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Make your own fieldwork equipment

Make your own fieldwork equipment

One of the factors contributing to the expense of fieldwork is the amount of equipment required. The range and number of items needed coupled with the frequency with which it is used (often not a lot) means that departments may be unlikely to purchase fieldwork equipment.

However, many studies require a certain amount of equipment, and that is where the ability to make your own for little if any cost to the department comes in handy.

We have provided instructions for equipment to help you investigate eight geographical phenomena.


A infiltration kit

Figure one: An infiltration kit

What you need

  • Section of drainpipe
  • Ruler
  • Water container
  • Stop watch

What you do

Place the drainpipe on the surface of the soil or land. Insert the ruler into the drainpipe so that it is standing on the soil surface. Pour a predetermined amount of water into the drainpipe. Time how long it takes for the water to infiltrate, or measure how much water remains in the drainpipe after a given length of time.

When you use it

Compare infiltration rates between different land uses: soils, grassland, woodland, agricultural land, footpaths, tarmac. Use in a study of footpath erosion or trampling (the water will not infiltrate into saturated ground) or in an investigation into the role of man made surfaces in increasing the risk of flooding in urban areas.

Soil compaction

What you need

  • Knitting needle
  • Ruler

What you do

Create your own soil pins using knitting needles. Push the needle into the ground as far as it will go before you feel resistance. Measure the depth. Take care when carrying and using knitting needles, they should be carried to the site in students' bags, not in their hands.

When you use it

Compare levels of compaction at different sites and in different soil types, for example during a study of footpath erosion or trampling. Can be used in conjunction with infiltration equipment to determine why rates of infiltration vary between sites, and that impact that compacted and saturated soil can have on agriculture or on flood risk. The equipment can also be used to compare vegetated and cleared land as a small scale representation of the consequences of rainforest clearance.

Canopy cover

Canopy cover

Figure two: Canopy cover equipment

What you need

  • Section of drainpipe or a pill box with the end cut off
  • Acetate
  • Graph paper
  • Petri dish
  • Tape or glue

What you do

Photocopy your graph paper onto the sheet of acetate and cut out a circle that fits the drain pipe aperture. Place the acetate circle into a plastic Petri dish and stick this on one end of the drain pipe. For accurate canopy cover measurements, there will need to be around 100 squares of graph paper visible through the drain pipe aperture, but in reality this may not be possible so students will have to estimate the percentage coverage.

When you use it

These pieces of equipment can be used to estimate percentage canopy cover at different sites, and are useful alternatives to expensive light meters. Use them during ecosystem studies to investigate the amount of light that reaches the forest floor in dense woodland and clearances. Alternatively, use them in rivers or on rock surfaces to record sediment particles size in situ.

Suspended sediment

What you need

  • White plastic disc approximately 10 cm diameter
  • Length of thick wire approximately 50 cm long
  • Permanent waterproof coloured markers

What you do

Colour sections of the plastic disc in the pattern shown in the diagram below. Insert a length of wire through the centre of the disc and secure. Bend over and tape cut ends of wire to ensure their safety. This home made Secchi disc is used to measure the levels of suspended sediment in a river. Drop the disc into the water and lower until the colours are no longer visible. Pinch the wire on the surface of the water and remove. Measure the depth at which the colours vanished and compare with other sites.

Secchi disk

Figure three

When you use it

This technique can be used to investigate changes in the river channel along its length, particularly with variations in the land use of the surrounding area, for example agriculture. It can also be used to compare rivers in different settings.


A water level - used to measure gradient

Figure four: A water level, used to measure gradient

What you need

  • A water level/decorators level, available from DIY stores
  • Two metre rules
  • Tape

What you do

Attach the two cylinders to each end of the pipe and tape each cylinder to a meter rule so that the zero point of the ruler is at exactly the same place on the two cylinders. Fill the level with water so that it the pipe is full and water is visible in both cylinders. The water will naturally find its own level, so if the two meter sticks are on even ground the water in the cylinders will reach the same point on the meter stick. This equipment can be used to measure very slight differences in height between surfaces. For example, if the water level in one cylinder is 880mm and in the other cylinder it is 890mm, there is a 10mm difference in height between the two sites.

When you use it

Anywhere gradient measurements are required, for example sand dune or beach transects, river channel gradients, site levels. You can even use it to draw up contour maps of the school grounds. Gradient can be calculated using the following equation:

Horizontal gradient = Difference in height between sites ÷ Distance between sites

Species coverage

What you need

  • A 10 square x 10 square section of plastic coated wire fencing
  • Wire cutters
  • Tape

What you do

Cut your sections of fencing to ensure that each piece contains 100 squares. You can get a wide variety of types of fencing, and you may need to cut out some of the central wires in order to create a suitable sized square. Five to seven centimetre squares are an ideal size. Cover the ends of the wire that you have cut with tape to ensure safety.

When you use it

This home made quadrat can be used to calculate percentage vegetation or species coverage in an ecosystem study. It can also be used to calculate the percentages of different land uses, canopy cover or even cloud cover if it is held up and looked through.

Vegetation sward height

The vegetation sward height equipment

Figure five: The vegetation sward height equipment

What you need

  • Perspex disc approximately 30cm diameter with a ruler shaped slot cut in the middle
  • Half metre or metre rule

What you do

Ask your DT department or local DIY store to cut out your Perspex discs to your specifications and drill out the rectangular hole in the centre. Ensure that the hole is large enough to slot a half meter or a meter rule through. Place the zero end of the rule on the ground and drop the Perspex disc down over it. The disc will find the average level of the vegetation sward. Record the measurement from the rule.

When you use it

This home made drop disc is used to measure variations in vegetation sward height across a site or between sites. Adding a grid to a clear Perspex disc will enable percentage coverage of vegetation or particular species to be calculated at the same time.

Make your own clinometer

Below is a step by step guide to making your own clinometer.


Figure six: Finished clinometer

What you need

What you do

Download your linometer template and print it out onto thin cardboard.

Cut out your template, leaving approximately half a centimetre above the horizontal line on the straight edge.

Tape a length of straw to the top of your cardboard clinometer template.

Tape a lollipop stick to the reverse of the clinometer template - this will give it added strength.

Make a small hole in the centre of the horizontal line on the straight edge of the template (just below the straw) and tie a length of thread through, leaving about 15cm dangling. Alternatively you can tie the thread around the centre of the straw.

Tie the loose end of thread around a small ball of blu-tak.

Adjust the thread so that it hangs down the front of the clinometer template.

A group of teachers getting stuck into making their clinometers

Figure seven: A group of teachers getting stuck into making their clinometers

How to use it

Just like any other clinometer.

Pair up with somebody around the same height as you.

Find a gradient you want to measure the angle of.

You stand at one point with the clinometer, they stand at the other point.

Look through the straw and fix your sight on their eye level (or the top of their head if you're a bit taller than them).

Read the angle of the gradient from your clinometer using the thread as an indicator. You might need a third person around to help you to read the angle while the clinometer is still fixed to your eye.

A demonstration of how to use the clinometer

Figure eight: A demonstration of how to use the clinometer

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