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2015 – winners announced

In 2015 there were 150 entries for the judging panel to scrutinise, which included a huge range of features and landscapes from all over the world. It took several rounds of deliberations before final decisions were made.

This year’s ‘Earth sculpture’ theme fulfilled the competition’s key aims of promoting students’ observation and awareness of physical geography in their environment, of creating opportunity for young people to apply their knowledge of physical geography in an informal context, and of inspiring young people to observe and interact with physical geography through imagery.

‘A remarkable range of features and landscapes from locations right across the globe, as well as a good number taken closer to home were submitted. In many ways every entry was a winner as it became obvious to the judging panel that    most students were observing shapes within the physical environment in much more than a casual way.‘ Said Duncan Hawley, competition judge and Chair of the Physical Geography Special Interest Group.                                                                   

The winners received a selection of products from competition sponsor Páramo Directional Clothing Ltd, while all the Highly Commended entries received a copy of the Longman Student Atlas (produced in association with the GA). The prize winners also received certificates at the Awards ceremony at the GA Annual Conference in April 2016.


Winning entries

14-18 age category – Juliet Taylor

Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
Title: Glacial Erosion
Location: View from Glacier Blanc, Hautes-Alpes, France

Caption: This photo – taken during fieldwork to the French Alps – is a view from near to the snout of Glacier Blanc in the Ecrins National Park which, for me, encompasses the theme of ‘Earth sculpture’.

In the foreground of this photo the rocks show glacial striations, evidence of a time when the huge glacier advanced down the valley as course englacial and subglacial debris picked up causes abrasion of the bedrock, gouging out these scars. Due to increases in temperature, an impact of climate change, the glacier has been drastically retreating due to consistently being in the state of a negative regime. Ablation, losses of ice, has been exceeding accumulation (lower precipitation levels so there is less ice and snow being added) so the glacier loses mass. This therefore means the glacier has receded back up-valley, exposing these striations on the rock that would have a one time formed the base of the glacier.

In the background of this photo is another example of how the earth is sculpted by physical geography. The pyramidal peak, a pointed mountain peak across the glacier’s outwash plain, formed over time as a result of glacial erosion. Corries are the accumulation of compacted snow and ice in hollows on the mountain side. When three or four corries eroded their rear walls, due to the plucking and abrasion of material, they moved backwards towards each other until they met in the middle, sculpting the mountain into a tall peak.

Judging panel comments: A beautifully composed photo. There is a depth to this image and each of the different layers from the foreground to the far distance illustrate the importance of the geography, geology and processes in operation. The interpretation of this sculpted landscape outlines the creating processes succinctly, though the so-called ‘outwash plain’ beneath the pyramidal peak is actually the debris-covered glacier. We were not sure whether the ‘Where’s Wally?’ head was included deliberately, but once spotted it does add scale without any distraction from the grandeur. All the judges agreed this photo neatly captures how glacial erosion in a high montane environment has shaped the land in different ways.

‘I took hundreds of photos during fieldwork during the French Alps – despite not even owning a camera! – but this photo really stood out when I read the brief for ‘Earth Sculpture’.

‘I had just assumed I would be unsuccessful but it would be better to enter and fail than not even try. When I realised I had in fact won I was surprised and obviously delighted. It is a good feeling to be recognised for something you’re passionate about.

‘I have always been massively interested in geography and being recognised by the competition has given me the confidence to carry on appreciating the physical world through photography. I will never underestimate the importance of a camera on fieldwork again.’


11-14 age category – William Rowley

Wells Cathedral School, Wells, Somerset
Title: Balancing rocks
Location: Penninis Head, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly

Description: Pulpit Rock is an outcrop of coarse granite. It was intruded 280 million years ago as magma at 900 degrees C deep into the Earth’s crust, but never reached the surface. The Molten Rock cooled and solidified up to 10 km down, shrinking to form vertical cracks called joints. As the overlying rock was eroded over a vast period of geological time, pressure was released on the granite creating horizontal joints. These sheet joints have been widened by repeated physical and chemical weathering processes to sculpt Pulpit Rock.

