GEOGRAPHY MATTERS Food, Fire and Fieldwork!

GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Spring 2009
Food, Fire and Fieldwork!
This edition of our newsletter, Geography Matters, features several articles about implementing
the new A-level specifications and with particular reference to the fieldwork requirements. There
are lots of useful ideas that will be of use to sixth-form teachers whichever specification they are
using. Antony Allchin, Helen Hore and Iain Palôt share their experience. Also Gill Miller offers
considerable food for thought and Viv Pointon investigates the lack of water down under.
Chair’s notes, Mick Dawson
From the Editor, Viv Pointon
Some guidelines for contributors
Is the world really in the grip of a food crisis? Gill Miller
The Big Dry: The Australian drought and the Murray Darling basin,
Viv Pointon
Investigating river flooding in Uckfield, East Sussex, Helen Hore
Crowded coasts, rebranded urban places and some old-fashioned
regional geography, Iain Palôt
Developing coastal fieldwork, Antony Allchin
And finally… Viv Pointon
2009: The GA Conference in Manchester
Geography Matters is the newsletter of the Geographical Association (GA) Post-16 and Higher
Education Phase Committee and the University & College Union (UCU) Geography Section.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the
GA, the Committee or UCU.
The Post-16 and HE Committee promotes and safeguards the study and teaching of postcompulsory sector Geography. If you work in a school sixth-form, college or university and
would like to join the Committee, please contact us. NQTs and student teachers are especially
welcome. To find out more about the work and activities of the Committee, see the Post-16 and
HE area of the GA’s website,
Geography Matters is now accessible online and in colour at reducing the need to produce an environmentally-hostile version!
This edition of Geography Matters has been edited by Viv Pointon: [email protected]
The GA is based at 160 Solly Street, Sheffield S1 4BF.
Geography Matters
Chair’s notes
Welcome to the latest edition of Geography Matters and many thanks again to Viv Pointon for
putting it together. Unfortunately this is her last edition as she is handing on the job of
Newsletter Editor to another member of the Post-16 and HE Phase Committee, so I must use
this opportunity to thank her on behalf of the Committee for all her hard work in chasing up our
Thankfully Viv is staying on the Committee but we do need new members. Please join us at our
stand at Conference and/or at our AGM at the University of Manchester on Saturday 18th April
at 12.45 for a drink and talk to existing members about what the Committee does and how you
can help. We represent all types of institution in the Post-16 and HE sector and all grades of
staff so do come and join us whether student teacher, main grade teacher/lecturer or professor.
Since our last edition of Geography Matters we have gained a new member of the Committee
so welcome to Gill Miller from the University of Chester. Unfortunately, we have also lost a
member as David Weight is no longer able to give the time he would like. David organised a
number of very successful and well attended urban fieldwork excursions for the Committee and
on behalf of the Committee I would like to take this opportunity to thank him.
This has been a very busy year for Post-16 Geographers with the implementation of the new A
level Geography courses. This edition of Geography Matters reflects this with a number of
articles providing an insight into how topics can be taught.
Members of the Committee have also been involved in discussions about the 14-19 Diplomas
with the GA Secondary Phase Committee, the Education Committee, and the Assessment and
Examinations Working Group, looking at how geography practitioners can be helped as they
become increasingly involved. The Diploma in Humanities and Social Sciences will be first
taught in September 2011 and there has been a considerable amount of work in ensuring that
Geography takes its rightful prominent place in the Line of Learning. We are grateful to the GA’s
Chief Executive, David Lambert, for his hard work here. Other Diplomas that include some
geography are already underway including Environment and Land-Based Studies, Construction
and the Built Environment, and Engineering.
I hope this newsletter will inspire you to contribute to the changes in Geography. It would be
very good to hear from you either through the GA website or by email. Your contributions for
future newsletters will be gratefully received.
Finally, my thanks to those Committee members who have contributed to this newsletter and to
those who organised or presented sessions either at the GA Annual Conference or at our
regular fieldwork events.
Mick Dawson
Chair, Geographical Association Post-16 & HE Phase Committee & the UCU (University and
College Union) Geography Section
From the Editor:
I would like to thank the many contributors who have provided copy and have endured my picky
perfectionism in the last five years. I wish good fortune to my successor – who will be elected at
the GA Conference – editing Geography Matters is a challenging task but great fun! Thank you.
Viv Pointon
(Retiring) Newsletter Editor, Geographical Association Post-16 & HE Phase Committee
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Is the world really in the grip of a food crisis?
The newspaper headlines pronounce a food crisis. Are we really running out of food? Are rising
food prices a response to food shortages? Or is this simply symptomatic of other ills and
problems which challenge global society? Food supply – and the concept of global food security
– is a major theme in the AQA AS, WJEC A2 and CIE Pre-U specifications. This paper will
attempt to unravel some conflicting messages, and then raise two further issues: who is affected
by a food crisis? and why does it matter?
The Global Feast
First the good news: population growth is slowing down (see Figure 1) so the global demand for
food should be reduced. All the signs are that in future there are also likely to be fewer hungry
people. The World Food Programme estimated that in 2008 there were 777 million hungry
people, and that by 2030 this will be reduced to 440 million, a reduction of 50% in just over 20
years. This could be regarded as a success were it not for the fact that the world will miss the
target set at the 1996 World Food Summit to reduce the number of hungry to 440 million by
2015. Nevertheless, some countries are well on their way to meeting Millennium Goal 1: to
halve the number of poor and malnourished people.
