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2020 – winners announced

“The 2020 competition theme of ‘Finding Physical Geography’ had been settled on long before any hint of COVID-19 with its impact on school attendance and travel restrictions – but would it work under lockdown and social distancing?

The competition (organised by the Physical Geography Special Interest Group and sponsored by Páramo Directional Clothing) aims to provide an opportunity for students to widen their horizons beyond what they learn in the classroom and to discover physical geography ‘out there’ – wherever ‘there’ may be. The new world order of regularly getting out in the locale to exercise seemed to be not too constraining in allowing this. In fact, we considered the theme could be made into a ‘safe activity’ without too much difficulty. However, it was a pleasant surprise when over 200 entries arrived.

(Right) 14-18 joint winner Amy Baxter with her Páramo jacket

‘Finding Physical Geography’ asked students to find interesting examples of physical geography in unexpected places, or examples of processes that someone might ordinarily pass over, or not give a second thought to. Students were invited to capture their discovery with a photo, and also write an explanatory caption to show some aspect of physical geography that many people might not notice at first. The addition of the caption challenges students to think geographically about what they have observed.

The judging panel had the tricky job of whittling down the entries into a shortlist. They did not expect a perfect answer to make it into the final selection but the entry should be worth looking at and fit with the theme. There was no expectation for the photo to be something on a grand scale, but it might equally be a small-scale feature of physical geography. It might be something seen in an urban environment as much as a feature of the countryside or a wild area.

We encouraged students to think that their discovery of physical geography could be local to them – a familiar feature that needed geographical understanding to appreciate it – although the theme did not preclude finding something further afield (if restrictions allowed). Winning photos needed to show some thought to composition so the focus of the selected ‘find’ is highlighted clearly. Additionally, the assessment of photos considered ‘authenticity’ – achieved by looking at the location where each photo was taken by the student, and whether this was accurately recorded.

In general, the photos submitted fell into one of two groups: those capturing a physical feature that was easily seen or experienced by people but whose significance or formation is probably not understood; and photos of something that is ‘hidden’ to those not schooled to observe with a physical geography eye.


(Right) 14-18 3rd place Annalee Bland wearing her Páramo beanie prize

Reflecting on the entries overall, a couple of points emerge. The most noticeable entries composed their picture effectively, often capturing their subject in an arresting way, with titles that invited intrigue or imagination, accompanied by a revealing explanation of its physical geography.

There were some great observations of physical geography in action. Walls were a popular subject; with an array of weathering features and vegetation of captured on cameras, although it was very apparent that a fair proportion of students confuse the processes of weathering and erosion. A significant number of students submitted an image with potential interest but had difficulty accompanying it with a clear understanding of what was there to be discovered and in making a clear link to its physical geography.

This was particularly true for the younger age group (Years 7– 9) where many seemed to find grasping the significance in their photo a tricky business. There is, perhaps, a learning point for teachers here, in whether we plan sufficiently to help students (and younger students in particular) see how what they learn in the classroom applies to the world around them, and not just to the examples in their books.

Nevertheless, the 2020 physical geography photo competition demonstrated that, despite difficult circumstances, students can be motivated to engage with the physical world. If geography departments with students who had initiative enough to take up the challenge can find some social media space on their webpage, twitter account or blog to celebrate and show off their competition photos and illustrate what physical geography is out there to be found, it would undoubtedly prove a marvelous marketing job for geography in school. And that has to be good encouragement in such times whatever the circumstances – go out, look around and find some physical geography!

Planning for the 2021 physical geography photo competition is under way. The exact title is yet to be decided but details will be announced on the GA website and via GA social media at the beginning of the summer term… watch this space!”

Duncan Hawley

Chair, Physical Geography Special Interest Group

“Once more this competition has energised students to find and capture physical geography with a camera. This competition ticks many of our boxes – better appreciation and understanding of the environment, venturing outside and capturing what they find and that thrilling sense of discovery.

Páramo garments protect from the elements, whatever they throw at you; wild, wet, baking or biting! We are delighted to be a partner in this competition and offer our products as prizes to students who have shown they have the ‘get up and go’ to find fascination and wonder in the world outdoors. Páramo offers its congratulations to every student who entered – we are sure they are richer for their wonderful experience.”

Samantha Theron, from the competition sponsor – Páramo Directional Clothing Systems Ltd

The winners

11–14 category

1st prize

Molly-Mei Hunter, Stroud High School

Title: Well Hill

This is a picture of Well Hill, a street in Minchinhampton, in this photo you can see buildings, cars and 2 signs. I have chosen this for my picture for hidden geography because, in earlier times when we needed to search for our drinking water we would go to a well or a spring. Wells and springs can be found in many places, but nowadays there aren’t as many. Well Hill is a street that’s slightly sloped in the near centre of Minchinhampton, when you walk down the hill you can see many houses and cars, if you go right to the bottom there is a field but where I want to go is in the middle.

Well Hill was originally named because it was the source of the old towns water supply. Well Hill also forms the original southern section of the cross of roads that was the original Minchinhampton (Hampton).  Halfway down Well Hill where the street intersects with King Street, there’s still a spring there that’s quite possibly the original water supply of Minchinhampton (Hampton). The area of Minchinhampton and all surrounding hillside towns are resting upon Cotswold limestone. Rainwater filters through this limestone producing clean drinking water. Functioning springs can be found throughout the area for example the base of Selsey common near King Stanley.

Next to the spring itself there used to be a flat stone, known as a wet stone, where they would sharpen their shears and farming equipment.

