My internship at Barnado’s

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Blog post by Emma O’Connor, final year BA Geography student

Having spent weeks thinking about how I am going to spend my summer, I thought it was probably best to gain some work experience, considering I was going to be starting my final year of University in September and still had no idea what I wanted to do when I left! After checking the university’s CareerHub, I discovered that there were so many opportunities available to students and came across my internship advertised on the website.

I spent this summer working as an intern for the children’s charity Barnardo’s. During my 12 weeks working in the VIP team, there was never a dull moment.  My main project throughout the summer was to secure celebrity prizes (very exciting) for the annual Firecracker Ball. With previous prizes including a meet and greet with Daniel Craig, expectations were high and the pressure was on.  Emailing and liaising with agents and publicists became daily tasks and at times very frustrating but once I secured my first prize, the rest kept coming! With prizes from Michael Bublé and McIntyre, I am sure that the ball will be nothing less than a success!

During my time at Barnardo’s I also worked on some of the main events over the summer, including the Young Supporters Concert which was held at the Royal Albert Hall. Throughout the day, my responsibilities ranged from organising the thousands of children through the dress rehearsal (without a doubt the most hectic hours of my life), briefing the celebrity presenter, helping with photography and ensuring that the event ran smoothly. The event was a huge success and having been a part of it from the beginning to the end, I learnt how much time and planning goes into these fundraising events but after working a 12 hour day, I was beyond relieved when it finished!

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As part of the internship scheme, the interns were given the opportunity to join the development board, where they could organise and run their own fundraising events. During out 12 weeks, we held two fundraising events which were both hugely successful. The first was a Barnardo’s Summer BBQ Fete. I was head of the entertainment committee which meant that my responsibilities included deciding on the stalls, including a photo booth, wellie toss and penalty shootout (summer fete classics!). We were also in charge of the music and prizes. Who knew there was so much red tape to go through when organising an event?! The second fundraising event we held was a comedy night which was one of the most successful development board events ever! This was so much fun and was a great opportunity for all the interns to get to know each other!

The internship offered two insight days throughout the summer. The first was a service visit to ‘The Hub’ which is an alternative educational provision, aimed at improving attendance and encouraging involvement in education and community life for those at risk of social exclusion and young mothers. This gave me the opportunity to really see and understand what the charity does and how they help children at risk. It was really insightful and was definitely a highlight of my internship! The second insight day was a CV and Interview training day. This was the opportunity for all the interns to receive feedback on their CV’s and advice on interview techniques. This was an invaluable opportunity that Barnardo’s offered the interns and I will no doubt be taking everything I learnt from it away with me. The CEO of Barnardo’s, Javed Khan, also came and spoke to us, giving us valuable advice on how to succeed in our future.

My internship at Barnardo’s was an amazing experience and I learnt so much from my time there. Although, most importantly, I can say that I emailed Michael Bublé’s…agent!

A Year in the Life of an Undergraduate Geography Student

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Post by Alexandra Guy – about to start year 2 BA Geography

Before I visited the UCAS Higher Education Conference at Liverpool, I’d had my sights set on a university elsewhere. Being from Merseyside, I didn’t intend on staying local for uni, however, I was finding it really difficult to find a geography course that I could tailor to my interests. It was at the HE Conference that I discovered that Liverpool offers exactly that, and, one year on, I’ve just completed my first year of the BA Geography degree.

Our field trip to Wales in October was a really interesting way to start the course. We were given a list of topics to research in groups, alongside larger group activities like a debate, and then put together all our findings into a poster presentation once we got back to uni. I enjoyed the independence we were given during the field work, which continued throughout the year. There’s also a module that involves field work in Liverpool (Human Geography through Merseyside), which involved using observations from around the city to create unusual projects like an exhibition for a museum and a brochure for tourists. I was surprised to find that not all the field work and coursework related to it was essay based – it kept things interesting throughout the year by having a variety of essays and presentations combined with more creative tasks.

