Sunday, 27 December 2020

RIP Barry Holstun Lopez


"Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion."

Barry Lopez

I heard yesterday evening via Robert MacFarlane that the author Barry Lopez had died on Christmas Day at his house in Oregon: somewhere he and his wife were renting after the house he had lived in for decades had been affected by wildfires earlier in the year, which had also tragically destroyed a building containing an archive of his writing and documents.

I have blogged about Barry's writing numerous times here, and on my other blogs.

I bought his 'Arctic Dreams' book back in early 1987, from the Blackwells bookshop at Hull University while I was completing my PGCE. 

I've read it numerous times since, and also mined it for quotes and thoughts on the importance of story telling, as I did with his other books. His last published work was the masterful 'Horizon', which looked back over his life, and his travels against the backdrop of impending climate chaos.

From a review of the book:

“It treats the distant snowy world of the Arctic as a place that exists not only in the mathematics of geography, but also in the terra incognita of our imaginations.” 
Michiko Kakutani

An appreciation was printed in the New York Times today.

"If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive." 

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Fens Biosphere Project


I am currently putting together an updated unit on the Fenland landscape.

Elements of this will be used in 2021.

This image here is of the 'famous' leaning tree in Ely which I've photographed many times over the years.

The Fens Biosphere project has received funding to support its work and has a new website. It aims to have the Fens declared as a biosphere.

A Biosphere is a special status awarded by UNESCO to a unique and valuable landscape. Biospheres connect people, economies and nature to create a secure future we can all look forward to. They are about developing new ways of living, exploring new ideas and working together.

The key characteristics of the area are suggested below:

The geographical boundaries of the Fens Biosphere have been built around the following key aspects of this landscape:

The peat soils, the ‘black gold’ of the Fens. Within the proposed boundary the dominant soil type is peat, intermixed with silt soils. Peat has become a scarce resource due to ongoing peat loss through shrinkage and fen blows caused largely by intense drainage and farming regimes; there is an urgent need to preserve remaining peat soils.

An important food-producing area dominated by Grade 1 and grade 2 soils; farming and food production are at the beating heart of the Fens. There is a need to ensure farming and the food sector remains vital to the local economy.

Extensive ditch and waterways network: Ditches, the ‘upside-down hedgerows’ of the Fens are renowned for their high biodiversity value, the area being a stronghold for many rare species such as spined loach and water voles.

Internationally important lowland wetland habitats (core areas on map), including Nene Washes, Ouse Washes, Wicken Fen and Holme Fen.

Multiple wetland vision projects, such as the Wildlife Trust’s Great Fen Vision, the National Trust’s Wicken Fen Vision and the expanding RSPB Ouse Fen reedbeds.

Several partnership-led initiatives for landscape-scale conservation in the arable landscape, including the Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone and Thorney Nature-Friendly Farming Zone.

Big urban populations acting as ‘gateways’ to the more rural Fens landscape: Cambridge; Peterborough; Wisbech

Historic market towns / small cities in the heart of the area: Ely; March; Chatteris; Whittlesey and Fen Edge towns that will feature in the transition zone such as St Ives, Soham, Ramsey and Downham Market. 

Cutting-edge R&D, digital industries and innovative high-tech and agri-tech businesses – some of which also operate in the Fens – in Cambridge, the internationally recognised centre of academic research, and the Cambridge – Peterborough enterprise zone. 

The number of academic and businesses dealing with sustainability, climate change and agri-tech developments is vast and still growing.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

South Georgia - major landscape change case study

South Georgia at risk... 

I've been following this story for the last few months. The huge iceberg called A68a which broke off the Larsen C Ice Shelf in 2017 has been drifting northwards since then. 

It is now being pushed by the Antarctic circumpolar current and is on a collision course with South Georgia. This would cause environmental catastrophe for the ecosystems, including a massive penguin colony and other activities including scientific work.