Figure 1: The rate of population growth has slowed from its peak in the 1960s.
So it does seem to be true: the world is better fed. But what is the evidence for this assertion? In
the West we have access to a greater variety of food, we have more choice and our food is still
relatively cheap. Global per capita calorie consumption has increased from 2,360 kilocalories in
1960 to 2800 kilocalories in 2007 and is estimated to reach 3,050 kilocalories in 2030 (FAO
2008). Figure 2 shows how calorie consumption has improved in different regions. These
increases have been felt particularly in less developed economies and have been achieved
through increased consumption of meat, milk and dairy products. As incomes rise for the middle
class populations, in urban areas and in particular in India and China, people are changing to
Geography Matters
western-style diets. There have been huge increases in the numbers of livestock; between 1992
and 2007 there was a 50% increase in meat production and a 7% increase in poultry.
Table 1: The growing consumption of food in developing countries
Meat consumption in LDCs Milk and Dairy consumption in LDCs
1964 - 66
10 kg / person
28kg / person
1977 - 79
26 kg / person
45kg / person
2030 estimate
37kg / person
66 kg / person
Figure 2: The regional variations in the increases in calorific food supplies.
Source FAO:
How has food supply been increased?
Farmers have shown that it is possible to increase food production (beyond the levels predicted
by Malthus), especially of cereals. Since the Green Revolution in the 1960s we have been
producing more food: there has been a 70% increase in crop production from higher yields, a
20% increase through expansion of cultivated land, and 10% more crops grown as a result of
multiple cropping. The current new Green Revolution with biotechnology, conventional plant
breeding, reduced pesticide use, and more new varieties is enabling farmers to produce more
crops with higher yields (Figure 3).
SSA Sub-Saharan Africa
LA Latin America
WANA Western Asia & North Africa
Figure 3: The growth in cereal production by region
However, this potential feast masks at least one significant problem: to produce more meat for
consumers requires more animals, which in turn requires more animal feed and, therefore, more
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
cereal cultivation. As demand for meat increases farmers are able, and willing, to increase
cereal production for animal feed – 1 billion tonnes more by 2030. The problem is that
producing more cereals for livestock food to turn into meat does not reduce hunger and
malnutrition among the 700 million people who are hungry. In energy terms this is a wasteful
use of crops. Technically it would be better for cereals to be grown for people to eat. However,
the demand for animal feed raises the price of cereals so farmers have been more likely to grow
them. If there was no high demand and no high price then farmers would probably produce less.
Then cereal production would fall and the hungry would still not have the food they need.
Why is there hunger when global food production is increasing?
There are a number of reasons why some countries are still experiencing hunger and food
1. Climate change. The increased frequency and severity of hurricanes, floods, drought and
forest fires has a major impact on subsistence farmers in communities dependent on
growing their own food. This makes food production increasingly unpredictable. Drought
threatens soil erosion and land degradation which forces farmers into over-cultivation and
reduced yields. Extreme weather events led to a 3.6% reduction in cereals in 2005 and
6.9% in 2006 (FAO 2008).
2. Water supplies are under strain because people in both urban and rural areas are using
ground water supplies lowering the water table. This water abstraction is unsustainable; as
wells run dry, crop yields fall.
3. Distribution or maldistribution of food. It is often difficult to distribute food because the road
network is poor or damaged during a flood or landslide. People with influence are able to
commandeer food for their own family or community groups, which means that other
people starve. In areas of conflict, starvation may be seen as a weapon of war. Armed
forces and guerrilla groups have been known to keep food for themselves instead of
distributing it to the hungry.
4. As population increases, for instance in China and India, there is more demand for noncultivated urban and industrial land.
5. Migration. As people migrate to urban areas, farmers who remain in rural areas have to
produce food for city populations. Governments need to ensure that people in towns can
afford food. This may mean that farmers are forced to sell their crops so cheaply that they
do not cover their production costs and they are forced into debt or give up farming
6. Cost of food. Some food prices are rising as seeds, fertiliser, water and transport costs
rise. This makes it very hard for people to remain well nourished, particularly in urban
areas where families are less able to produce their own food.
7. HIV/AIDS related illnesses. When farmers die of HIV/AIDS in rural areas, children and
grandparents are left to cultivate food. Yields fall, there is less income from crops, and
more hunger for families.
Are we growing the right crops?
Some countries such as Colombia and Kenya produce flowers for western consumers and
production is rising. Flower farms provide employment for women, increase farm diversity and
gain foreign exchange, but should the fertile flower farms produce food instead? It has already
been noted that land which produces cereals for cattlefeed could be used to produce for people
instead. Big agribusinesses make more money from large-scale cereal cultivation than from
growing crops for local populations. There is also the biofuel issue: in an effort to be
sustainable, countries are encouraging the use of biofuels for transport. Many hectares of land
now produce sugar, maize, oilseed and palm oil. Some feel that it is more important to produce
food for local populations than biofuels for western countries.
The food crisis and politics
The world trading system makes it difficult for small farmers in developing countries to sell crops
to the developed world. Fair trade is a major step forward but it is still small scale. When global
Geography Matters
food prices rise, some countries are severely affected. To be sure of having sufficient food,
some countries have banned food exports. In 2008 India banned the export of wheat and rice in
order to maintain its food security. This means that wheat and rice farmers do not benefit from
high global prices but still have to pay for high cost imports of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
Some people argue that high global food prices mean that farmers can make more money;
however, poor subsistence farmers consume more than they grow so they do not benefit from
higher prices.