Photos from Liverpool field work

However, my favourite module (Research Frontiers in Human Geography) involved a series of lectures on the recent work staff in the geography department have been carrying out, in areas such as cultural geography and geopolitics. We then had to relate this research to a recent story in the news, for an assessed group presentation. This introduced us to areas of geography we had never studied before, while highlighting its relevance to contemporary issues – making deciding what modules to study in second year a lot easier. I’ve been able to identify exactly what areas of geography interest me, and I’m looking forward to focussing on them in second year, particularly with my optional modules in Social and Cultural Geography and Political Economies of Globalisation.

Support in the department is second to none, due to the fortnightly small group tutorials with a member of staff. These sessions helped me get used to university-style studying – knowing that I have a member of staff available for me to chat to or send a quick email to, regarding everything from academic advice to careers, has made such a difference to my first year and has really helped me settle in to university life well. From my friends at other universities, I’ve heard that this kind of support is quite rare, so I know I made the right decision to come to Liverpool! There’s also support with pretty much everything else outside of the department too – Liverpool Student Homes were a great help during my search for a house for second year, and the Financial Support Team were invaluable while I was trying to reapply for student finance.

Shanghai

Shanghai

A geography degree also gives you plenty of opportunities outside of your course to develop your CV and help you relate geography to potential careers. Thanks to a reference from my tutor and the support of the Careers and Employability Service, I was selected by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to take part in the Government’s Study China Programme. I spent Easter at Zhejiang University, near Shanghai, studying Mandarin and political changes in Asia, with students from across the country. Additionally, the amount of group work I’ve done this year has proven useful in job applications – team work is a key skill that employers look for, and it’s partly thanks to this that I’ve secured a part time job acting as a student rep for the company I hope to work for after graduation.

Receiving my certificate of completion from the Chancellor

Receiving my certificate of completion from the Chancellor at Zhejiang University

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Liverpool to anyone considering studying Geography.

Mission Possible: Scoat Tarn Boot Camp

By Fiona Russell (PhD researcher and Graduate Teaching Assistant)

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2st July 2014, the day we conquered Scoat Tarn!

Your mission, Fiona Russell, should you wish to accept it is…… compile a group of eight willing volunteers, two boats, paddles, 8 life jackets (must be safe), two corers, 350m of rope, 10 litres of drinking water, a ladder, some dodgy knees, sunshine and some cling film, then tackle one of the highest lakes in the Lake District to recover 1000 years of mud from beneath 18m of water. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

After some last minute alterations due potential 40 kph winds on Thursday, we set off for an epic coring trip to Scoat Tarn, a typical mountain cirque basin at 600m altitude in the Lake District National Park, UK. Scoat Tarn is small (5.2ha), deep (<20 m), lies in a west facing valley at an altitude of 602 m to the north and above Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. The catchment comprises steeply sloping walls; with summits in excess of 825 m. Scoat Tarn shows a sediment signature of severe acidification in recent years as a direct result of human-induced acid deposition, and the location is one of the UK Upland Waters Monitoring Network of sites, whose data show the lake has recovered to some extent the last two decades.

Seven of the group sensibly met at the Wasdale Head Inn where we set up camp and spent an enjoyable evening in the pub eating drinking and watching Belgium knock USA out of the World Cup. The eighth decided to play a league tennis match til 8.30pm and then drive to the Lake District arriving just in time for last orders and a welcome pint of Lakeland Ale already purchased by the team.

In the morning, after a quiet night’s sleep accompanied by incessant bleating sheep, squawking birds, cuckoos and general noisy countryside, the reality of it all struck home and the tough fieldwork we had come here for arrived. A short drive along the edge of Wastwater and we arrived at the car park. Eight rucksacks packed to the brim with boats, ropes and coring equipment, we set off into the hills for a slightly daunting 500m climb over 4km.