Full details are here in this excellent Reuters Graphic website resource, which includes some great images naturally. Notice the inclusion of Manhattan for scale on the image above. This is not going to be pushed out of the way...

If the berg lodges at the island’s flank, it could remain a fixture for up to 10 years before the ice melts or breaks away. That could block some of the island’s 2 million penguins – including King Penguins, Gentoos, Macaronis and Chinstraps – from reaching the waters to feed their young. The melting freshwater could also make the waters inhospitable for phytoplankton and other sea creatures that are crucial parts of the food chain.

A reminder that the resources that I wrote for the South Georgia Heritage Trust are now here, and can be used free of charge. Give them a go and let me know how you get on.

Image copyright:

The iceberg is only around 50km away from South Georgia and collision seems inevitable, with the iceberg grounding itself close to the island and sitting there for a decade or more....

Post settings Labels South Georgia,South Georgia Heritage Trust,Iceberg A68a, No matching suggestions Published on 12/12/2020 15:00 Permalink Location Options Post: EditPost published

Friday, 6 November 2020

'Why Study Geography?' - now available

Geography is the big-picture subject for our times. It encompasses subjects ranging from the microscopic – how soils form, and how those soils can be protected and managed well to grow food, for example – through to things as large-scale as the future trajectory of megacities and the threat of ever more warming of the planet. Alan Parkinson’s guide clearly and carefully explains why geography is worthy of study, at GCSE, at A level and at university. It is bang up to date. Students, their teachers and parents are all likely to find it essential reading.

Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, University of Oxford

Just ahead of lockdown, I met with Richard and Sam from the London Publishing Partnership about writing a book in a series explaining why students should teach different curriculum subjects. The History book is already published, and others are on the way. The lockdown gave me the time and the inclination to meet a quite tight deadline, and after several drafts, hundreds of edits and tweaks and rewriting, the book was published 2 weeks ago.

The book explores why the study of geography is so important. It looks at how the subject developed, links between school and academic geography, how to apply to study geography at university, the different types of courses, how to make the most of your time at university, what careers geography can lead you into and with case studies of individuals who studied geography and who went on to do interesting things with it, and others who came into a geographical field later. There are also suggestions for how you can develop your geographical thinking, and make the most of your powerful geographical knowledge. Thanks to those people who kindly contributed to the creation of this book, which helped me shape my own thoughts, and has also led to me starting to write another related book to connect with my planned GA Presidential theme for 2021-22.

I think this book would be helpful for several different groups of people:

- for teachers of Geography, who are keen to find out about how the subject developed, and what contemporary geography courses look like
- for parents of students who have shown an interest in studying geography at HE or undergraduate level
- for those staff whose role includes preparing students for UCAS choices and university applications, or writing EPQs and related activities to support a move into academic study
- for those staff who are involved in helping with careers options for those who may want to secure a job or internship or apprenticeship instead of
- for those who simply want a few copies of a book around the place to direct those who they know might go on to study Geography at university to read to find out more...
- as a gift for Y13s who do particularly well, and head off to university (hopefully to study geography)

Please let your UCAS / Careers teachers at school know about the book - great for Options evening as well to have around to show the value of the subject to so many careers.

It would be great to get this book into as many schools as possible. Although the book is UK-focussed, it would also be useful to those in the USA and other countries, including in International Schools and those that follow UK-based exam specifications.

Go HERE to order your copy and if you think you might want a small (or large) order o multiple copies then let me know and I'll put you in touch with the publishers to see whether we can arrange a discount.

And why the beans on the front cover? If you get a copy you'll find out why :)

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Geography Fieldwork Academy

Chris Webster of the Geography Fieldwork Academy has teamed up with the Norfolk Broads authority and brought his video making, resource creation and drone flying skills to bear on one of our National Parks, and the nearest one to where I live and teach.

He told me:

We've teamed up with the Broads Authority as part of the lottery funded Water, Mills & Marshes project to create a series of unique and engaging geography lessons for KS3 students. These lessons are designed to prepare students for GCSE geography by developing maths, fieldwork and GIS skills in addition to increasing their ability to interpret landscapes and analyse data.

