First field trip for our Geographers, Cuckmere Haven

Welcome to all our new students!

Dr Mary Geary, senior lecturer in Human Geography, introduces our new Geography students to working in the field with a trip to Cuckmere Haven.

“There’s nothing like a charabanc full of slightly soggy staff and new students heading off to the coast to kickstart the new academic year. As part of our introductory welcome week here in the School of Environment and Technology the Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Sciences teams always take our fresh intake of first year undergraduates off to visit one of Sussex’s most iconic landscapes – the Seven Sisters, viewed from the estuary of the River Cuckmere in Cuckmere Haven.

The fieldtrip is a wonderful chance for our incoming students to get to know the teaching staff within the SET family, and – of course – to get to know their peers away from the lecture halls, out in the fresh air. Our teaching approach within SET is very much one of applied and skills based-learning, and throughout our students’ time with us we structure our modules in ways which bring together theory and practice to make the subject specialisms we are so passionate about come alive.

The Cuckmere Haven trip is a great example of collaborative teaching ‘in-the-round’, outdoors, working alongside our colleagues. Our teaching staff work together to plan the excursion around key elements that first year students will explore in more detail throughout Semesters 1 and 2. For our BSc Geographers Cuckmere Haven enables us to think about environmental surface change over deep time; exploring the meandering River Cuckmere’s interaction with the surrounding landscape and its original presentation as a much larger river network whose tributaries spread, and shaped the surrounding chalk downland. Returning to present day, our BA Geographers engage with human intervention in this space, through tourism, heritage and changing land management practices. From the archaeological perspective time was taken to consider other humans, and other brethren, who have lived in this landscape. We explored the controversy around the Coastguard Cottages (see above). Local campaigners are fundraising to save these buildings, which are vulnerable to rapid coastal erosion, against a policy of managed retreat overseen by the Environment Agency (EA). The EA wants this area to become a designated wildlife habitat; and nature will be enabled to take its own course. Mud, rather than shingle, will dominate this area. Our BSc Environmental Sciences students spent some time considering native plant species, water quality and availability and the different techniques needed to capture these datasets in often challenging coastal spaces, including the use of satellite technology, drones and GIS data sets for understanding changing ecosystems.

Our trip was also a great excuse for our wonderful budding geographers, archaeologists and environmental scientists to get their waterproof trousers and cagoules out, and to get wet and muddy. As we nervously eyed the gathering dark clouds, we managed to dodge the worst of the rain. Mid way through the afternoon the clouds parted and we were treated to an all too brief burst of sunshine. After a few group discussions to get the brain cells jiggling it was time to climb back onto the coaches and contemplate whether wearing trainers to the beach maybe wasn’t such a great idea after all…it’s all part of the Welcome Week learning process!”

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