Social researchers on tour: learning in the Lakes

One of the best things about lecturing is the opportunity to take students on fieldtrips! Geographers and Environmental Scientists can’t fully learn about the world from a lecture theatre and they often gain so much from trying out new things in the real world and from spending time with staff in a more normal environment!

Our base for the week, Derwent Hill in the lovely village of Portinscale near Keswick. Top quality rooms, fantastic food, friendly staff, and an amazing view of Derwent Water. The weather was amazing all week. Thank you so much to the wonderful staff who hosted us.

It’s quite difficult to summarise all of the things we did this week, but I’ll attempt to do so day-by-day (check out #uealakes19 for a full account of our daily movements).

Day 1: Participant observation in Keswick and Natural flood management in Glenridding

A fun day with an introduction to Keswick by the multi-talented Professor Andrew Lovett. We observed the different ways in which the town of Keswick was trying to mitigate against the problem of flooding through hard engineering and natural flood management. We then observed the different ways in which people in Keswick interacted with their environment through participant observation. This is a good method for observing what people actually do, rather than what they say they do via a survey! We then moved on to Castlerigg Stone Circle where Dr Emilie Vrain led an exercise on perceptions of landscape, and then on to Glenridding to hear about natural flood management. Thanks to Danny from the Ullswater Catchment Management Group for his expert insights.

Plus my crew go off-grid:

A well-earned drinks break on the way home (my fault!)

Day 2: Interviews on natural flood management

I started with a 0600 trip to Dodd Wood to see the Osprey from the viewpoint (I did see it!). We saw the nest again whilst driving out later in the week, but I couldn’t convince anyone to do a project about the Osprey viewpoint. Joe’s birdwatching parents would be disappointed!


Osprey Viewpoint at Dodd Wood

Students split into groups to conduct interviews with key people involved in natural flood management in Cumbria – farmers, residents, Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers, business owners and alike. The students got a fascinating insight into the different stakeholders involved in flood management and the challenges of implementing solutions (e.g. cost, politics, practicality etc.). We then analysed the interviews back at HQ and discussed the pros and cons of interviews as a method. One of the main learning points was how to manage respondents when they go off on a tangent. As Frances noted, ‘this information is nice to know’, but it isn’t always relevant so it takes a skilled researcher to intervene without disrupting the flow. Getting distracted by someone’s cute dog mid-interview also doesn’t help!

Day 3: Surveys on the West Cumbrian Coast

After designing the surveys the night before, groups went to four West Cumbrian towns (Workington, Maryport, Whitehaven and Cockermouth) to question people about their views on sources of renewable energy, a key industry in the region. Some groups devised cunning tactics – the Cockermouth group channeling their inner Gandalf and standing on the main footbridge into the town to prevent people from quickly escaping them, whilst the Whitehaven group sought out people waiting for a bus who couldn’t quickly run away! Other groups found life much more difficult, particularly in Maryport which wasn’t very busy. Bad luck to Britt, Sollie, Josh, and Talia who endured the quiet town of Maryport. Special mention to Star who wasn’t perturbed by initial rejections and mopped up all the old people at the bus stop who couldn’t get away. We analysed the survey back at HQ again and discussed the pros and cons of surveys as a method. One key learning point was not to be too precious about survey wording if it turned out to be inadequate – a point not lost on Lee ‘of course it’s clear, that’s why I wrote it’ Wright who recognised the need to tweak the wording the day after.

Day 4: Independent projects day – Keswick, Catbells, Cockermouth, and Windermere

A chance for the students to do their own independent projects. Participant observation and surveys were the order of the day – including a project on perceptions of the Windermere landscape, one on erosion control on Catbells, and another on how mobile phone use differed between environments around Keswick. Kudos to UEA Hockey stars Sollie, Dom, and Georgia for counting the number of people on phones in Keswick. Another group including Kaitlin and Rebecca investigated flood management in Cockermouth, while Zac and Britt explored the impact of tourism on Keswick. Ellie, Frances, and Maud were interested in perceptions of climate change! Thanks to Lee for the wonderful photos from Catbells below. Special mention to Hannah for claiming to have lost her wallet at the Gingerbread shop in Grasmere, before making us return to the shop to find that it was in her bag all along. The extra journey was no problem, however, once Celia had praised the health benefits of the Ginger we had to eat to get us through the monotony of driving on the same road twice in half an hour (we have forgiven Hannah honestly!).

Day 5: Presentations and activities (and Andrew’s birthday cake!)

A bit of free time before presentations was spent either climbing Catbells or kayaking on Derwent Water (sorry for holding everyone up in the Kayak!). A much needed break after an intense week of work!

Then we heard student presentations of their independent projects, some of which were really interesting. Well done to those students who put considerable effort into their fieldwork and presentations! There was then time for a cake to celebrate Andrew’s soon-to-be experienced special birthday.


Overall, a fantastic week with wonderful weather. Whilst we learned lots of things about social research methodologies, perhaps the most important lesson was that social research can be done with a smile on your face! And that effort most definitely correlates with reward. We also discovered the tunes of Carlisle FM; a good replacement for Smooth FM, which as Maud argues plays ‘banger after banger’.  Thanks to the Alumni class of 1968 of the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA who contributed to this fieldtrip.  

Group photo at ‘one of the three or four most beautiful views in Europe’ (Ruskin)



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