Field Study Guide


This page outlines tried and tested field locations and study techniques for Ecology / Biology, Geography and Earth Science. These can be successfully undertaken by using Aberystwyth University as a base for GCSE, 'A' level and undergraduate fieldwork.

Local fieldwork experts are available to guide organisers who are new to the Aberystwyth area to field sites and techniques which are known to provide workable data for follow-up / project work.


The Aberystwyth area provides first rate teaching sites for both physical and rural studies. All study areas listed below are within easy distance of the university, and teacher/student materials are offered for most of the topics. We can advise on projects to help you maximise your visit and supply teaching rooms in the University's Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences.

1. Coastal Geomorphology - Borth and Ynyslas

Studies include the following and their inter-relationships: lower beach, storm beach, sand dunes, salt marsh, estuarine flats, cliffs and wave cut platform; study of longshore drift, beach cross profile, sediment type, size, shape, roundness, sorting; the work of Nature Conservancy Council in dune management; sand dune and salt marsh transects; the spatial relationship of process and landform.

2. River Hydrology & Morphology - Rivers Ystwyth and Elan

Measurement and assessing relationships between channel sections, sediment size and stream velocity; comparison of riffle, straight pool and meander sections in upper course of the River Elan; study of differential bedrock erosion and geological control on the upper course of the River Ystwyth; recording of channel variables from upper to lower course; evaluation of drainage basin and measure infiltration and run-off.

3. Glaciation - Cadair Idris

Classic highland landforms can be studied at Cwm Cau, including corrie, tarn, arete, rock lip, roche moutonee, erratics; also geological control of glacier by differential erosion of mudstone and volcanics; valley glaciation in Tal-y-llyn (hanging valley, ribbon lake, landslip, alluvial fan); till fabric analysis on soliflucted moraine, ground moraine, pro-talus rampart, outwash sands and peri-glacial slide deposit.

4. Urban Geography - Aberystwyth

Concentration on Central Business District; location of the Optimum Location or Peak Land Value Intersection using pedestrian flows, cluster surveys, rateable values, land use transects and sphere of influence; follow-up study including nearest neighbour analysis and isopleth mapping plus possible comparisons with smaller nearby urban centres Machynlleth and Aberaeron.

5. Rural Settlement Study - Ceredigion

Rural settlement characteristics and services including site, situation, transport links, settlement change; testing of Christaller model using location co-efficient, centrality value, functional index and logarithmic graph presentation; production of function maps for a number of settlements ; study of function change over time of old mining villages.

6. Soil Science

Regional soil type study - ranker, brown earth, podzol, gley, peat; hydrological association of soil types within catena sequence; development of profiles under differing vegetation types; the importance of altitude, aspect and slope angle; soil improvement measures; accurate recording of soil characteristics in section; laboratory work including % water, % humus, pH, iron concentration testing.

7. Industrial Estate & Science Park

Concentration on the function of a typical light industrial estate managed by the Welsh Development Agency; incentives for small businesses to locate in a rural area including site, situation, function, access to market, percentage of local consumers; reasoned explanation for siting industrial estate; interviews with industrialists.

8. Energy

Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station; Dinorwig and Rheidol Hydro Electric Power Stations; the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) including an Education Officer's talk.

9. Agriculture

Visits to the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research with its experimental centre using arable and livestock; organic farm visits; the University's intensive livestock farm (a typical upland sheep farm) with detailed listings of inputs and outputs.

Earth Sciences

An outstanding variety of easily understood geological features, providing a complete tectonic and sedimentological picture of the Lower Paleozoic Welsh Marginal Basin, suitable for study at all levels from GCSE to undergraduate. A comparison with the shallow basin edge environment can be undertaken by day trips to northern Pembrokeshire. Student and teacher materials are available for the study topics listed below:

1. Turbidites

A transect from proximal to distal turbidite sequences featured along the Cardigan Bay coastline from Newquay to Borth. A variety of sediment features are observed while sedimentary logging is practised on up to four laterally continuous sections.

2. Submarine Fan Deposits

Upper Silurian proximal turbidites and shelf edge channel conglomerates at Caban Coch in the Elan Valley demonstrates upper fan processes and lithology including clast and matrix supported conglomerates with clasts up to 50 cm, current bedded, normal and reverse graded bedded sandstones and some minor shales. Students can construct sedimentary logs through a typical sequence.

3. Volcanism

Study of the Ordovician Aran Volcanic Group constituting Cadair Idris; observation and description of igneous rocks and their relationships including pillow lavas from a bi-modal acid to basic series, ignimbrites, crystal and lithic tuffs, agglomerates and rhyolites. The sequence is interpreted within a wider plate tectonic setting. An alternative / complimentary excursion to the Fishguard Volcanic Centre in north Pembrokeshire reveals similar well-exposed features.

4. Structural Geology

Deduction of the deformation history of the area employing observation of simple structural features such as cleavage, fold types and their association; soft sediment gravity side folds can be compared to tectonic features; a short structural mapping exercise plots closely spaced asymmetrical antiforms and synforms. Follow-up work includes study of the B.G.S. Aberystwyth sheet looking at broader structural trends and the linkage of the associated hydrothermal mineralisation.