Several hours and several miles (or km) later we reached Scoat Tarn. The aim was to collect 3 short gravity cores and a longer sediment record using a piston corer. To get the latter, we had to set up a rig with a stable working area from which we could operate the piston from. Our design was successful (it was worth carrying the ladder all that way!) and we managed to extract a one meter core from 18 m of water that will probably encompass the last 1000 years of environmental history for this upland catchment and what a catchment a stunning cirque basin in the southwest fells of one of the most beautiful valleys in England…..

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We returned home to Liverpool the next morning with bags of sediment and a huge sense of achievement, my first PhD samples in the bag! Thanks to the team; Richard Chiverrell, John Boyle, Daniel Schillereff, Jen Clear, Hugh Smith, Amy Lennard and Agata Marzecova.

Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014

 

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Post by Samantha Brannan, year 3 BSc Geography Student

Choosing third year modules is never easy, but when faced with the choice of either 2 exams or a 2 week field class in California (with coursework) there was little decision left to make. From the moment I stepped out into San Francisco I knew I wouldn’t regret my choice. I took the opportunity to go out a few days early before the field class started, and my first concern was whether I would have enough time to visit each of the department stores that appeared on every corner, and my second was how much I could fit in my suitcase… Luckily I was only staying in San Francisco for two days. We recovered from jetlag and sampled the local food… burgers and pancakes, and had just enough time to take a trip to Pier 39 before meeting the lecturers and setting off for Santa Cruz (this is where the work kicks in). Just over an hour away from San Francisco, the city of Santa Cruz was a complete contrast to where we had just come from. Being from Liverpool ‘city’ to me means fast paced, high rise buildings and lots of traffic, but this place was anything but. Think sandy beaches, surfers, sea lions, California’s oldest amusement park and sunshine every day… suddenly the thought of doing the equivalent of another dissertation isn’t so bad.

The first day was quite relaxed, we toured the city and started to work out where we would be working over the next two weeks. As my group was doing a study on public perception of drought we had to set up interviews and focus groups, which proved less challenging than expected. People in local Government were really friendly and keen to talk about how their department had been involved in drought mitigation, we were even invited to the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus to speak with the sustainability department. Unfortunately the same enthusiasm was not felt by the locals we were hounding every day to complete questionnaires and it took a lot of perseverance to get enough.

Group evening

 

For all second years who may be contemplating taking this module, do not be disillusioned, our trip to Santa Cruz was not all work and no play. At 6pm every evening we finished work for the day and took full advantage of the local bars and restaurants, attended a basketball game and visited the Boardwalk (amusement park) on the last day. Apart from the Thai restaurant along the beach (which we recommend you avoid at all costs) there were some really great places to eat out.  If you’re planning on going to Santa Cruz for your final year at Liverpool both the Surfrider Café and Seabright Brewery are a must! In typical “Come Dine With Me” style, girls versus boys, we took advantage of the self-catering facilities and also tried eating in. On average, we managed to cook meals for a cost of around $4 per person so if you’re worried about budgeting whilst you’re away this is a good option.

Once our draft reports were handed in and the field class over, we also took the chance to stay on for a few days before flying home. We made the most of it by taking a night time trip to Alcatraz prison and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately for me, my adventure was then over, but others stayed longer and went on to Yosemite, LA, or continued sightseeing in San Francisco.

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The Santa Cruz field class has been a trip of a lifetime, one filled with unforgettable experiences and great people. I’m glad I got to work on such an interesting topic and as a BSc student, glad I took the opportunity to do a project using human geography methods and gain an insight into the other side of the discipline. At first I was reluctant to step out of my comfort zone, and convinced that I was out of my depth arranging face to face interviews with city council directors, but that was before I arrived in Santa Cruz. After day one I was taken aback by the willingness of people to speak to students, they really make the time for us. , Even the local newspaper was interested in what we were doing and ran a story on us. Doing a project using human geography methods allowed us to see much more of the city than we otherwise would have and although transcribing interviews in coffee shops sometimes felt like cheating (whilst our peers were knee deep in rivers) we can now say we bridged the geography divide and broadened our employability skills – and having tried transcribing and getting people to stop to answer questionnaires, we now know that these methods aren’t as easy as they may seem. Santa Cruz has been a valuable trip as we have been able to put the last two and a half years of learning into practice, as well as it being a fantastic end to our course.  I’ve arrived home with great memories, a list of skills to add to my CV, a suitcase full of banana slug memorabilia and one of the best reasons I can think of for picking a geography degree!

