comes at the end of the first year of study. Students take the ferry from Penzance and camp at Garrison Farm on the edge of Hugh Town, St Mary’s.

The module is designed to provide you with background information about the islands, including physical geography, environmental change, economic, political, social and cultural history, as well as the contemporary challenges to be faced by those living on the islands today.

You will also practise a range of research skills so that students develop the skills needed to complete independent research activity later on. The Isles of Scilly is an ideal place to try out a range of methodologies used in geomorphological research, climate science and sustainable development.

Students always have a great time spending time in a beautiful location, and building a stronger community through working together in the field.

Degrees that offer this field course:

Set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that contains some of Britain's finest coastal scenery, the West Penwith Field Course module provides students studying either Geography or Environmental Science with the opportunity to explore key ideas in their disciplines.

Cornwall is a natural laboratory with an incredible diversity of cultural, ecological and physical landscapes that each have a fascinating and intertwined story to tell. This short-fat module provides training in fieldwork techniques that are fundamental to degrees in geography and environmental science.

Field course aims:

This module has two main aims: 

  • to provide students with an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained through lecture-based modules to 'real-world' situations
  • to give students preparatory training in fieldwork techniques.

You will be guided by academic staff throughout the field trip. Specifically, you receive instruction in science and social science techniques including, but not limited to: participant observation, sampling strategies and experimental design, which are essential for your future learning in the department.

Example itinerary:

This is a free field course for both Geography and Environmental Science students. Day one is the same for both sets of students, and on day two the class divides in the separate disciplines.

Geography students
Day One: Social Histories and Industrial Heritage at Geevor Tin Mine. Nature, Culture and Landscape Assessment on Zeenor Moor.

Day Two:

Cornwall as a Site of Representation in St Ives, Contested Natures of the Beach Environment at St Ives/Godrevy, Accounting for Landscape Process and Form in the Coastal Zone at Godrevy.

Environmental Science students

Day One: Social Histories and Industrial Heritage at Geevor Tin Mine. Nature, Culture and Landscape Assessment on Zeenor Moor.
Day Two:  The Perceptions of Scale in Environmental Science, Analysing the Structured Environment, Invasive Species Assessment, Beach Survey at the Cot Valley

Degrees that offer this field course:

Student support

We make every effort to ensure students have the opportunity to experience our field trips and are supported during the process of deciding their field trip destination and embarking on the field trip. Prior to each trip we provide extensive briefings on travel arrangements, accommodation options, equipment and support offered throughout the trip.

In my second year I went on a field course to Naples. The field course was an opportunity to do some real world geographical study and work with people from the other side of the course, giving me a new perspective on geographical research.

Charlotte

BSc Geography, Streatham Campus

The biggest highlight of my course so far was the field trip to West Penwith, as I built close relationships with my course mates. We shared lots of joy and fun together, and applied the knowledge gained through lecture-based modules to real situations in Cornwall.

Marky

BA/BSc Geography, Penryn Campus

The biggest highlight for me was the Isles of Scilly trip in second year. Although the weather was mixed, it was a brilliant chance to put the skills we had gained over the last two years into practice in a stunning environment. Not only that, but the assessment was fun and different, and the social aspect of the trip was second to none; who can beat dinner on the beach every night?!

Harry

BSc Environmental Sciences, Penryn Campus