Why do hunger and malnutrition matter so much?
Generally people who are poorly nourished are less productive in their communities. Women in
particular feed their menfolk and babies first before feeding themselves. Women who are
malnourished give birth to undernourished babies and are more likely to die in childbirth.
Malnourishment reduces child development and stores up health problems for the future
generation. The food crisis has many causes. For developing countries there is often no single
reason why people are hungry and malnourished. Figure 4 highlights the situations in Zambia,
Ethiopia and Mozambique; each country has several problems which all impact on food
production and availability.
In Ethiopia:
• 1.36 mill people need
emergency food
• 46% population malnourished
• Life expectancy is 45.5 years
• 47% children are stunted
• In 2006 350,000 people
affected by floods
• Affected almost whole of
• + 5 major droughts in 20
• Chronic food security affects
8 million
• More than 100,000 refugees
from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan
• Food for Education
programme (WFP)
In Zambia:
• Plentiful rain, good harvests
• But 1.2m people need food
• Partly result of drought in 200405
• But also national economic
• Debt: conditional loans from IMF
& World bank
• Problems for farmers:
o Reduction in farm subsidies on
fertiliser, seeds
o Farmers told to diversify –
cassava, groundnuts
o Poor access to markets –
impassable roads
• HIV/AIDS leading to a hunger
• Other chronic diseases such
as TB
In Mozambique:
• 70% population on $0.40 a day
• 36% malnourished
• Plenty of food in North
• But poor infrastructure none in South
• 2007 - floods on Zambezi and cyclone
Flavio - 27% less food
• Slow deliveries of emergency supplies
• High food prices – maize 50% higher
Figure 4: Case studies of food supply and demand in Africa
So in conclusion: is there a food production crisis? a food scarcity crisis? a food distribution
crisis? an environmental crisis? a political crisis? or a poverty crisis? The challenge for the
global community is where to start to address food insecurity in countries like these. Clearly
there is a food crisis, but not for everyone. Where would you begin?
Gill Miller
University of Chester
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
The Big Dry: The Australian drought and the Murray Darling basin
The Murray Darling river basin (MDB) yields 40% of the country's agricultural produce. Australia
is the world’s second largest exporter of grain and in a good year would produce about 25
million tonnes but the worst drought in a century reduced the 2006 crop to less than 10 million
tonnes. River management and water supply and also arid environments are common themes
in all of the A level specifications. This case study was originally written for Edexcel (A2 Water
conflicts) but not used (Geography Matters’ gain!). It should also be useful for AQA AS (hot
desert environments), OCR AS (river and semi-arid environments), CCEA A2 (fluvial
environments), and parts of the Pre-U syllabus.
The geography of the basin
The MDB is significant socially, culturally, economically and environmentally. Aboriginal people
have lived in the MDB for over 70,000 years and some 2 million people, or 10% of Australia's
population, now live and work within the basin; they, and another million people living outside
the basin, depend upon it for their water supply. In addition, 15 million visitors are attracted to
the MDB every year to enjoy National Parks, State Forests, rivers and world-significant
wetlands, wineries, farm holidays, historic and other attractions.
One third of Australia's total output, worth over A$10 billion dollars per year, is from industries
based upon the natural resources produced within the basin including the production of dairy
goods, rice, cotton, beef, and wine. Two-thirds of the MDB is used for growing crops and
The MDB also contains nationally significant environmental assets which are reliant on water to
maintain ecosystem health. The basin is very important for its biodiversity: there are some
30,000 wetlands in the MDB, including 15 Ramsar sites. The costs of river use are thought to be
offset by the benefits to society of having access to reliable supplies of water but the entire
ecology has been altered.
Flows at the river mouth are down to 20% of their natural median flow as 80% of the natural
river flow is diverted for irrigation and general use. In the MDB in the mid-2000s,
• industry, agriculture and households used more than half of Australia's total water
• 83% of water consumed was used by agriculture;
• 3% of Australia's electricity and 33% of its hydro-electricity was generated;
• the majority of water consumed came from two main sources: surface water (6.5 km3 or 84%
of MDB) and groundwater (1 km3 or 14%);
• the agricultural commodities that used the most water in the MDB were cotton (20%), dairy
farming (17%), pasture for other livestock (17%), and rice (16%).
Severe drought
Severe drought has prevailed through most of the first decade of the 21st century. It is changing
the way of life of outback farming communities; it has ruined some sheep and wheat farmers
and turned many rural settlements into virtual ghost towns. Long-term climate forecasts suggest
that production from agriculture and forestry will continue to decline over much of southern and
eastern Australia.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology says the country will need several years of above
average rain to recover. The long-term productivity and sustainability of the MDB is under threat
from over-allocated water resources, salinity and climate change. A number of factors have
combined to make the present drought dangerous: reduced rainfall, increased temperatures,
and increased population. In addition, there is a massive build up of salt occurring within the
river basin, threatening wildlife; the wetlands are being seriously degraded, with 50-80%
severely damaged or completely destroyed.
Geography Matters
Technical fixes
Throughout the 20th century, Australia relied solely on water from dams for agriculture and
consumption; 31,000 small dams were built in the MDB in the decade to 2005 but this extension
of water storage was largely due to the construction of small farm dams as the region grappled
with severe drought. Much of the water in the supply channels for irrigation is lost to
evaporation - the loss of water can be as high as 80% in the case of flood irrigation - these
losses would be minimised if pipes were used instead of channels.