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How a work-based dissertation re-affirmed my confidence in my subject, my own ability and my future

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Post by Jonathon Clark, 3rd Year BSc Geography

The second semester of my second year saw the onset of what all geography undergraduates regard with terror, mystique and possibly a touch of (occasionally) misguided optimism: the Dissertation.

Initially, I felt secure – buoyant amongst a cohort of geography students in the same sea of chaos. The BA-inclined were all scrambling to draw up questionnaires for unsuspecting members of the public. The eager physical scientists in the making immersed in geological maps, ready to snap the perfect Facebook profile picture of them standing triumphantly over a patch of ground they had cored, blasted with an XRF spectrometer and talked about in what could be their first pitch to the scientific community. However, I soon found myself falling behind in the race to have my proposal accepted. The deadline for the proposal loomed, drawing ever closer. My page was still blank. With a sense of impending castastrophe for not only my grades but also my pride, I questioned myself thoroughly. Have I suddenly fallen behind? Am I not as intelligent? Does my brain work differently? Is this the sign that maybe this whole thing isn’t for me? It got that dire.

My logic led me to think about what particular aspects of geography appeal most to me. I have never identified myself as purely a physical or human geographer. Rather, from the first geography lesson I sat in my A Level class, I recognised that geography holds a unique selling point over any other subject taught in academia. No, not its so often bragged about breadth and depth, or its great fieldtrips, but its ability as a discipline to be studied not only for the sole purpose of expanding knowledge of socio-economic trends or physical phenomena but also integrating this knowledge to provide solutions to problems which can affect hundreds of thousands of people, every single day. Great! But how can I translate this interest and passion into a feasible project to carry out in the field? I recognised there were several options open to me. Why not see how different rungs of society in Liverpool feel about climate change? Why not see if austerity is impacting wildlife preservation in the Sefton coast? How has political instability in the Middle East affected the renewable energy industry in Britain? It’s strange; looking back, all of these ideas were actually quite possible. Yet, at the time, in the stress of the moment, I felt like there was an overwhelming amount of scale and work involved in pursuing any of these avenues. It seemed I’d taken one step forwards and two steps back…

Hands up if you’re guilty of sometimes clicking delete loads of times to get through a large backlog of e-mails! I know I’ve done it. This particular day, however, I was lucky to not do this as I received an e-mail from Andy Plater regarding work placements available over summer, which could convert into work-based dissertations. I had heard about work-based dissertations in a lecture earlier in the year and dismissed it as a complicated, paperwork-laden option for completing my dissertation. This dismissal was reinforced by the naive belief I held at the time which led me to falsely trust I could come up with a piece of original research on the spot. One of the placements Andy talked about in the e-mail was at a social enterprise recycling company based in Huyton, called Elixir. I read on to learn about what would eventually become a significant part of my life.

Close up gran pick beltElixir was founded by Ben Donnelly as a company which employed ex-offenders, addicts and those who have been out of work for prolonged periods. At their plant, they recycle waste PVCu plastic from the construction industry. Through shredding and granulating it and then shipping it on to manufacturers, the PVCu is completely recycled with zero waste to landfill. The story of the company’s creation really struck a chord with me, and the nature of their environmental and social work appealed to me. Ben had contacted Andy as well as the Centre for Global Eco Innovation (CGE) – a venture run by the universities of Lancaster and Liverpool as well as the commercialisation firm Inventya. Based on the first floor of the Roxby, they normally deal with small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have an environmental focus to their work. The universities provide enable the companies to host dedicated graduate researchers and to gain access to research and development facilities to allow the companies to develop new economically sustainable or beneficial products. In the case of Elixir, no postgraduate student had been found at the time to quite suit the nature of the work they were undertaking; Elixir sought to expand from recycling just PVCu to also recycling other types of plastic waste, as well as potentially recycling electronic waste and looking into setting up a renewable energy project.

