Field work

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.

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 into the central issues, concerns and experiences facing the world around us.

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 research skills that will ensure you develop and flourish as a geographer. What is more, you will experience a variety of teaching styles and work in small teams undertaking your own practical research.

Our field courses will help you will gain a greater understanding of the interaction of people and landscape on a range of scales, as well as enhance your skills in teamwork and independent thought. As a result, many students describe the field courses as a highlight of their degree and among their most memorable and enjoyable experiences.

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

Streatham Campus, ExeterPenryn Campus, Cornwall

At the Streatham Campus the field courses we offer are*:

Berlin
Brazil
California
Iceland
New York City
Paris
Seville
Southern Spain

At the Penryn Campus we offer two main field courses*:

West Penwith, Cornwall
International Field Course






Click on the accordions below for more information.

* Please note that field course destinations are subject to change.

The immersive residential field course in your third year is likely to see you travel to California, New York, Kenya or Iceland*. Depending on your choice of location, the field course will form the basis of your practical understanding of some of the biggest environmental and social issues facing society. You could find yourself exploring the massive-scale environmental changes affecting California and the Sierra Nevada; expanding your awareness of the significance of place, space and time in the distinctive urban environment of New York; discovering solutions to the problems of providing food, water and energy to the diverse cultures and wildlife of Kenya; or understanding how the people of Iceland cope with volcanic risks and hazards.

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity allows you to explore a range of complex and diverse environments, visit inspirational natural and cultural landscapes, and experience and research the links between human and physical environments.

During this module, with the support of our staff with their extensive field experience, you will be introduced to advanced data collection techniques and theories, carry out guided field exercises and develop and conduct research projects to investigate these environments. Upon your return help sessions will be provided to support you as you write up your research project. This will build on your learning in the previous two years of your degree and act as a strong foundation for your final year.

As well as providing context and real-life experiences to complement the rest of your degree programme, and research project experience prior to the majority of your dissertation work, this field course will help you develop skills in data analysis and communication, team work, project planning and management which will be directly relevant to your future career. The course specifically addresses the growing demand from environmental sectors to foster awareness and training in the way people interact with natural and urban environments.

* Please note that field course destinations are subject to change.

Context:

West Cornwall is home to an incredibly diverse range of cultural, ecological and physical landscapes, as well as some of the UK’s finest coastal scenery, and is recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which combine to provide the perfect setting for geographical exploration. From the deep geological time to the present, you will see how landscapes have changed from the beaches to the hilltops. You will also study environments under threat from a range of pressures, and gain an insight into how people and landscapes interact.

The residential field class to West Penwith will introduced you to the fantastic ecology, geomorphology and environmental and cultural landscapes of the area. You will have the opportunity to explore the effects of climate change on dynamic ecosystems such as the Lizard and Zennor Moor or the coastal environment at Godrevy Beach and the effects of global capital shifts on former mining and fishing communities like Penryn and St Ives.

Aims

You will learn about science and social science techniques, including participant observation, sampling techniques, experimental design and quantitative analysis tools, which are essential for your future career as geographers and environmental scientists. You will also participate in a two-day volunteering exercise with a local environmental organisation getting hands on with practical environmental stewardship and enhancing your future employability.

Context

On this field course, we will focus upon Berlin’s cultural, political and historical geographies. We will examine the legacies of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, and its remembrance today in spaces both sombre and kitsch. In exploring urban developments since re-unification, we will consider links between architecture, space, identity and power. In the context of Berlin’s role in WW2 and the Holocaust, we will reflect upon geographies of memory and trauma. We will also have the opportunity to encounter Berlin’s artistic and creative side, raising questions around space, creativity and lifestyle.

Aims

The field course has two main aims:

  1. to explore and understand the complex historical, political, social and cultural geographies of a particular urban space: Berlin;
  2. to think through, experiment with, and put into practice some of the methodological tools that enable us to encounter the city of Berlin.

The entire field course to Berlin will have this dual focus. On the one hand all of the activities will be helping us to understand Berlin as a complex site of social relations, flows and processes, and articulations of power. On the other hand, we will be thinking about the ways in which we come to know and understand the city – how we know what we know about this particular urban assemblage, and how we can take this knowledge and awareness and apply it to other places, other scenarios, other issues.