In July 2008 an Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform established an
A$12.9 billion national water plan, Water for the Future, to modernise irrigation and to make it
more sustainable. Spray and drip irrigation systems are slowly being replaced by dripper
systems installed at ground level, helping to prevent unnecessary evaporation. New technology
is enabling farmers to become more accurate in the application of water so that crops are not
over-watered: in continuous probe monitoring a long probe is inserted into the ground to below
the root level and water content is monitored at set depths in the soil. These data are downloaded to a computer or to a base station via a radio link and the irrigation systems can be
adjusted. Some growers found that they were using up to five times as much water as their crop
actually needed.
In urban areas, recycled water can replace much of the fresh water currently being consumed
as four litres are used for food processing for every one litre that is used for drinking. Schemes
such as grey-water recycling, government rebates for home-owners to install water tanks, and
tougher restrictions on industries have come into effect. Water-saving devices and changes in
lifestyle such as choices of garden plants favouring native rather than exotic species can also
have a big impact on urban water use.
The consequences of drought
At the time of writing, the ‘Big Dry’ continues. January and February 2009 saw record
temperatures in Victoria. There were heavy rains at the beginning of April but the water simply
soaked into the bone-dry land. Reservoir levels continue to fall and water is now becoming
contaminated. The bush fires that took so many lives and destroyed so much property in
February were, of course, greatly aided by the parched vegetation.
Viv Pointon
Freelance Geographer
Investigating river flooding in Uckfield, East Sussex
How often do teachers suggest that it would be so useful to have a range of up-to-date, wideranging and valuable resources at their fingertips? That is exactly what the GA has provided on
its website about flooding in Uckfield, East Sussex. Any schools and colleges within reach of
this part of the River Ouse catchment should consider this location for fieldwork investigation to
study this topic at first hand. The fieldwork is easily completed in one day.
This article show how an investigation can be structured using the GA and other resources. It
has been used for teaching Edexcel A Level Geography Unit 2 on Extreme Weather but could
equally be adapted for teaching AQA’s core AS unit on rivers or WJEC’s Unit G1 on
hydrological change or OCR’s AS unit on Managing Physical Environments.
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Figure 1: Measuring the channel cross-section on a tributary of the River Uck.
Figure 2: Cross–section of the river channel drawn using Channels software from Geopacks.
This is a sound geographical issue of relevance on a national and local level, bringing together
human and physical knowledge in a way that the subject does so well. The approach suggested
here attempts to include enough primary data collection to underpin the understanding of the
secondary sources used, without the need to collect large quantities of primary data which then
have to be processed. It also enables learners to use a range of investigative methods and to
make use of IT in researching and analysing this topical issue.
Helen Hore
Central Sussex College, Haywards Heath
Geography Matters
Table 1: Planning the Investigation
1. To examine the
nature of the
catchment of the
River Uck around the
town of Uckfield
Research ideas and sources
Use Memory Map and
Google Earth to establish
land use, relief, river
network and recent changes
to the floodplain. Calculate
area of drainage basin. Map
the new housing built
around the town (Figure 1).
2. To examine events
of the flood of 2000
and the areas
affected (establish
the flood risk zone)
Geographical Association
Photographs, maps,
hydrographs and
information of the 2000
Environment Agency flood
Understand concepts of the
wetted perimeter, crosssectional area, hydraulic
radius, discharge.
Research data from Isfield
Weir on Environment
Agency website.
3. To establish where
flood defences
already exist and how
effective they are
4. To measure
channel capacity of
River Uck both
upstream from the
town and in the lower
part of the town.
5. To establish
current land use and
land values in the
flood risk zone
Goad maps are available
from the library in Uckfield
and a land use map on the
GA website.
6. To examine
residents’ perception
of the flood risk
Use Up My Street website to
research property values in
The postcode for the flood
risk area is TN22 IPU.
Research further flood
defence strategies and
suggest appropriate
locations using maps
Refer to earlier work on
sampling and consider
health and safety issues.
6. To conduct a costbenefit analysis for
each of the six
options suggested
7. To evaluate the
methods of
investigation and
results in terms of
their usefulness
Fieldwork activities
Overview and sketch
features of the
catchment from a high
point around the town
e.g. Sandy Lane, off
Framfield Road.
Measure infiltration
rates on ploughed fields
and on grass. Slope
gradient measured at
selected locations.
Estimate the height of
the flood plain above
the channel at
Follow-up work
Compare gradients
measured from the map
with those measured in
the field and explain
differences in infiltration
rates in relation to land
use changes in the
Examine size and
extent of flood defences
along River Uck in the
Bell Lane area.
Measure channel
gradient, width, depth,
bedload, channel flow
at low flow. Suitable
upstream locations
from Uckfield are in and
around Buxted Park
and Somerfield car park
(Figure 2).
Check current land use
of the flood risk zone.
See number 6.
Questionnaires to
shoppers and
businesses in Uckfield
on their perception of
the flood risk and how it
affects them.
Determine which areas
are at risk in future
Draw channel crosssections using
Geopacks software on
channels (Figure 3).
Calculate potential
bankfull discharge and
channel capacity.
Calculate land value
and find out insurance
premium needed to
protect against flooding.
Assess future flood risk.
Analysis of views of
businesses and
Suggest further
strategies which would
help reduce the flood
Consider sample size
and reliability of
sampling methods,
suggest improvements.