The end product is here.

There are 6 lessons with all the relevant resources in word and PDF format, and they are rather good resources as well, which I am thinking of slotting in to my own KS3 scheme. Powerpoints are available for download, and also some videos.

The final few lessons explore the planning of a route for a Broads triathlon, which is a nice context for some creativity and mapskills.

One of the great elements of the resource that Chris has produced is that it is sort of lockdown ready, and ready to go with some links sent to students. It's 6 weeks of resources, but each week also has a narrated lesson which Chris has produced and shared on the main resource page.

There is a competition running alongside the project.

There is a chance to win some rather good prizes.

The prizes include a McConks Go Race 12'6 inflatable stand up paddleboard

Towelling change robes and paddling caps from Red Paddle
Caps, paddleboard leash and GoPro mount from BecauseSUP
CamelBak hydration backpacks and running belts from Burton McCall
Zoku mountaineering water bottles from Burton McCall
A wide range of goodies from the Ordnance Survey, including subscriptions to the award-winning OS Maps App, water bottles, mugs, ponchos, pens and stickers!!

Here's a 'trailer' for the resource, and for the National Park.

And here's one for the competition:

Saturday, 18 July 2020

The wild side of the M25

Helen Macdonald, author of 'H is for Hawk' has completed a journey around the M25 exploring the wildlife that lies along its margins.

Catch it on iPlayer.

Is there a wild side to Britain’s busiest road? Author and naturalist Helen Macdonald embarks on a clockwise loop around London’s orbital motorway - searching for hidden wildness and natural beauty within the sight and sound of the M25. Along her journey, Helen encounters the remarkable people, plants and animals living above, beside and beneath the motorway, and delves into the controversial history of the UK’s longest and least-loved bypass.

The M25 has been part of Britain’s landscape for nearly 35 years, so how has the natural world adapted to the motorway carving a path through its environment? Starting just south of the Thames at Kent’s Junction 1, Helen explores the woodland that lines the first 40 miles of the M25. In a first sign of how animals’ lives are shaped by the man-made world, great tits are changing the pitch of their calls in order to be heard above the roar of the road. But humans have often been less willing to adapt to the M25’s noisy presence.

The village of Shoreham won a battle to divert the motorway, thanks to the landscape paintings of 19th-century artist Samuel Palmer. Palmer’s paintings are highly prized today for their pre-impressionistic style and their idyllic visions of a benign countryside. Although Palmer’s vision was at odds with the harsher reality for farmworkers of the time, 20th-century locals leveraged their emotive value to save Shoreham’s valley and re-route the motorway through nearby woods.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Place 2020

Place 2020 is a new project which has been launched as part of the Centre for Place Writing.

The work here explores, via a dynamic mix of new writing (poetry, essay, commentary, reflection and story), films, photography and podcasts, how ideas of ‘place’ shifted radically across the globe in 2020, as billions of people went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement changed how we think about everything.

New work will feature on this site throughout 2020.

An excellent piece by Amy Liptrot is part of the first few pieces, exploring young people's relationship with nature.

I often think about how the geographies of our childhoods define our psyches. I grew up next to cliffs, in big skies with the open ocean and wide horizons. I’m coming to see that my son’s ‘local acre’, his native mile, will be different. Where we now live, in West Yorkshire, is about as landlocked as you can be in the UK. His is a world of woods and rivers, of terraced houses among trees: a world of gritstone and green rather than sky and sea.

It’s been striking how something global (a pandemic) has made me focus on the local. Our street leads onto the woods: a gorge extending a mile or so up the valley along a stream. This locality - both the street and the woods - has taken on a greater significance in the last twelve weeks than ever before. Discouraged from driving, and accompanied by a two-year-old, my horizons have contracted.

Reminds me of a quote I've used for many years in presentations