AGS Magazine – November 2020

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The Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists are pleased to announce the November 2020 issue of their publication; AGS Magazine. To view the magazine click here.

This free, publication focuses on geotechnics, engineering geology and geoenvironmental engineering as well as the work and achievements of the AGS.

There are a number of excellent articles in this issue including;

AGS Yellow Book Photography Competition – Page 4
Ruby Wax talks mental health in the FPS’ latest podcast – Page 6
AGS Upcoming Webinars – Page 8
Environment Agency publishes updated land contamination guidance – Page 12
New CIRIA Guidance on Sustainable Management of Surplus Soils – Page 16
Q&A with Madeleine Bardsley of Wood Group – Page 18

Advertising opportunities are available within future issues of the publication. To view rates and opportunities please view our media pack by clicking HERE.

If you have a news story, article, case study or event which you’d like to tell our editorial team about please email Articles should act as opinion pieces and not directly advertise a company. Please note that the publication of editorial and advertising content is subject to the discretion of the editorial board.


Q&A with Madeleine Bardsley

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Full Name: Madeleine Bardsley
Job Title: Associate Director
Company: Wood Group

I have spent 20 years in geoenvironmental consultancy.  My first taste of site work was as a sponsored student with Taylor Woodrow. After graduating I joined Dames & Moore and worked on ground investigations and remediation schemes.  To get through ICE Chartership, I moved to Mott MacDonald and worked on a mixture of geotechnical and geoenvironmental projects.  In 2002, I decided to focus on land quality projects and joined Enviros’ London team led by Hugh Mallett, whose enthusiasm and knowledge created a perfect environment for learning.  After 13 years, I moved to Wood and now work with a great group of people in the Remediation and Ground Engineering Team.

What or who inspired you to join the geotechnical industry?
At school I loved maths and physics and wanted a career where there was a practical application for your efforts, which led me to civil engineering.  During my degree at UCL, the subject that interested me most was soil mechanics and my lecturer – Dr Richard Bassett – suggested I continue studies by doing a PhD.  I moved universities to Cambridge and studied under Dr Chrysanthi Savvidou looking at a remediation technique using electricity called electrokinetics. Both lecturers inspired me and passed on their enthusiasm for their subject and confidence in my ability.

What does a typical day entail?
One of the joys of our industry is the variety of clients, project scopes and types of sites that we come across.  I’ve been lucky to work on a diverse range of sites including: defence, fuel depots, waste plants, gasworks and housing developments.  Every project is different and there is usually a challenge to keep you interested.

I know it’s a cliché but there really is no ‘typical’ day – I might be reviewing a report, meeting a client, visiting a site, working on initiatives to improve health and safety in our projects, carrying out a principal designer review of a project, organising a team meeting or holding a colleague’s personal development review.  I love the variety.

Are there any projects which you’re particularly proud to have been a part of?
The projects I am most proud of are the ones that I have seen through from contaminated ground to completion of the remediation – bringing land back into use. One project for Brent Council springs to mind, where we investigated and remediated the gardens within a residential part of the borough having successfully applied for funding under Part 2A.  I was Project Director and the client was knowledgeable, decisive and easy to work with.

It’s not a project but I enjoyed being part of the AGS steering group that revised the UK Specification for Ground Investigation (known as the ‘Yellow Book’). I learned a lot from the other members of the Steering Group and am proud of the revised document.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
I would say juggling all the demands of the different parts of my role.  I manage a team across three offices, lead on health and safety for Wood’s national team including carrying out Principal Designer reviews, and provide technical direction for several projects.

This year has been a huge challenge and, as most of the team are working from home, it has been difficult keeping people connected and finding the time between numerous Teams calls to stay in touch with colleagues.

What AGS Working Group(s) are you a Member of and what are your current focuses?
I have been a member of the AGS Health and Safety Working Group for over 15 years.  I’ve recently updated the AGS publication on ‘dealing with contamination during an intrusive investigation’ and now I am looking at health issues associated with using vacuum excavation in soils with asbestos where the asbestos is not visible. I’m also part of the recently formed sub-group on trial pitting safety which is looking at the aspects of working at height and emergency planning for trial pitting.

What do you enjoy most about being an AGS Member?
Being part of the Health and Safety Working Group provides a valuable opportunity to raise issues that you are grappling with and work collaboratively with knowledgeable people from across the industry.  The discussion is frank and informed with the aim of coming to a consensus and writing guidance to share.

What do you find beneficial about being an AGS Member?
AGS provides access to a welcoming forum where issues can be raised and discussed with the collective aim of improving the industry.  I also find the publications cover a range of issues and are useful resource – particularly the loss prevention alerts and guidance.

Why do you feel the AGS is important to the industry?
The AGS aims to improve many aspects of the industry through guidance and working group initiatives.  Best practice is developed and shared throughout the industry.  As a trade association it’s able to cover a wider membership than professional institutions and so is more representative of our industry.

What changes would you like to see implemented in the geotechnical industry?
I’m always disappointed when an interview candidate tells me that they do not know what the Construction Design and Management Regulations are and how they apply to ground investigation.  I would like to see a better understanding and the consistent implementation of the Regs across the industry.  There are significant benefits to health and safety in the field if there is consideration of health and safety and rigorous planning at the design stage.