After a short but intense series of discussions regarding what work I would be undertaking during my internship and how it would produce an academic piece that would constitute a dissertation, the interested parties came to an agreement that I would assist Elixir in setting up a facility at their plant which could process waste LCD televisions and computer monitors. On the academic front, I would employ knowledge of ecosystems and environmental planning to produce an environmental impact assessment and life-cycle analysis of the waste screens.

Shred in magIt was a great relief to have other experienced people steer me in what I would write such a lengthy piece of work about. Through the assistance of Matt Fulton, the CGE project manager, the paperwork involved was minimal. Aside from the regular dissertation proposal I only needed complete some insurance documents and a learning agreement. I also quickly realised that I was gaining valuable experience in an industry closely related to my degree subject. Such experience is highly valued by graduate employers and gave me an edge over my peers who may have edged me out in the game of raw marks, chasing that elusive first class honours degree. It was reassuring.

1798458_3973871241712_1373085539_nThe work itself was a combination of office duties, finance and business report tasks akin to an assistant managerial level and also some hands on work in the plant using machinery and working with the lads on the factory floor. It was insightful, educational, useful and, best of all, fun. Working in such a company let me network with key authoritative figures in UK recycling, energy and environmental bodies and companies. It also let me meet some amazing people who have come from the most horrendous backgrounds possible in this country and overcome challenges that cause you to reflect on how lucky you are to have family, friends, health, food and shelter. After 4 weeks of work over the summer, which culminated in a boardroom presentation to managing directors and investors, I was relieved to see my research and designs given approval and investment (after some minor adjustments – I can’t say I’m ashamed about not knowing what the difference between revenue and profit was, having never touched business studies in my life!). This paved the way for me to take a break from Elixir and use my rapidly approaching first semester of third year to focus on completing the academic element of my dissertation. The summary report and skills diary which compose one third of the work-based dissertation module were completed on the job – another huge benefit if you’re someone who is less academically inclined and more oriented towards reports and action plans as well as practical learning.

Gran bag stand with mattyWith the dissertation progressing smoothly, I was delighted to receive a call from Ben offering me part-time work for the remainder of my degree at the company. Spending a few hours a week at Elixir now allows me to manage the operation I tended to from its design stage right up to its present stage of operation. I can now call myself the proud Waste Electronic Development Manager of a company which is processing several tons of electronic waste per week, which would have otherwise contaminated landfill sites and ecosystems with the harmful mercury and lead contaminants such waste electronic goods contain. The added financial bonus to this work is also helping me pay for my final year fieldtrip to California. It’s truly a win-win situation.

Vib 2Hopefully, this post has cast some light on how a work-based dissertation can be so advantageous to an undergraduate student. It’s no exaggeration to say that it shapes you personally as well as academically. Even if the added fun of this doesn’t interest you and you are dead set on logging pollen in samples from the hills of North Wales or the dissertation seems so far off, perhaps this has given you some insight into the highs and lows and mental battles that you can encounter as you enter the twilight of your degree. I hope to add to this post in the not-too-distant future, where I feel the experiences I have detailed here will help me take a leap into the world of work and benefit me even further.

Dream big and work hard.
Jonny

By the way – I got a first (provisionally)!!

