BA Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Ice Age Britain

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG10442
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit seeks to introduce the history and legacy of the Ice Ages in the shaping of the British landscape, flora and fauna. The course will provide students with a robust understanding of the timescales, processes and impacts of the Ice Ages. The legacy of the Ice Ages in terms of geomorphology, biogeography and archaeology will be explored. The course will also provide an introduction to the research techniques and approaches used in the scientific study of the Ice Ages, including dating techniques and environmental and climatic records (proxies).


  • to understand the context of past and current climate change in the British Isles with reference to the recent geological past
  • to appreciate how the Ice Ages have shaped the British landscape
  • to know the techniques available for dating the sediment, landform and fossil record of the Ice Ages in the British Isles 
  • to understand the legacy of the Ice Ages on the current flora and fauna of the British Isles
  • to understand the impacts of past climate change on human occupation of the British Isles and on past lifeways and subsistence strategies

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course the students should:

  • have an understanding of how climate change affected Britain in the Pleistocene and use this knowledge to appreciate how climate conditions are transient through time
  • be aware of how glacial processes during the Ice Ages have shaped the British Isles
  • understand how human distributions and activity changed during and since the Ice Age
  • know how diverse Quaternary records enable the reconstruction of  past environmental changes in Britain


Course Structure

  1. Introduction to Ice Age Britain
  2. Reconstructing Ice Age Environments
  3. Dating the Ice Ages in Britain
  4. The last glaciation in Britain – Timing and Extent
  5. Glacial and periglacial Britain – Shaping the mountains
  6. Study week
  7. Island Britain – History of Britain’s Coasts
  8. Ice Age Flora & Fauna
  9. Study Week
  10. Reforesting Britain – End of the Ice Age
  11. The Ice Age and the Human Past in Britain
  12. Revision session

The lectures will be supported by:

  • reading materials placed on Blackboard
  • staff availability in consultation hours
  • access to a wide range of useful online resources

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered via a series of 10 lectures. The lectures will include time for interaction via class discussion, consolidation sessions and revision exercises. Students are expected to read widely to support the classes and undertake the support activities as instructed for each class. Learning will be supported via the course Blackboard site, which will provide access to course materials and wider resources on classic examples of Ice Age environments from around the British Isles.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • verbal feedback through discussion and Q&A during and at the end of lectures
  • extensive verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours or by appointment
  • detailed, constructive written feedback on coursework and exam

Recommended reading

There is no single core text, but the following are highly relevant for key concepts and themes:

  • Ehlers, J., Hughes, P.L., Gibbard, P.L. 2016. The Ice Age. Wiley. This book is an electronic book available in the library.
  • Ballantyne, C.K., Harris, C., 1994. The Periglaciation of Great Britain. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sparks, B.W., West, R.G., 1972. The Ice Age in Britain. London: Methuen. Rather dated now, but a classic with lots of useful information.


Students will be expected to read articles from the primary research literature, including journals such as:

  • Journal of Quaternary Science
  • Quaternary Science Reviews
  • Boreas
  • Quaternary Research

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Ryan Unit coordinator

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