Mike Horne FGS

Geological Fieldwork

(tutor - Mike Horne FGS)

University of Hull - Centre for Lifelong Learning

Before you start any geological fieldwork there are certain things you need to consider.


Why are you doing it? Are you going as a general exploration or do you have definite reason? Your motives will affect the preparation and the items you will need to take. Where are you going? Do you need permission of the landowner in advance? What are the potential hazards that you are likely to encounter?

Protective Clothing

For all fieldwork you will need to have sensible clothing for the weather conditions. You must have the correct footwear for the site you plan to visit wellies for muddy sites; non-slip footwear for slippery rocks; comfortable walking boots for long distances. Some working quarries insist that you wear safety footwear with steel toecaps. High visibility clothing is a statutary requirement for some working quarries and is also worth considering in remote areas. A hard hat is required in all working quarries and on most organised trips, and it is good practice to wear one near coastal cliffs. Impact resistant glasses or goggles should be worn if you plan to do any hammering; on an organised trip the leader may insist that you have them and wear them. Dark glasses are definitely helpful if you plan to study the chalk on a sunny day. I recommend that you do not wear yellow clothing in late spring and early summer - a million little black bugs will mistake you for a field of rape flowers!

If you have the room in your bag take some first aid equipment and perhaps some warm clothing in case you get stuck somewhere and have to spend the night or wait for help to arrive. A couple of dustbin liners could help keep you dry and warm in emergencies. A whistle could be used to attract the attention of others if you need help.

fieldwork safety


If you are working alone, always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. For coastal work always check the tide table and as a general rule always set off on a falling tide. Work out how long you can safely work before the tide will come in and cut off your exit route. Try to find out if there are other exit points from the beach by reading guide books or asking the advice of people who know the area. The tide may be affected by the weather conditions on the day, so always keep an eye on it.

In remote areas always check the weather forecast before setting off.

In working quarries report to the site office on your arrival and ask if there are parts of the quarry you should avoid, because of blasting, unstable faces, flooding etc. Always obey any safety instructions you are given and leave the site when asked. Maintaining a good relationship with quarry owners and foremen will mean that you should be welcome again and builds a responsible reputation for the geological community as a whole!


Your most important piece of geological equipment is your field note book! Do not rely on you memory! Don't forget something to write with actually a pencil is best so you can write when it is wet. It is useful to have a large clear plastic bag so you can put your notebook in it and write when it is raining. (click here for suggestions about taking notes)

A geological hammer is used to chip bits off rock to be able to observe an unweathered surface. Make sure you know how to use it properly and efficiently. Use a cold chisel to extract fossils from rocks. Never use a hammer as a chisel because the hardened steel can splinter. Always wear safety glasses or goggles when hammering and make sure that nobody is standing near you when you use a hammer. Never hammer under an overhang. Please think carefully before you hammer or collect specimens do you really need to? Please be considerate to other geologists who wish to visit the site. If you must hammer or collect, try to use pieces from a scree or fallen blocks in preference to hammering the exposed rock face.

If you are collecting from clays or other soft rocks a trowel will be useful.

If you plan to collect you will need some sample bags. Self-seal plastic bags are suitable for most rocks, though tough cloth bags may be better for hard sharp edged specimens. Write the details on the bags and also on a piece of paper, which should be placed in the bag with the sample. Wrap delicate specimens in newspaper.

Remember record the details of the rocks and samples you collect in your field notebook.

A tape measure to record the thickness of beds, a compass to find the directions of dips and a clinometer to measure dip angles are useful equipment to take. A hand lens can be used to get a closer look at small-scale structures and fossils. A camera to take photos of what you find is also a good optional extra.

Before you go.

Write to the landowner to get permission to enter the property or quarry. You may have to sign an indemnity form before you visit.

Check the map so you know where you are going and how to get there. Check the tide table again.

Don't forget to make your sandwiches and take a drink (especially in warm weather)!

When you return.

If you did tell someone where you were going for safety reasons REMEMBER to tell him or her you have returned safely!!! before they call out the police, mountain rescue, coastguard and start arranging a series of memorial lectures!!!

Unpack your samples and check that they are properly labelled.

Read through your notebook and add any useful information that is missing. Do a neat copy of any graphic logs or other measurements you made, whilst the information is still fairly fresh in your mind.

Write a letter to the site owner thanking them for their help, include a copy of any results of your work or offer to send a copy of any publication that results from the visit. It is very useful to maintain a good relationship with site owners and often they are interested to learn more about their property.


Think seriously about some personal accident insurance.

Also check on your public liability insurance what happens as a result of your negligence? Some landowners will insist that you have cover for 2,000,000 pounds before you enter their quarries. If you are leading a group of other people get some insurance or make it very clear that you accept no responsibility. If you are leading a trip for an organisation you should insist that they arrange insurance cover.



copyright Mike Horne - October 2016