Geography: Year 7 Study Flooding and Erosion on The River Cuckmere


In the second half of the Autumn Term, Year 7 has been learning about rivers in their Geography lessons.

Whenever we study about physical features, processes and landforms, what better way to consolidate the learning, or even to introduce it, than to go on a trip and see such things first hand?

It is the firm belief of Geography teachers everywhere that the first-hand experience of either the natural or built environment deepens a child's understanding of patterns and processes that might appear a little abstract in the classroom, and I am no exception.


Indeed, for many, that first field trip where they get their hands and footwear dirty and maybe wet feet from leaky wellies will live with them for many years and inspire an interest and even passion for the subject of Geography and for the world around them in general.

Therefore, on Thursday 20th November, following the bountiful early autumn rains, we set off for Rushlake Green and Old Heathfield to explore the Cuckmere River in its upper reaches. Suddenly, fairly random terms like drainage basin, watershed, source and tributary came to life.

It was the latest in the year that I could have organised this trip and I am glad I delayed it; there was finally a decent amount of water in the river for the children to fully appreciate the concepts of vertical erosion. One group even witnessed a tiny waterfall on a source stream, with a not inconsiderable torrent of water cascading over a fallen tree stump and wedge of hard rock, possibly greensand.


Basic measurements were made of the width, depth and speed of the stream and then the children hypothesised about what the lower courses would be like.

On a very cold Thursday 4th December, we set out again, this time for the middle and lower reaches of the Cuckmere at Alfriston and the Seven Sisters Country Park.

Once again I was thankful for a later trip, despite the cold, as the volume of water in the channel was the most I have ever seen with a group in tow.

Observations were made of the well-developed floodplain, evidence of land use was sought before measuring the width and depth from the White Bridge at Alfriston, with a tape measure and a rudimentary plumb line.


We then stood at the stunning view point of High And Over to survey the river and its valley as it winds its way to the sea at Cuckmere Haven. It was 'character buildingly' cold up there, but an ideal spot to view the meandering course of the river.

At Exceat we were mercifully rather more sheltered, so field sketches were done of the famous view of the meanders, labelling the major processes and features. We then marched all the way to the mouth of the river on the beach and summarised how the river and valley had changed along its course, before gladly rushing back to get in the minibuses and head back to schools, noses numb and tummies rumbling!


In the following lesson, the children were given an extended piece of writing to do on the changes along the course of the river. It was felt that this would allow the children more of an opportunity to express what they had discovered and understood more than a more traditional end of topic test.

The quality and quantity of what many produced was astonishing and testament to the success of the field visits.


Learn more about Geography at Bede's Prep School >