Unlike similar features on Tresco, this tor was not affected by glaciers in the ice age. The granite is part of a huge batholith stretching 200km from the Isles of Scilly to Dartmoor. Pulpit rock has been shaped by geology (the rock type and the way it formed), physical geography (weathering) and a vast amount of time to create a beautiful sculpture to walk around and explore.

Judging panel comments: The precarious nature of these sculpted rocks is shown effectively by the angle of this photo and the glimpse of the sea and cloud behind lift it. The colours are strong – this image could easily have been too over-exposed. Ideally, it needed something to help judge the scale of what we see.

The narrative outlining the steps that formed this feature is well sequenced and reasonably accurate with a clear sense of the timescales involved, although naming the ‘repeated physical and chemical weathering processes’ would have helped indicate how this tor was formed differently to others on the Scillies and the mainland. However, overall this photo and description captures the idea of sculpture on more than one level.

‘I enjoy photography, the outdoors and thought that on my holiday on the Isles of Scilly there might be something suitable for the competition.

‘I chose this one because I thought it had a good balance of land, sea and sky. The colours and contrast were good too.

‘We are an outdoorsy family and I like taking photos. My parents are teachers and because we go hillwalking together, we go to some beautiful places with interesting landscapes.’

Runners up

2nd place 14-18 – Harry Curtis

Oundle School, Oundle, Northamptonshire
Title: Splitting Image
Location: Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Description: The North Yorkshire coastline, dubbed the Jurassic coast, epitomises the role that physical geography plays in our environment. The coastline is rapidly eroding, this transience exaggerating the fragile beauty of the landscape, a product of unrelenting abrasion, hydraulic action, attrition and corrosion.

Persistent erosion has unveiled evidence of a prehistoric time, allowing us a privileged insight into the numerous geographical processes that forged the formation of fossils. I chanced upon this sizeable ammonite whilst walking along the beach of Robin Hood’s bay. A storm the previous night had eroded the cliff face, causing rocks containing fossils to surface onto the face and fall onto the scree debris below.

On looking at the ammonite pictured, one immediately notices the jet black rock like substance which makes up the fossil; this was caused by the process of permineralisation Over millions of years, the shell of the ammonite would have gradually decomposed under layers of silt and sand, the cavities left by the shell would be gradually replaced by minerals from the sea causing a rock like impression to form in its absence. It was with much haste that I split open the rock, revealing 200 million years of geographical processes and fracturing the imprint whilst doing so!

Judging panel comments: At first sight this is an unusual entry but the accompanying narrative cleverly reveals how it signifies different forms of Earth sculpture linked through time and reminds us about the intricate relationship between geology and physical geography. However, although the location is assigned to as the correct geological age, it is fair to point out that the accolade of ‘The Jurassic Coast’ resides on the south coast of Dorset and East Devon. The photo is well composed with a lovely palette of colours and the backdrop of the pebbles on the beach lends authenticity. This is a very meritable interpretation of Earth sculpture.


2nd place 11-14 – James Brooks

Thames Christian College, Battersea, London
Title: Tufa moss
Location: Langres, France

Description: Petrified moss pools. What has happened here is a river has dissolved a large amount of limestone and carried it to a bank of moss. The moss soaks in water which is limestone rich, during photosynthesis the plant takes carbon dioxide from the water, this changes the pH of the water and causes limestone to precipitate.

When the body of the plant gets taken over by stone the result is called tufa. As more moss turns into tufa, pools form. After a while new moss grows on the tufa, it soaks in the water, turns into tufa making the some pools to be blocked off and new ones open. Again more moss grows on the tufa and the cycle starts again.

After many years the big clump of moss seems to move and expand as more moss grows on the last moss’ tufa creating a living sand dune. The trees in the way get fossilized by tufa. The moss is called Hymenostylium Recurvirostris.

Judging panel comments: A lovely shot with wonderful colours that takes the viewer into the scene of a feature that could easily be overlooked. The delicate interdependency and balance between the organic and chemical processes and the resulting physical feature is nicely drawn out in the description, though in places a sharper organisation and use of language would give a better understanding of how the tufa turns into pools and also creates a ‘sand dune’. The slight distraction in the bottom right corner of the photo might have been cropped out but overall this is a well-observed and explained example of Earth Sculpture.

