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The Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences includes staff with interests in biological sciences, conservation, ecology, environmental sciences, environmental statistics, geography and waste management. We offer a range of degree programmes and have a number of postgraduate research students. For more information about studying with us please visit http://www.northampton.ac.uk/.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Geography field trip to Slapton, South Devon

Second year Geography students went on a residential fieldtrip to Slapton, South Devon last week. The trip was organised by Professor Ian Foster who has worked in the area for many years.  He was accompanied by Professor Ian Livingstone, the Dean John Sinclair, Ruth Copeland-Phillips, Dr Joanna Wright and Ph.D. student Jenny Evans.

Slapton and the surrounding area

They stayed at the Slapton Field Studies Centre and carried out practical investigations of water and sediments around the Ley (local term for a lake). Slapton Ley is the largest freshwater lake in the south west of England, and is cut off from the sea by a barrier bar. The village is mentioned in the Domesday book and the beach was one of the sites used for practising for the D-Day Landings in 1944.

Road repairs at Torcross

The village is small but picturesque and set a sensible distance back and up from the sea. On the first day we stopped at Torcross, just south of Slapton on the coast, and there we could see evidence of the power of the sea and the continuing progradation of the barrier towards land as several houses had broken windows from a storm the night before, and the road was being repaired after the sea wall beneath it collapsed on Feb 12th. 

The weather was glorious and the field centre is very convenient as we could walk to some of the field sites.  We had two full days in the field and each day was divided into halves so the students participated into four different activities.  The investigations allowed the students to test hypotheses of sediment and nutrient supply to the lake and the beach.
Measuring water flow and quality in the Ley

Students measured water flow rates and cross sectional areas of the streams flowing into the Ley, as well as water quality and suspended sediment.  This allowed them to calculate water inflow and nutrient supply to the lake.  They also cored the sediment in the bottom of the lake, and one group managed to get down to 6.1 metres, to the marine clay beneath the freshwater peats. Dating of these sediments reveals when the lake was isolated from the sea by the advancing barrier bar.

Pebbles at Blackpool Sands
At Blackpool Sands students surveyed the beach profile, and measured the shapes and sizes and noted the compositions of the pebbles on the beach.  This allowed them to test if the source of the pebbles was the cliffs nearby.  The cliffs are schists (dark metamorphosed rocks) but the pebbles have a high proportion of quartz and flint. The size and shape criteria indicate how the energy of the water transport and how far the pebbles have travelled.  Rounded quartz pebbles have been transported very long distances.

Using the Russian Corer

The weather was perfect, sunny if cool, with a slight breeze, although Professor Livingstone would have liked more wind for his dune survey. 

Folded schists at Blackpool Sands

It's a hard life - students working at Blackpool Sands

Surveying the beach profile
On the final day the fine weather continued allowing for a stop on Dartmoor to speculate as to whether the ice sheets extended this far south and also to observed the landscape and reflect on to what extent and for how long it has been modified by human activities, and what part changes in climate played in that.


The fieldtrip allowed students to build up a picture of the evolution of the Ley over the past few thousand years, and also to experience different experimental techniques that they could use in their dissertation research.