Further Sources Includes photographs of
the monitoring weir at Isfield.
A summary of the town council’s plans for Uckfield, which include flood alleviation.
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Crowded coasts, rebranded urban places and some old-fashioned
regional geography
When deciding to use the Edexcel A level specification, one concern was whether the fieldwork
locations used in previous years would still be viable. In particular, our well established Lille visit
has always been undertaken in October, giving an early opportunity to see the students at work
and identify the ‘queen bees, workers and drones’. It is also an opportunity to relax with the
students and for all of us to get to know each other. However, assurances were forthcoming
from those in the know that the programme was ideally suited to the demands of the new
specification and so it should press ahead.
Lille is a good fieldwork destination because the city is not too large (its population is about
170,000 though the wider urban area contains 1.5 million) and the rebranding that has taken
place has ranged from the internationally spectacular to the locally pragmatic. The city has been
called the Manchester of France because the city’s 19th century wealth was derived from coal
mining and the cotton industry.
Figure 1: La Place aux Oignons as it was in 1977 and re-imaged and restored by 2006
It is not necessary for visiting students to speak French in order to complete their fieldwork,
although those with some French are able to gain a greater insight by talking to the local
people. However, another reason for our French trip this year was that the visit to the coast, to
the port of Dunkerque and the nuclear plant at Gravelines, would tie nicely into the Crowded
Coasts option of the specification.
The three-day programme was preceded by some research by the students into the industrial
geography of the area and to investigate some of the possible reasons why this area needed reimaging. Some old fashioned regional geography was taught making comparisons with London
Docklands, South Wales and the industrial north west of England. On arrival site visits were
made to a number of locations to illustrate the issues and discuss possible solutions.
The following day one of our many contacts in the city gave a presentation and led a walking
tour of one of the more run-down locations in Lille. This highlighted the problems faced by urban
planners but also demonstrated the range of approaches that are possible and how the smallest
change, like providing uniform city-wide street furniture can bring about a considerable
improvement in local attitude and response.
An evening visit was made to Ypres for the Last Post Ceremony and a wreath was laid by a
colleague in remembrance of her great-grandfather who had been killed in the Salient in 1917.
It was a poignant justification for the enrichment money from the college.
On the next site visit students were armed with more information from the planners ready to look
in detail at an area in need of re-imaging to see what had been done, what was on-going and
what else might be done. This provided students with an opportunity to put into practice their
fieldwork skills in order to identify problems and solutions.
Geography Matters
Figure 2: Old Lille in 1977 and in 2006
Each group of students then reported back in the evening and a lively discussion ensued with
some very perceptive comments being made. This was then followed up back at college with a
piece of extended writing incorporating the techniques used, materials collected and
conclusions arrived at. Use of images taken from Google™ and from Quikmap™ meant that
some elementary GIS work could also be undertaken.
Other issues were raised and discussed by the students in the evening feedback sessions and
back in England. Questions arose about immigrant groups and their lack of educational
qualifications, unemployment, and traffic issues (a big problem in South Lille) and, notably, the
population structure of the city and how that affects planning issues with the need to provide
adequate housing and facilities for families.
The last day included a visit to the nuclear plant at Gravelines and a presentation on the current
generating process and the future energy needs of the Nord-Pas de Calais and East Kent (good
preparation for A2). In Dunkerque we looked at a crowded industrial and recreational coast as
well as the coastal defences. However, with all the regeneration work in the old dockland part of
the town, there were further opportunities to look at the re-imaging issue.
Many of the industrial problems arise from structural changes both in the metal industries and in
shipping, resulting in large areas of derelict brownfield land, and the need for the town to
rebrand and re-image, but providing the land on which to do it. The main problem for the
planning authority is that much of the noxious industry is to the west of the town so, with a
prevailing westerly wind, you cannot escape the smell of the refineries or the dust from the steel
works. Perhaps something to look into for the next visit!
A very useful, if crowded, three days allowed the students to gel as a group, to practice their
fieldwork techniques, to discuss real issues with the people who were making the decisions,
and to get some case study material for the examination in January.
Iain Palôt
Chichester College
Editor’s note: Urban regeneration is a common theme in all of the A level specifications and a
trip such as this to Lille will usefully support study of the AQA A2 World Cities option, OCR’s AS
topic on Managing Urban Change, Investigating Settlement Changes for the WJEC AS course,
and aspects of CCEA’s AS and A2 courses.
A few years ago I twice took AS students from Farnborough Sixth Form College to Paris to see
the regeneration at La Défence, La Villette and Le Marais as well as gentrification in the 15th
arrondissement. Such trips are a useful counterpoint to the familiar case studies of UK cities –
and great experience for the students.
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Developing coastal fieldwork
The college’s location in a coastal town made the choice of the coastal fieldwork option for the
Edexcel AS course straightforward. Our students have carried out a range of activities over
many years. In planning the fieldwork for the new specification, the important decisions to be
made were:
 What fieldwork is required by the syllabus?1
 How can we best prepare students for the exam?
 How can we use the local coastline to facilitate this (ideally making use of pre-existing
In the past, our coastal fieldwork has had two main functions: giving students experience of
techniques they may want to use in their coursework, and developing a case study of an
extended coastline. Now the key focus had to be on the investigative skills that they were
expected to bring to the new examination (see the table below).