Judging panel comments

This is a well-framed image with the subject, Well Hill, clearly forming the focus of the photo, labelled by inclusion of the name sign and the perspective in the distance just capturing the slope beyond. Most people would not give a second thought to the clue given in the street name, or even if they did, then have the curiosity to think about discovery and the role of the hill in the siting of the well. So this photo and explanation are a great example of finding physical geography in a perhaps less than obvious place. The location of the well is so well-described that it is easy to find on maps or pinpoint and see it on Google Streetview

However, curiosity is not entirely satisfied in explaining why the well (or more accurately, a spring) is located here. More geographical vocabulary is needed to explain the underlying geology – at the top of the hill is jointed limestone making it permeable, but downslope is an impermeable clay layer so infiltrated water emerges from the hill side as a spring at the boundary between the two rocks (marked on old maps). This would have provided a more satisfactory ending rather than the tangential note about a wet stone. Nevertheless, taken overall this photo and explanation is the well-deserved winner of ‘Finding Physical Geography’.

2nd prize

Stefania Tudor, Collingwood College

Title: Llyn Cwm Llwch: a tarn in the Brecon Beacons

3rd prize

Ben Wilson, Colyton Grammar School

Title: A very old chapel

14–18 category

Joint 1st prize

William Stidwell, The Woodroffe School

Title: Sub-aerial scarp with deep distant origins

To the ordinary tourist walking on the Jurassic Coastline this crack may look as though it has been caused by the summer sun drying the earth, however the truth behind this crack is hidden some 150m below. At the base of the cliff Green Ammonite Mudstone is being eroded by powerful hydraulic action , particularly in high energy winter storms. The erosion s at the base of the cliff sets off a chain reaction to start an impressive rotational slide . The toe of the landslide is constantly being eroded taking away the support, causing a series of ruptures.

Heavy rainfall can contribute to the slumping as rainfall passes through the permeable greensand until it reaches the impermeable layer of Eype Clay where it then collects and lubricates the failure surface causing a series of rotational slumps hidden beneath the ground ; the only visible evidence of which is the scarp seen in the photo. Another hidden cause of this scarp is much more menacing than hydraulic action and even less visible to the naked eye.

Climate change through the action of increased extreme weather such as storms and intense rainfall events adds extra impetus to the process of mass movement . Heavy rain and the layer of Eype Clay causes increased soil pore water pressure further lubricating the slump. More frequent and intense storms plus eustatic sea level rise will intensify the erosional processes at the cliff face. This scarp appears simple on the surface but has a number of complex and hidden causes.

Judging panel comments

This is a well-staged photo with the presence of people giving a nice idea of scale. However, the location given could have been more precise, which would have put it firmly in context in an area that has many mass movement features. It is a good observation of a feature that people would notice but not consider what is taking place, so in this sense it is hidden by being ‘actively ignored’ rather than be being obscure.

The caption makes apt reference to ‘deep and distant’ through a developed description of processes that uses appropriate terminology and, for the uninitiated, clearly explains what is happening here. It looks both backwards to formation and forwards to development/change, linked to current thinking and topical ideas. Overall, this is a striking image, which coupled with its description, captures the spirit of this year’s theme of finding physical geography and so is worthy of a top place.

Joint 1st prize

Amy Baxter, Berkhamsted School

Title: Rock solid roots

At the forefront of every hiker’s mind, as they sweat their way up this steep mountain track, are the breath-taking views of the biggest mountain Cirque in the Alps – only a couple of minutes away up the ascending trail.

It is unsurprising then, that the “roots” covered in moss and vegetation, off to the left of the track, go largely unnoticed. It is not until you stop and stare, that you see these “roots” are not wood but rock instead!

These disguised grooves are limestone – the predominant type of rock in the local Giffre valley. Limestone is soluble in water, and therefore is changed chemically by acids found in rain, soil, melt water, and fresh water. The chemically weathered rocks are called Lapiés or Lapiaz. The grooves form over hundreds of years as water runs over sections of the sloping limestone slab, along joints and fissures, slowly dissolving the soft rock, creating grooves. Each groove can vary in width and can be more than 2 metres deep! This depends on the duration of the weathering and the intensity of the acidic water flow.

What makes these Lapiés more unique is that moisture and organic matter have collected in the groves of the rock, which has allowed plants, moss, and trees to grow. This biological weathering process has camouflaged the Lapiés, transforming them into “rock solid roots” that do not get a second glance from hikers hurrying along the trail to see the Cirque-du-Fer-à-Cheval.

Judges comments

A surprising photograph that it isn’t want you think at first glance, making for a captivating, compelling and beautifully composed image that completely captures the brief to provide an ‘interesting, thoughtful and unusual observation of physical geography’. There is precise reference to the location that sets its ‘hidden’ credentials amongst its more obvious glacial ‘cousin’. The caption is very high quality, drawing out the observer’s probable first impression of the scene and the reveal for why this first impression is wrong.

The physical geography is clearly described, beginning with what the photo seems to show followed by a concise explanation of the reality. Correct terminology is used effectively, creating a succinct and accurate description, with explicit links to the processes operating to form the feature in the photograph. There is, however one minor misimpression given, the limestone rock is labelled as ‘soft’, but in fact it is quite hard and solid, as is obvious from the photo.

‘Soft rock’ is a common erroneous description given to all sedimentary rocks, whilst in reality only some types are given to ready disintegration and erosion. Nevertheless, this is a high-quality example of finding physical geography and is a well-deserved winner of (joint) first place.

3rd prize

Annalee Bland, Colyton Grammar School

Title: The plant pioneers


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