Teaching English in Romania

My Class - Week 2

My Class – Week 2

Post by Alexandra Guy, Year 1 BA Geography

When I told people I’d be spending my summer break between A-Levels and University teaching English in a summer camp in Romania, I was met with more than a few shocked expressions and raised eyebrows. I tried to keep an open mind, however – the chance to travel to somewhere you don’t often hear about, other than the negative stereotypes, was as exciting as it was daunting, and I had no idea what to expect. My experiences were rewarding, and gave me first hand experience of geographical issues that I am now studying at University.

After a lengthy application process, I was selected in January 2013 to volunteer with Tabere Engleza, which is a lot smaller than many volunteer programmes. There were only 8 volunteers, most of whom, myself included, had been told about the programme by a friend of a friend who’d been the previous year and had loved every minute of it. It gave me something to look forward to while sitting my final A-Level exams.

After months of preparing lesson plans and making travel arrangements, we arrived in Bacau, northern Romania, in late June 2013. We were greeted at the airport by our boss for the next four weeks, English teacher Ina Dorneanu. She had 15 years experience in education, and became a really close friend in a very short time. She made us feel like we were not only part of her family, but also part of her country. I thought I was well informed and prepared after reading a variety of travel blogs, tourist guides and websites, most of which are filled with horror stories that are almost always unfounded, but living and working with Ina gave me a new perspective on Romania, and the significant progress that has been made there in the past 25 years, because of inspiring people like her.

My Classroom

My Classroom

The summer camp we stayed in, a 3 hour drive from the airport, was completely isolated – the only places nearby were a small hotel and some kiosks selling food. The nearest city, Buzau, was almost two hours away by bus. After a good night’s sleep and the morning spent getting used to our surroundings and preparing our materials for a week of classes, we were introduced to our first group of students. We spent the evening with them, dancing with the little ones and getting to know the older ones, who had so many questions about us and our homes and families.

Working on my face painting

Working on my face painting

Undoubtedly, the most rewarding part of the whole experience was working with the children. It took me a while to get used to teaching my own classes, so in the first week, I had the help of another amazing teacher, Cristina, who gave me plenty of lesson ideas and made the children really enthusiastic. At first, it was so intimidating, having 22 faces looking up at you, expecting to so much from you!

Introductions - Week 3

Introductions – Week 3

Every Monday, when the new groups of students arrived, we were filled with anticipation – would they like us? Would they be able to understand us?  Some children’s teachers had requested they keep a diary of their experiences, and it was so rewarding reading these, most of them going into detail about how they enjoyed the activities we’d planned for them and how they loved getting to know us.

Teaching

Teaching

We taught for around 3 hours every morning in ‘formal’ classes, although these were outside and very relaxed, usually involving the children writing stories or having class discussions about their ambitions. In the afternoons, we really got to know the children better, doing art and craft activities with them or taking them swimming. The highlight of the second week was a huge impromptu water volleyball game that lasted all afternoon and got dangerously competitive. The evenings were full of new experiences for us, such as a weekly night of traditional Romanian dancing. It was amazing to see how the children understood the traditions of their country, and were eager to share them. They were shocked when they asked us about British traditions and were met with long pauses and confused looks while we tried to think of something to say.

At the end of every tiring week, Ina rewarded us for our hard work, which was completely unexpected, this included a trip to the ‘vulcanii noroiosi’, a geological site, predicted to soon become a popular tourist attraction and one of Buzau’s biggest sources of income. Travelling around Romania was a really strange feeling – the country is almost untouched by tourism, so people showed a lot of interest in us, and it was surprising how difficult the language barrier was. The children had returned our favour and had started teaching us some Romanian, although success was limited, especially in my case.

On our final night, we entered the dining hall and were surprised by sight of all the Romanian teachers applauding and coming to hug us, thanking us for everything we’d done. We then all enjoyed a barbecue together before a final presentation where we received certificates from the local County Department of Youth (the Romanian equivalent of a Local Authority), and said some very emotional goodbyes.