Assessment

Assessment will have two components, each worth 50 per cent of the final module mark:

  1. Field notebook – you will write and observe within the context of the dual aims: what do we know about Berlin? How do we know this? What methods have we been using? What methods could we use?
  2. Group presentation – you will work together in groups during the field course on a research project and topic of your choice, developed in consultation with staff. You will deliver a group presentation of 20 minutes upon return to Exeter in the first week of term 3.

Aims

The Brazil field course is an opportunity for you to experience the diversity and functioning of tropical ecosystems in the Atlantic forest region. This region is a biodiversity hot spot. The field course is designed to cover several ecosystems including Atlantic forest, Mangrove, coastal vegetation and coastal lagoons. During your time there you will visit important conservation areas, including the Poco das Antas Reserve, home to the extremely rare Golden Lion Tamarin monkey. The fieldwork will provide you with hands on training in field techniques, remote sensing as well as data processing and analysis for quantifying the main processes and understanding key issues for conservation of tropical biomes under human pressures. In addition to fieldwork activities and visits to the various natural reserves and ecosystems, you will have the privilege to engage with local experts, who will give presentations on the different ecosystems, their biodiversity and conservation strategies, guided tours of ecosystems, and support on your projects.

Assessment

  • Pre-field course group presentation on design of field course project
  • 20 min group presentation based on field projects - 60% of the mark.
  • Individual 2,000 word essay about all visited ecosystems - 40% of the mark.

Field projects are based on practical sections and choices of the themes can be done during the sections. Some examples of last year’s presentation themes are:

  1. Bathymetry and flow of the Sao Joao river
  2. Impact of invasive species on forest structure
  3. Biogeochemistry of the Sao Joao river water
  4. Influence of topography on above ground Biomass in a primary tropical forest
  5. Spectral characterisation of different land cover types
  6. Intra-annual seasonality of different tropical forest ecosystems
  7. Fragmentation and influence of land cover on microclimates in tropical vegetation
  8. Particulate Sediment Composition in Atlantic Forest Water Systems
  9. A comparison of leaf structure in three ecosystems of the Tropical Atlantic Rainforest

Context

California was christened ‘The Golden State’ following the 1849 Gold Rush, the first of many economic booms: agriculture, entertainment, aviation, government research, high tech, and recently the internet and iEconomy. California’s Geography is equally golden in diversity and spectacle that our fieldtrip aims to explore – specifically, by developing your theoretical comprehension and practical skills utilizing research-led engagement with a range of physical environments and interdisciplinary methodologies:

  • The San Andreas Fault (Pt. Reyes), Ancient Redwoods, and Volcanoes (Clear Lake)
  • Sacramento River Float Trip and field studies of natural biomes (Llano Seco Rancho)
  • Sutter Buttes & Bypass (Flooding) and the Yuba Gold Fields (Impacts of hydraulic mining)
  • The spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains and the glimmering glacial gem of Lake Tahoe
  • The Inland delta of the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay (Sea level rise)

This trip benefits from the local expertise of local expert Californian scientists and the unique access and learning opportunities provided by staff research experience in these field areas.

Assessment

  • Individual presentation
  • Group poster (30 of final module mark)
  • Notebook (35% of final module mark)
  • Research essay (35% of final module mark)

Vatnajökull Ice Cap, Southeast Iceland

Lying at the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland presents a unique environment in which to study geomorphology and past climate change. Its position at 60 degrees North on the Mid Atlantic Ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean has led to the development of a spectacular landscape which records contemporary and ongoing glacial, volcanic and fluvial processes. This field course focuses on these processes at field localities in the southeast of Iceland at the edge of the Vatnajökull Ice Cap. The course will begin and end in Reykjavik and during the trip we will be based at a hotel close to the ice cap itself.

You will have the opportunity to conduct a research project working in small groups which will include:

  • Glacial geomorphology
  • Glacial outburst floods (jökulhlaups) and drainage
  • Global positioning systems,
  • Relative dating techniques (lichenometry and Schmidt hammer analysis)
  • Sedimentology
  • Volcanology

As well as some great physical geography such as Thingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir, there may be a chance to see the northern lights, and relax at the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal pool.

Assessment:

  • Presentations to the group on research design and the initial findings by your group
  • A field notebook (25% of the module mark)
  • A post field course report (75% of the module mark)

Context

The field course will be based in New York City and will include a series of staff and student-led exercises in various districts of New York including Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, Lower East Side, Midtown, Brooklyn, Central Park, Ellis Island (if possible), Staten Island and more.