5. Hydrothermal Mineralisation

Hydrothermal mineralisation of localised E-W fault belts and the detailed history of injection that can be deduced from paragenetic sequences. A visit to opencast quarries reveals the mineral lodes in-situ. Follow-up includes studies of structure and lithology as controlling factors in mineralisation.

6. Geological Mapping

Carn Owen, Plynlimon - students are encouraged to produce their own geological map of the local Carn Owen Pericline, which consists of a core of disturbed beds overlain by well bedded course sandstones, and basal Silurian graptolitic shales. A mineralised fault cuts the pericline in two and exposes all horizons allowing a 3D relationship to be appreciated. Working away from the fault, the surface geology of the northern half can be mapped in a day.

Teifi Pools, Cambrian Mountains - provides a sequence of closely spaced antiforms and synforms [wavelength around 20-30 metres], very well exposed in a discontinuous road cutting running perpendicular to structural trend. Students produce a structural map in a day plotting dip and strike, axial traces and faults. The sequence forms part of an inter-bedded turbiditic sandstone and shale sequence. Mapping results in a strip map 1 kilometre by 100 metres along the length of the road.

7. Economic Geology

Caban Coch dam and reservoir; factors affecting suitability including geological constraints (permeability, porosity, structure, load bearing strength, rock type) and physical constraints (environmental impact, valley shape and size, rainfall, alternative landuse, proximity to consumer).

Plus road cuttings exhibiting different support constructions- netting, concrete blocks, pipes, iron rods, rock baskets. Activities include assessment of techniques and suitability.

Ecology & Biology

Excellent opportunities for the study of a large number of different ecosystems. Students can be introduced to methods of data collection, survey techniques and explore ways of presenting and analysing data. The area provides ideal opportunities for investigating management of nature reserves, problems of visitor pressure and need for, and techniques of, conservation. Well equipped laboratories in the Institute of Biological Sciences are available.

1. Rocky Shore Ecology

Use of keys for species identification; study of species distribution and zonation along a rocky shore using transects or stratified sampling using half-metre quadrats; comparison of a sheltered shore (Aberystwyth) and an exposed short (Borth) with use of biologically defined exposures scales; rock pool studies; population studies using Lincoln Index to estimate size of gastropod mollusc populations; construction of pyramids of numbers and biomass of grazing communities (sheltered shore) with filter feeding communities (exposed shore) ; habitat preferences of gastropod molluscs on different species of seaweed - use of chi-square test; adaptation of shell shape in limpets to degree of exposure to wave action- use of t-test.

2. Sand Dune Ecology

Succession and species persity across sand dunes at Ynyslas - embryo, mobile, semi-fixed, fixed dunes; dune slacks; adaptations to sand dune habitat ; effect of trampling on sand dunes; effect of rabbit population on the sand dune ecosystem; work on the countryside council for Wales in management of Ynyslas National Nature Reserve-aims of conservation (conservation talks by the Warden can be arranged).

3. Estuarine Ecology

Salt marsh transect to show succession; colonisation of salt marsh by Spartina; adaptations of salt marsh plants; small scale transects through salt marsh creeks and hummocks; population studies using salt marsh periwinkles; dispersion and/or survivorship studies in perwinkles; distribution of estuarine fauna in tidal mudflats; burrowing in estuarine invertebrates.

4. Woodland Ecology

Afforestation of the uplands (Rheidol Forest); use of non-native species of conifers; comparison of conifer stands and broadleaved mixed woodland (Clarach woods) showing differences in species persity and composition; stratification on woodlands; management of woodlands; commercial forestry; soil analysis; investigation of soil and litter invertebrates.

5. Ecology of Peat Bogs

Small upland acid peat bogs are located near the Rheidol Forest area and these can be surveyed to assess the effect of increasing wetness and resulting soil anoxia on species composition ; adaptations of peat bog organisms - carnivorous plants.

Visit to Cors Caron (Tregaron bog) - guided tours can be arranged with the Warden through areas of peat-cuttings, flashes, flood plains, sands, reed swamp, willow carr and areas colonised by Sphagnum, Calluna or Trichophorum (deer grass) ; opportunities for transect and quadrat work are available.

6. Fresh Water Ecology

Population studies- invertebrate sampling; investigating community structure-  food chains and trophic levels; pollution studies (e.g. the effect of heavy meatal pollution from disused mines); use of Biotic Index to indicate pollution levels; measurement of Biochemical Oxygen Demand, oxygen content etc.; adaptations to life in freshwater.

Other Possibilities

Moorland Ecology (tussock structure in Molinia caerulea); problems of heavy metal toxicity and metal tolerance in grasses near abandoned silver/lead mines; visit to RSPB reserve at Ynys Hir (Conservation and management talk by Warden available); the Institute of Grassland & Environmental Research; visits to University departments including electron microscopy displays.