View from my bedroom, Bacau

View from my bedroom, Bacau

At the end of my trip, I was privileged to spend a few days living with Alina, one of Ina’s colleagues, another English teacher who showed me more of Bacau. I stayed with her in her mother’s apartment, in a Communist-era high rise block overlooking the city, complete with antique furniture and stunning views of the city’s Romanian Orthodox cathedral. She took me to the school where she worked, and I was lucky to meet the school counsellor, who has to provide emotional support to 800 students, as well as giving careers advice. Unsurprisingly, the classrooms lacked the resources and modern technology of British classrooms.

Since returning home, I’ve stayed in touch with almost everyone I met in Romania. I’ll hopefully be returning next summer and I’m now working to recruit more volunteers, giving presentations in schools and colleges about my experiences. I’m also putting the teaching skills I learned into action, by volunteering with Student Action for Refugees, teaching English to refugees and asylum seekers at Asylum Link Merseyside. It’s benefitted my studies, too – I’ve been selected for the UK Department of Business and Innovation’s Study China Programme, and the time I spent in Romania formed an integral part of my application.

When I started my studies at University of Liverpool in September, I was pleased to discover that international development was a key part of one of my first semester modules, ‘New Horizons in Human Geography’ – this was the aspect of my A Level Geography course that I enjoyed the most. Studying this in depth at University has allowed me to understand the role that smaller organisations, like the Romanian children’s charity, play in reducing poverty, and I have now been able to compare this to the importance of IGOs, like the UN. Witnessing international development at a local level, and then studying the theories and approaches behind, it has given me a valuable insight into an area of geography which is not only vital for the international community, but could also become a future career option for me.

If you want to know more about my experiences, or are interested in applying for the programme, applications for ‘Tabere Engleza’ 2014 close 20th December. For more information, visit www.tabereengleza.ro or contact a.guy@student.liverpool.ac.uk.

Almeria Field Class 2013

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Post by Jonathan Dale and Laura Hardy, 3rd year BSc Geography

‘This must be just like living in paradise’ sang Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth in 1988. South East Spain used to be just like living in paradise, with relics like the one in the picture below remaining as a haunting reminder of this time.

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A relic of paradise in South East Spain

 

Ghostly constructions such as this well are scattered across the landscape, but for some imaging the villages, farms and livestock that once accessed a sufficient water supply to survive in what is now the driest part of Europe comes with extreme difficulty. Human influence has transformed this landscape on a scale beyond imagination to allow for agricultural development and, although it is not a dust-bowl to a ‘Grapes of Wrath’ extent, questions have to be asked regarding the sustainability of water management strategies in this region.

We spent two weeks in a landscape so different to any other seen on previous field classes investigating the influence of geomorphology, lithology, topography and anthropogenic activity on the SE Spain landscape with almost all conclusions suggesting water was the primary control. These investigations included measuring rates of erosion and the associated management strategies such as check dam construction (seen in the picture below) and afforestation.

A check dam constructed to reduce rates of erosion and stabilise the river channel.

A check dam constructed to reduce rates of erosion and stabilise the river channel.

We investigated the effects of these management practices on infiltration rates and connectivity of the landscape with the dry and barren river beds – yes that means we studied rivers without getting wet feet!! Furthermore, the temporal scale on which water influences the landscape is not just a recent thing. Water controls the geomorphological features we see around SE Spain, including large river terraces, alluvial fans and river captures which have resulted in mass movement events and the death of river channels. All this, without even seeing a drop of the wet stuff!

Knowing that the extraction of groundwater was suggested as a causative factor for a local fatal earthquake in 2011 and that a flood in September 2012 also lead to fatalities and destruction of everything in its path, it is obvious that an immediate solution to this water deficit and resultant water management practices is required. We spent some time questioning such solutions and we welcome any suggestions, but take our word for it there is no easy answer. For more information regarding possible field work in SE Spain contact Prof. Janet Hooke or for information on the ENVS380 Almeria Field Trip see Dr. Barbara Mauz.

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Jonathan Dale

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Laura Hardy