Fieldwork for NEA prep

A short while ago we met the girls from St Paul’s Birmingham in Newton, Porthcawl for a day of fieldwork to prepare them for setting up their individual NEA projects (Non-Examined Assessments) for A-level geography. It was a bit of an exercise of how much can you cram into one day’s fieldwork, but to be fair we got loads done. Plenty of taster ‘experiments’ to give a feel for fieldwork, and to identify some of the issues and compromises associated with doing fieldwork at this level. It’s also a well established fact that students struggle with setting up the right sort of sampling strategy in their own fieldwork, so much of the plan was to examine different sampling methods and evaluate how they performed in collecting representative reliable data.

To that end we started with a systematic measurement of beach height beside a groyne, to allow us to assess whether sand was accumulating on the up-drift side (or eroding on the down-drift side). The groynes here are a little odd, made from boulders and with unusual bulbous ends, but we found an acceptable method for collecting reliable data and discussed the benefits of increasing or decreasing the number of measurements. We all agreed that in this case, with an expected gradient/rate of change down the beach, that systematic sampling was the only way to go.

We then relocated further down drift to an area of storm beach to investigate the best approach to assess the sorting of stones down the beach profile. While we agreed that a systematic sampling method would be adequate, the results may not be as clear due to the additional sorting that was evident around the high tide berm. The answer was a stratified sample with stones collected at every major gradient change. This necessitated measuring the beach profile as well, but they’re all good skills! FYI, in this case, the larger stones were found at the top of the berm, rather than the top of the storm beach, but we all agreed that more stones needed to be measured for a truly representative sample.

The next mini project was a comparison of biodiversity between two areas of the Newton Burrows sand dunes. Obviously the usual approach might be to carry out an interrupted belt transect, especially when measuring the progress of succession is the main aim. However, Newton Burrows is quite an unusual system, slightly over stabilised, with a lot of slacks that have reached climax and very little mobile sand, so we carried out random samples on two 20m grids either side of a path, using a random number generator. This had nothing at all to do with wanting to demonstrate random sampling -obviously! It actually worked reasonably well, allowing clear comparison between the two zones, using species number as a rapid way to assess the difference. However we did agree that the usual systematic sample would allow us to investigate further the reasons for the change we’d seen.

Then it was back to the bus for lunch before heading into Porthcawl to look into regeneration and the quality of the built environment. Regeneration is an issue that’s been rumbling on in Porthcawl for ages, which appears to be coming to fruition at long last, so it was good to get views on how the town is at present. Here we discussed the relative benefits of all three sampling strategies, making use ofgrids or transects or even a census-style approach, but ultimately a stratified sample using nodes was the way forward. Using a mixture of Survey123 and ArcGIS’ Field Maps apps we collected as many questionaires as we could, and went to nodal points on the high street to carry out a built environment assessment based on the Philadelphia CCD Streetscape survey in addition there was a liveability survey to complete later. The point here was to use the apps, as well as identifying some of the pitfalls in this style of fieldwork, such as getting a reliable sample when collecting questionnaires.

We crammed a lot in, but the weather was kind and the girls were super keen, which helped massively, and just shows how much you can do when you get on with it! Hugely impressed, given this was their first real experience of off school site fieldwork. Well done, and hope the individual projects go well.