Geography Field Trip: Osmington Bay Dorset

Cambridge F17

On a bright and early Friday morning, A level geographers, accompanied by their subject tutor Mark Leaford and Director of Studies Emma Smith, embarked on their fieldwork expedition to Osmington Bay in Dorset. 

The purpose of the three-day fieldwork residential was twofold. Primarily, it was for students to conduct fieldwork and data collection as part of their non-exam assessment (NEA), also known as the independent investigation, which comprises 20% of the A level, or 60 marks. As part of the AQA A level Geography course, all students complete such an individual investigation, which must include data they collected themselves. The individual investigation must be based on a question or issue defined and developed by the student relating to any part of the specification content. Secondly, to provide the students with the opportunity to experience real-life Geography in action - giving them the chance to consolidate their existing knowledge of coastal processes with strong case study examples from the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site. All of these being examples that the students will then be able to apply to their answers in the summer exams. 

On arrival, students were given an overview of the aims for the coming days, and an outline of the tailored programme that had been designed specifically for them and their course requirements. 

Cambridge F19Our first session on Friday afternoon took place at Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove - part of the ‘Jurassic Coast’ and England’s first natural geological World Heritage Site. The Site is a 95 mile stretch of the south coast from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland in Dorset. The name ‘Jurassic Coast’ comes from the best known of the geological periods found within it. The different rocks do in fact tell a fascinating story from ancient deserts to tropical seas throughout the Mesozoic era. According to Dr Anjana Ford, the Jurassic Coast is the only place where 185 million years of the Earth’s history are sequentially exposed in dramatic cliffs, secluded coves, coastal stacks and barrier beaches. The ‘tilt’ of the rocks creates a unique ‘walk through time’ from 250 million to 65 million years ago, through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods as you walk eastwards along the Site. It was awarded World Heritage Site status in December 2001 by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) because of its outstanding Earth Science interest. The impact of coastal erosion on geology can be seen to great effect at Lulworth Cove. Here, waves have cut through the resistant Portland Stone and eroded into the softer sands and clays behind to form a perfect horseshoe-shaped cove. Durdle Door, a natural coastal arch carved out of Portland Limestone can also been seen here. 

After dinner, the students were straight back to work on Friday evening to start their data collection planning. With the expert guidance from Mark, Emma, and the PGL Centre staff, the students soon pinpointed their individual investigation themes and established their plan for the next day. On Saturday morning, the team set out for Lyme Regis to collect their fieldwork data around the central theme of coastal processes and management, furnished with their investigation aims and the background knowledge of the area from the PGL teachers: Lyme Regis is the most westerly town in Dorset situated at the mouth of the River Lym. It was originally a fishing community, dependent on The Cobb, a small, manmade harbour. In 1780, Lyme Regis was bigger than Liverpool and a hugely important port and shipyard. In the 18th Century, the town became fashionable with royalty as a bathing area and today it is still a popular tourist resort. Just over 200 years ago, Lyme Regis had a well-developed beach, however, much of the volume has been lost today. The Cobb was linked to the mainland in 1756 and sediment can no longer move naturally along the beach. Monmouth beach to the west of The Cobb has steadily grown in size, as sediment backs up behind the sea wall that now links The Cobb to the mainland, which is acting like a groyne. As a result to the east, in front of the main town of Lyme Regis, there was a huge loss of natural sediment. Due to its Geology, Lyme Regis also suffers from major land slipping. If the sea walls collapse, this would result in landslides which could dramatically affect life in the town. There have been historical records of large landslides that have come down between the town centre and The Cobb separating them entirely. With all these problems affecting the area, it became apparent in the 1980s that a complete overhaul of the coastal protection system was necessary. The photos show some of the sea defences employed at Lyme Regis. 

This dynamic coastal environment provided the students with plentiful resources from which to collect data. The weather can only be described as ‘dismal with heavy rain and cold winds’, making the data collection very challenging. However, the group persevered and stayed positive, working together to collect a range of data including beach profiles, measuring longshore drift, conducting environmental quality surveys, and assessing coastal management strategies. Despite the poor conditions the students had a successful day of data collection with a substantial range of primary data for their independent investigations. 

A productive evening spent working hard after dinner allowed the students to get straight into data presentation and analysis, with an overview of types of graphs and statistical tests they could carry out and include in their own investigations. 

Cambridge F18Sunday morning soon came around and the group set out for some final pieces of data collection in Weymouth. The emphasis this time being on the theme of changing places and regeneration of seaside resorts. The session was spent visiting a range of sites around the town centre, Brewers Quay and sea front. The group looked at how environmental quality changed, and how the land use differed. The PGL staff, being local to the area were able to impart their geographical knowledge onto the students: Weymouth is situated at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Coastline, with a population of approximately 52,744. Tourism is the biggest industry in the town, supporting approximately 5,200 jobs. Brewers Quay is a prime example of how gentrification is helping to attract more visitors to an area. The site (as the name would suggest) is an old brewery which was been converted into a small shopping arcade, museum and pub/restaurant. These facilities closed during 2017. Work began in late 2017 to transform Brewers Quay into apartments, a hotel and Weymouth Museum. This is the latest attempt to regenerate the Brewers Quay area, previous efforts having had mixed fortunes. £3.5million was spent rejuvenating Weymouth Seafront in time for the 2012 Olympics. This included repainting all the street furniture to be the same colour rather than the mishmash of styles hitherto seen. Railings, bus stops, seating shelters, lampposts and advertising columns all were re-coloured to a white and blue scheme. The white representing the sand, the blue representing the sea. The Victorian Clock Tower, opposite the junction with King Street was refurbished in the Spring of 2018. The unique characteristics of this seaside resort provided students with the opportunity to collect environmental quality and perception surveys. 

A very productive weekend was clearly had and the group are now steadily working their way through writing their Non-Examined Assessments (NEA), or as it is more commonly known coursework.

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