‘I was lucky to go to a region of France for a few days in the holidays that had some amazing limestone geography – gorges and the tufa moss formation.

‘It was quite hard to take pictures because the area was fenced to protect it as it was a key place of scientific interest. Also it was in woodland and many trees blocked good viewpoints.

‘When I found out I placed second in the competition I was speechless; I thought she (my head teacher) was pulling my leg. When I got home, my family was so proud of me.’


3rd place 14-18 – Sammy Emmins

King’s College School Wimbledon
Title: 4 of the 12 Apostles
Location: The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia

Description: In this photo you can see a close up of 4 of the 8 original “Twelve Apostles”. The adjacent limestone cliffs were formed 10-20 million years ago under the sea from the buildup of minute, dead marine organisms’ skeleton’s. However, some 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, changing sea levels exposed the cliffs and the earth sculptures you see now began to be eroded by the wind and waves due to alternating bands of harder and softer limestone in the cliffs. This erosion first caused cracks, which eventually formed caves in the cliffs. After headlands started to form, the caves formed arches and when these arches collapsed, the stacks (or Apostles) came into existence.

The cliffs rise to 70 metres in some places and the tallest stack in this picture is 45 metres tall. Another sculpting force behind the stacks is the fact that because Australia’s coastline is surrounded for hundreds of miles by ocean; therefore, there are high winds blowing onto the coast which also play a part in sculpting these magnificent and intricate earth sculptures. Moreover, the way these stacks have been eroded means they are all unique as is often the case with nature.

Judging panel comments: A well framed shot with a slight haze that adds atmosphere, although greater accentuation of the layering in the bedrock would have helped sharpen the sculpted form of the stacks.

The description provides an interesting narrative explaining the processes that brought the stacks into being, though the vertical dimensions in the photo needed stronger attention and in the interests of accuracy, any cracks would have been pre-existing fractures exploited by erosion. These details aside, the photo and description together create a good overall picture of shifting time, wind, waves and water combining to create this scenically sculpted coastline.

3rd place 11-14 – Daisy Ferguson

Malton School, North Yorkshire
Title: The dry valleys of the Yorkshire Wolds
Location: Welldale, North Yorkshire

Description: The valley that I have photographed is called Welldale. The Yorkshire Wolds are a green landscape with wide open views across the Yorkshire Wolds plateau, however it is criss-crossed with numerous steep sided v-shaped valleys, which are unique because they are dry, without any water at the bottom. These valleys were created at the end of the last ice age (C.18,000 years ago) when they were carved out by fast running streams flowing over frozen ground.

The Yorkshire Wolds are predominately made of chalk which is very efficient at water drainage. This allows the valleys to run dry. Locally the network of dry valleys is called ‘dales’ or ‘slacks’. There are numerous other dry valleys e.g. Brig Dale, Lavender Dale, Rabbit Dale and Horse Dale. The gradient of the sides of Welldale rises steeply to 195 metres which you can see on an Ordnance Survey Map 294 by the closeness of the contours. The grid reference of Welldale is 857 536. In this part of the Wolds it is notable in the distinct change in farming methods, whereby livestock graze at the bottom of the valley and the crops are grown on the top flatter plateau.

Judging panel comments: Accompanied by names of associated places and map details, this photo has a local feel – as if you could be there, although going by the rather matter-of-fact title you might expect to see more than one valley. However the dry valley on show is really clear, with lovely interlocking spurs and the central one highlighted by the throw of sunlight.

There is a reasonably accurate explanation of how this landscape was formed and how the form impacts on land use, although dry valleys are not unique to the Yorkshire Wolds. There is interesting variation in colour throughout, including brooding clouds and whilst overall the image is a little on the dark side, this somehow adds to the feeling of a sculpted landscape.

‘I chose to photograph the Dry Valleys of the Yorkshire Wolds because we visit there often and they’re very striking. For me the difficulty was not in selecting the photo, but in choosing a day to go when it wasn’t raining!

‘I enjoyed telling my granny that I placed third in the competition as she was the one who had taken me twice to get the photo. She was delighted for me.

‘The competition has increased my interest in geography because I enjoyed researching about my photo for the piece of writing. I have started my GCSE course in geography and am enjoying it!’

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