Table 1: Fieldwork and research applied to the Edexcel Specification
Suggested teaching and learning
Primary fieldwork and secondary
(in the specification)
1. Competition for
2. Coping with the
3. Increasing risks
4. Coastal
Investigating the growth of contrasting
crowded coasts such as a UK resort
Using primary and secondary sources to
investigate the pressures associated with
coastal development, e.g. analysing the
impacts of fishing, aquaculture, marine
and beach pollution and tourism, and
assessing the value of and level of
destruction in, e.g. sand dunes, salt
marshes or SSSIs.
Using primary and secondary sources to
investigate and analyse the pace and
impacts of coastal erosion or flooding.
Using primary and secondary sources to
investigate and evaluate the success of
coastal defences along a small stretch of
coastline, and the conservation and
management of a fragile or outstanding
Worthing – growth and land use.
Secondary research: GIS and
mapwork – patterns of growth.
Worthing – impact of tourism and
Secondary research: sea front
management (council plans).
Sussex Coast – Peacehaven and
Birling Gap – impact of coastal
Secondary research: rate of erosion
from historic maps.
Sussex coast – Peacehaven, Seaford
and Birling Gap – success of coastal
management strategies.
Seven Sisters Coast – management
of an outstanding coastline.
Secondary research: Shoreline
Management Plan.
The Fieldwork
With 85 students, practical challenges in organising fieldwork are considerable. The fieldwork
was carried out on two days, with a full day using coach transport along the Sussex Coast, and
a half-day on Worthing seafront fitted into the students’ timetabled 2½ hour lesson.
We worked on the Edexcel ‘Crowded Coasts’ option for the physical component of the Geographical Investigations
(Unit 2) in the autumn term, and entered students for the January exam. Although I think we will probably repeat this
pattern next year (the power of inertia is always strong), two factors work against this strategy:
a. As Unit 1 is worth more marks, it made sense to work on Unit 2 for one term followed by the exam in January,
and then Unit 1 for two terms. However, the January exams seem to go on forever, and the summer exams now
come so soon (13 May for Edexcel Unit 1) that the notion of two terms on Unit 1 is unrealistic, and the reality is
we end up with about equal time for each.
b. The Unit 2 exam is difficult. Students have to produce six mini-essays (four worth 10 marks, two worth 15 marks)
in one hour. To write one well-constructed 10-mark essay in 10 minutes is challenging, writing six in 60 minutes
puts too much emphasis on writing speed. Many of our students ran out of time.
Geography Matters
For the work in Worthing, each class was divided into five groups and, in a preliminary planning
lesson, each group devised hypotheses linked to one of five themes and worked on their own
data collection sheets (in practice, what they actually used in the field was largely what was
suggested by their teacher). They then carried out one of five tasks (see page 17): a beach
pollution survey, a sea front management survey, a land use survey, a building age and quality
survey, or a tourist facility survey (a mapping exercise). Each group then analysed and
produced a report on their findings, which they shared with the rest of the class.
The fieldwork along the Sussex coast was more teacher-prescribed (see pages 17-19), with the
emphasis on assessing the level of risk from coastal processes at each of three locations Peacehaven, Seaford, and Birling Gap - and evaluating the effectiveness of the management
strategies. These include a sea wall at Peacehaven, beach nourishment at Seaford, and
managed retreat at Birling Gap, giving a good contrast between hard and soft engineering. The
fieldwork involved mainly observation and scoring. At Seaford we carried out a series of beach
profiles, which is a good hands-on practical activity, but it does produce one-off results which do
not really give much of an insight into the effectiveness of the management. Mapping the new
building in the flood risk zone was more useful as it is a clear indication of confidence in the
success of the coastal management.
Figure 1: Worthing College students examining hard engineering at Peacehaven Beach and
measuring beach profiles at Seaford.
Were the students prepared for the new style exam questions?
Two compulsory questions that linked to fieldwork and case studies were set in the Edexcel AS
January 2009 paper:
Describe the fieldwork and research you would undertake in order to investigate
changes in coastal land use over time. (15 marks)
Perhaps the range of techniques students used might have been a bit limiting for this question,
but as we also carried out investigations into land use change in Littlehampton as part of
rebranding, students had a wider range of possible techniques to draw on.
Using examples, explain why the methods of coastal management vary from place
to place. (10 marks)
The Sussex coast examples (perhaps with others in addition) were ideal for answering this
Antony Allchin
Worthing College
Editor’s note: Over four billion people live in coastal zones – hence the prominence of this
topic in all of the A level specifications. This article is focused on fieldwork to support the
Edexcel Unit 2 topic on Crowded Coasts. The resources shared here will be useful for the
Coastal Environments options in both the AQA and OCR AS specifications, the WJEC A2
theme on Coastal Landforms and their Management, CCEA’s Fluvial and Coastal Environments
option, and the CIE Pre-U Coastal Environments topic. In addition, aspects could be modified
for use in studies of tourism as in OCR AS, WJEC A2, and the Pre-U.
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Figure 2: Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters Heritage Coastline
Data Collection Resources and Methods for Coastal Fieldwork
Sea Front Fieldwork at Worthing
Task 1: Beach Pollution Survey:
from pier)
TYPE OF POLLUTION plastic, glass, paper, rope, fishing net, etc.