The field course will address a number of specific themes in human geography including:

  • Immigration and national identity
  • Urban ecologies and natures
  • Neighbourhood identity, ethnicity and cultural spaces
  • Affective and emotional spaces
  • Heritage, style and the American dream
  • The street and the avenue
  • City iconographies

Assessment

Assessment will have two components, each worth 50 per cent of the final module mark:

  1. Individual ethnographic field diary (40% of the final module mark)
  2. Individual 2,000 word research report (50% of the final module mark)
  3. Group presentation (10% of the final module mark)

This field class will be based in Paris, a city which all of us know about, some of us will have visited, but few of us have got to know outside the usual tourist trail: the Seine, Notre Dame, Pompidou Centre, Eiffel Tower, those kinds of places. We’ll be getting to know different sides of Paris through methodologies based on walking and talking, enabling you both to learn critical research skills and to get to know the city better.

We will visit some of Paris’ famous parks, markets, landmarks and monuments, immigrant neighbourhoods, sites of consumption and areas of regeneration. You should expect a lot of walking around what is one of the world’s most walkable cities! We will also encourage you to draw on research methods and theoretical ideas that have fascinating connections to the city.

Aims:

The main aims of this research are to allow you:

  • to put into practice research methods you have been studying during your degree (in particular mobile/walking-based methods);
  • to develop and implement a research project studying a key theme; and
  • to become familiar with historic and contemporary Paris.

Assessment:

Your mark for this field course will come from two pieces of assessed work:

  • a 500 word field diary summary (25% of the module mark to be handed on the final day of the trip);
  • a 2,000 word essay on an agreed topic arising during the field course (75% of the module mark to be handed in after the trip).

Context

This field class will be based in Seville, the capital of Andalucía, ideally located to explore a range of locations throughout the region, including Cordoba, Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz and Malaga. Along with Seville itself, these cities and surrounding areas provide a rich research environment to explore geographical themes and experiment with different research methods.

Aims:

The field class has two aims:

  • To explore the theoretical and practical ideas you have been studying in the ‘classroom’ in a ‘real world’ setting;
  • To develop your research skills through the design, implementation and analysis of a group project.

Potential themes to explore include:

  • Spain’s imperial legacy in Seville
  • Sustainable planning in Seville
  • The Civil War and Spanish culture
  • Managing marginal and arid environments
  • Sherry wine production and tourism
  • Flamenco and Spanish folk arts
  • Urban regeneration and Expo ‘92
  • Iconography of palaces and gardens
  • Sustainability in the compact city
  • Landscapes of power in the Moorish city
  • Religious and cultural tourism in Spain
  • Managing heritage environments

Assessment

The field class has two forms of student work. First, a fieldwork notebook, which is to be kept during both orientation walk with staff and whilst you are working on your own projects. Second, a group project; this will be based on groups of students (you choose your group members) identifying a project topic and writing a short proposal, which is then developed before the field class. During the field class you will collect your data, analyse it and present a poster based on your findings.

There are three assessment components, worth varying proportions of the final module mark:

  1. Group assessed research proposal of 1,000 words completed in advance of the trip (10% of the final module mark)
  2. Individual field notebook (35% of the final module mark)
  3. Group poster (35% of the final module mark)
  4. Group presentation of the poster (20% of the final module mark)

Context

The course is based in the Sorbas basin, a rugged, basin and range landscape in Almeria province – the most arid region of Europe. This is a classic area for geomorphological research – with superb, geological exposures providing a record of long-term environmental change, and with extensive areas of the basins dominated by badlands and arid-zone karst. We will be based in the Venta El Museo Hotel, Lucainena de las Torres – this is a working field centre within a Spanish mountain village.

Aims:

The aims of the course are to develop an understanding of the processes and environments that have controlled landscape evolution in this area over the last 100 million years. You will develop research skills through the design, implementation and analysis of group project work.

Themes:

Key themes to be covered will include:

  • Long-term, geological evolution of the landscape and associated environmental change
  • Arid zone fluvial geomorphology
  • Badland geomorphology
  • Karst geomorphology

Assessments:

  1. Individual, handwritten, A4, summary fact sheets based on field observations – to be handed in before the end of the field course (50% of the final module mark)
  2. Individual, A3, posters – to be handed in after Easter (50% of the final mark)

West Penwith field course video

Exploring West Penwith on the Geography/Environmental Science first year field course. View full size.

California field course video

Centre for Geography, Environment and Society California Field Course 2017. View full size.