Plastic Metal Polystyrene
Glass Rope Fishing Other
Task 2: Sea Front Management:
(e.g. 0-50m)
in 50m section
(count once)
Count number
of pieces
Count items
(e.g. kiosks, WCs)
Count items
Identify function, e.g. tourist
information, no dogs warning)
Task 3: Land Use Survey:
from pier)
(Number of storeys)
0-10 years
10-50 years
50-100 years
Over 100 years
Geography Matters
Task 4: Building Age and Quality Survey:
from pier)
Score 1-5
1 = poor maintenance,
peeling paint, unrepaired,
damaged, graffiti
5 = well maintained,
excellent state of repair
Score 1-5
1 = unattractive/ugly
design, not in keeping with
5 = highly attractive and
appropriate design
(Number of
0-10 years
10-50 years
50-100 years
Over 100
Coastal Management Fieldwork
At Peacehaven:
On the cliff top:
Evaluation of risk: How close are houses to the cliff edge? How many houses are/were at risk? What
other structures/activities would be threatened by cliff erosion?
Conclusion: How great is the risk? (Remember that the rate of erosion was calculated at about
0.35m/year before the sea wall was built.)
At the cliff bottom (complete the beach quality survey as well as the evaluations below):
Evaluation of cliff stability: What evidence is there of recent cliff falls (e.g. debris on the walkway,
uneven/hollowed surface to the cliff face, fresh clean chalk surfaces)? What evidence is there of cliff
stability (e.g. vegetation growing on the cliff face, discolouration of the cliff surface)? Estimate the
percentage of cliff face comprised of clean chalk, discoloured chalk, and vegetation.
Conclusion: How stable is the cliff?
Evaluation of the hard engineering: Is there evidence of erosion/wear and tear of the sea wall? If so,
how serious? Is there evidence of scour at the foot of the sea wall? If so, how serious? Are the groynes
working? (How much beach material has been trapped?) What is the impact of the hard engineering on
the landscape? What is the impact of the hard engineering on habitats? What is the impact of the hard
engineering on the coast as an amenity (e.g. access, danger)?
Conclusion: Is the hard engineering sustainable?
At Seaford:
Activity 1: Characteristics of the sea defences
Beach profiles: Equipment – gradometers, callipers, data collection sheets. Working in groups of four,
each student should complete at least one beach profile.
Evaluation of the end groyne: What evidence is there that it is effective in trapping shingle moved by
LSD? What is the impact of the end-groyne on the attractiveness and amenity value of the beach?
Beach Quality: Complete the beach quality survey for Seaford.
Conclusion: What is the impact of the sea defences? Are they sustainable?
Activity 2: Evaluation of the level of confidence in the sea defences
Using the Seaford maps:
Annotate the low lying areas potentially at risk from coastal flooding.
Annotate in the flood risk area: (i) All buildings less than 20 years old
(ii) Building currently taking place
(iii) Other features developed in last 20 years
How well maintained are the buildings in the flood risk area?
Visit estate agents – find out the price of coastal property.
If you have the chance, talk to local residents; find out if they are concerned about the possibility of
coastal flooding.
Conclusion: Is there evidence of confidence in the sea defences?
At Birling Gap:
Belle Tout Lighthouse: Comment on the strategy to move the lighthouse.
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
Birling Gap community: What does the community consist of? Does the community appear to be
sustainable? Consider quality of life, short term and long term future, economic well-being, maintenance
of the built environment, etc.
Birling Gap cliffs and beach: Complete the beach quality survey. What is the geology of the cliffs at
Birling Gap? Include a sketch/photograph. Why are the cliffs at Birling Gap eroding faster than the rest of
the Seven Sisters coast? Is there a beach? How much protection is it likely to give the cliffs? Is there any
evidence of recent cliff falls? What impact would a rock revetment have on the coastline?
Conclusion: Is the strategy of managed retreat (soft engineering) the right one? Justify your answer.
Coastal Surveys
Table 2: Recreational Activity
Birling Gap
Total number of people on beach and
Table 3: Beach Quality
Nature of beach
Distance from town
(including safety,
Quality of sand
smoothness, free
from stones, size)
(Absence of litter,
facilities for
(By car and foot)
How To Score
Pebbles 1
East or West 2
Less than 0.5 mile 5
0.5-1 mile
1-1.5 miles
1.5-2 miles
2-2.5 miles
Over 2.5 miles
Very good
Very poor
Very good
Very poor
Very good
Very poor
Very good
Very poor
E.g. toilets, ice cream
shop, bus stop, bar.
Score 1 point for each.
Birling Gap
Total Score
Geography Matters
And finally…
This is the fifth edition of Geography Matters that I have had the pleasure of editing. The five
issues have coincided with five years of great change in post-16 Geography as the subject
criteria have been re-drafted, the new AS/A specifications written and introduced, the new
Cambridge Pre-U launched, and the 14-19 Diplomas are now being rolled out. I have been
honoured to take part in the revision of the curriculum for 16-19 year old geographers at various
points in this process – and it has been an exciting journey! My engagement in various roles
with AQA, CIE, Edexcel, and QCA has been a deep learning experience.
I used to wonder who made the decisions. My work enables me to meet hundreds of geography
teachers around the country2 – all seeking to provide the very best education they can for their
students. Yet repeatedly I am aware of the gap between their experience and knowledge and
the practicalities and understanding of the decision-making that affects their work.
Questions, questions: Who decides what goes into a specification? (Was it so much easier
when we had syllabuses?) Why do textbooks seem to stop just where more explanation is
required? Why do they not contain all the case studies needed? How much additional research
are we expected to do? Why are the examinations scheduled so inconveniently? Why have they
stopped coursework? Do we have to do GIS? How can I do this in my school when the
computer lab is so hard to book? And so on…
Here are a few answers (as far as I have been able to find out):
 The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) determine the subject criteria. A group of
practising teachers and lecturers, including representatives of the subject associations, were
convened by QCA to write these guidelines. These were broadly written deliberately to
enable the awarding bodies (ABs) to choose their subject content freely (and, it was hoped,
imaginatively). No core content is imposed but there are expectations regarding
sustainability and development plus fieldwork and GIS.
 The demise of coursework came from within the (then) DfES. It was vigorously opposed by
the GA, RGS-IBG, FSC, and just about every other group in the geography community but
the battle was lost, possibly because more than half of geography teachers, when
questioned, did not want to do coursework.
 It is expected that every A-level candidate will follow a full programme of fieldwork.
Fieldwork is required according to the subject criteria, however hard it is to examine,
because candidates need to learn and to be assessed on their ability to do Geography (and
not just to regurgitate geographical facts).
 The ABs (AQA, CCEA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC) appoint their teams of specification
writers who are usually existing senior examiners plus, variously, GA representatives or HE
lecturers. Draft specifications are reviewed by another team of practitioners, appointed by
QCA, who look at the assessment strategies and sample assessment materials and ensure
that the subject criteria are met. Final specifications are published after they have gained
accreditation from QCA.
 Textbooks can only begin their gestation once the specifications have been finalised. It is a
long-winded process from commissioning to publication involving editors of many hues and
detailed research (and some expense) to acquire useful material and illustrations. Even
then, some mistakes make it through the system to be picked up by vigilant teachers!
 Textbook writing is akin to writing by numbers. The specification is a clothes horse waiting to
be dressed – but the author may only select clothes that fit – and the horse may have some
oddly-shaped limbs! It is debatable whether books tied to specifications is a useful
development but any book carrying an AB’s endorsement will have been rigorously
reviewed by the senior examiners before it goes to print.
In particular, I have been working with GCSE teachers some of whom view the introduction of Controlled
Assessment as a threatening nightmare.
GA Post-16 and HE Committee
No single textbook can cover an entire course. Some students now refer to them as revision
guides and this is possibly not so far off the mark. It would require twice the length and twice
the price to produce a book that supplied everything needed for full marks.
The textbooks are not written for A* grade because they have to be accessible to all
students. Most of the course-focused textbooks target the B/C boundary. Higher grade
candidates must read beyond the single book.
It is expected that centres will supply additional materials and resources to their sixth-form
students (the GA website is one of many great sources) and that higher-achieving students
will seek out additional information. In particular, geography case studies need to be topical.
Examination dates are set by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which is the ABs’
co-ordinating forum. The first AS Geography exam is earlier than ever this year – there are
good reasons for this, not least the need to prevent too many timetable clashes in a
broadening curriculum and to allow sufficient time to get the scripts marked accurately.
In the real world, Geography and IT are inextricably connected through GIS. Ideally every
geography classroom will contain at least one internet-linked computer. This is really as
essential as test-tubes in the chemistry lab and paint in the art room. If your senior
management has not yet realised this, try snatching some hardware out of the skip the next
time your IT department refits – or go to a carboot sale!
Geography teachers are resourceful. For a subject that can cover almost anything, there are
many different approaches – all valid – but the more we share, the better the student
The new A2 textbooks are now written (many will be published in the next few weeks), the first
year of the new A levels is drawing to a close (or should I say a climax?) and sixth-form
teachers’ thoughts are no doubt turning to the A2 schemes of work. Meanwhile, the universities
try to pick their way through the increasingly heavy buffet of qualifications now available to 14to-19 year old learners.
The big issues – climate change, sustainability, globalisation – get bigger. We are forging a
Geography for the 21st century at a time when geographers have a vital role to play. The Post16 and HE committee members will continue to share their ideas and experience in Geography
Matters and elsewhere for the benefit, hopefully, of all geography practitioners in the postcompulsory sector.3
Viv Pointon
(Retiring) Newsletter Editor, Geographical Association Post-16 & HE Phase Committee
The Post-16 & HE Committee
‘at work’, at the Guildford
Conference, March 2008.
While writing this, I have been contacted by a university student seeking advice and assistance for an assignment
on the strengths and weaknesses of the sixth-form curriculum in geography! Where shall I start?
Geography Matters
The Geographical Association
Post-16 and Higher Education Phase Committee
& UCU Geography Section
Annual General Meeting
GA Conference 2009
University of Manchester
12.45-1.45, Saturday 18th April
Why not join us and share a glass of wine!
The Post-16 and Higher Education Phase Committee promotes and safeguards the study and
teaching of post-compulsory sector Geography. If you work in a school sixth-form, college or
university and would like to join the Committee, please contact us. NQTs and student teachers
are especially welcome. To find out more about the work and activities of the Committee, see
the Post-16 and HE area of the GA’s website,
Manchester Conference, 2009
The Post-16 and Higher Education Phase Committee
is pleased to present:
Rethinking Human Geography
Lecture 7, 14.55-15.45, Friday 17th April
Viv Pointon
Freelance Geographer
Balancing What Teachers Want With
What Academics Think They Need
Research Paper, 09.00-9.20, Friday 17th April
Max Hope
University of Ulster
Gill Miller
University of Chester
The Role of Play in the Field for A-level Pupils
Research Paper, 17.50-18.10, Friday 17th April
Glenys Owen-Jones
Outsight Learning