Environment Agency publishes updated land contamination guidance

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By Phil Fitzgerald, Environment Agency, Advisor: Land contamination management, Water, Land and Biodiversity

On the 8th October 2020 the Environment Agency (EA) republished Land Contamination Risk Management (LCRM). This replaces the Model procedures for the management of land contamination (CLR11), which has been withdrawn.

You can access the updated document from the GOV.UK website.

If you use this guidance outside of England, check with the relevant regulator about its suitability. Local authorities and other regulators may also provide additional guidance.

The EA first published LCRM in June 2019. This was reformed content based on the framework and principles established by CLR11. It represented a major and much needed update.

The EA asked for informal feedback and they had a huge response with about 350 comments from individuals and organisations.

A lot of feedback was provided on the usability of the GOV.UK publishing format – a GOV.UK manual. To address this the EA opted to use a different format. LCRM is now presented as 4 HTML guides that sit on a unique publication page. The HTML guides are:

  1. Before you start the risk management process.
  2. Risk assessment.
  3. Options appraisal.
  4. Remediation and verification.

Helpful checklists for reporting requirements are included at the end of each stage.  The site investigation section, which now aligns more to the relevant British Standards, forms an integral part of the risk assessment stage.

The EA considered putting the whole document together as one single HTML but felt for online guidance it was better to break it down into relevant, useable sections.

Everyone needs to read before you start, then use a tiered approach to risk assessment (always starting with a preliminary risk assessment), then follow stages 2 and 3 in order.

You can print the 4 HTML guides, search for particular terms more easily and save them as PDFs if required.

The latest version will always be on GOV.UK.

For any future changes updates will be visible on the LCRM webpage. For any major updates the EA will also communicate via CL:AIRE e-alerts and through other routes such as twitter – @GeoscienceEA.

Feedback and changes

The majority of the comments were constructive and positive and the EA welcomed the feedback. The EA looked at:

  • the technical content
  • practical matters such as usability, printing, navigation and search
  • the layout and structure including a lack of clarity over stages and tiers
  • suggestions for new and improved content on for example, unexploded ordnance, communicating the risk, piling, geotechnical and treatability studies
  • more alignment to British Standards for the site investigation section

They have also provided clarity and improved text on:

  • who is a competent person
  • the use of MCERTS and Rapid Measurement Techniques (RMTs)
  • the use of Soil Guideline Values (SGVs) and Category 4 Screening Levels (C4SLs)
  • ground gases and vapours

The term ‘contaminant linkage’ rather than ‘pollutant linkage’ is now used. Following the risk assessment stage, they become ‘relevant contaminant linkages.’

There is reference to the voluntary National Quality Mark Scheme (NQMS), which the EA support.

There is a link to the AGS guidance on unexploded ordnance. LCRM will continue to use and reference the CL:AIRE Water and Land Library.

There is now more emphasis on adopting a sustainable approach using for example, the SURF-UK Framework and BS ISO 18504: Soil quality – sustainable remediation.

The EA had feedback on the lack of flow charts. They felt that LCRM does not need all of the flow charts that were in CLR11.  It now follows a logical and clear structure. However, they have not ruled this out and are still considering options.

There was a lot of feedback on the remediation option applicability matrix. This will be updated and re-published before the end of the year. The EA has concentrated on getting the main guidance document republished first as this was delayed due to the COVID-19 situation.

Accessible web content

The EA have to meet laws on producing accessible web content. It must be:

  • accessible to people with disabilities such as visual, motor, cognitive and hearing impairments (in the UK 1 in 5 people have a disability)
  • useable with assistive technology such as screen readers
  • concise, clear and understandable to all
  • available online to use on all devices (laptop, mobile phone, tablet) – about 50% of people viewing EA content now do so via a mobile phone

Withdrawal of CLR11

CLR11 has now been formally withdrawn.

The EA is aware that CLR11 is extensively referenced. There is no immediate action to replace all of these references. If people search GOV.UK for CLR11 they will be redirected to LCRM. For sites that the EA regulate, reference must now be made to LCRM not CLR11.

The archived version of CLR11 may still appear in other online searches. Please ignore this or be aware, that you can only use it for historical reference.

Popularity of LCRM

GOV.UK weekly user statistics show that since LCRM was published on the 8th Oct 2020 there has been a huge interest from the land contamination community with significant downloads.

Future updates

The EA will only be able to update LCRM periodically but if you want to provide any feedback you can continue to do so by emailing Phil Fitzgerald at

The EA wishes to thank everyone that took the time to respond. They would also like to thank Rebecca Fowler who is an EA digital editor for her excellent support in helping to produce LCRM.

The EA have stated that: “This is not just our guidance, we want industry to embrace it, help us to improve it and keep it up to date. It had a big act to follow.”




Ruby Wax talks mental health in the FPS’ latest podcast

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October’s Federation of Piling specialists (FPS) podcast, sponsored by Central Piling, features the highly successful comedian, presenter, author and prominent mental health speaker, Ruby Wax and James Rudoni, Managing Director of Mates in Mind (MiM), the leading UK charity that is changing the conversation around mental health in the workplace.

This special edition podcast explores why construction has such a mental health problem, how to manage fear, as well as what we can all do to help others

Hosting the podcast, FPS Chair Steve Hadley kicked off the discussions exploring first, how Ruby became involved in the issue of mental health. Ruby, in her own comedic style speaks about how she had her own mental health issues but like so many of us, kept them quiet through fear of being stigmatised or even, as was Ruby’s case, being fired. From Comic Relief using her picture across the tube stations to highlight mental illness prevalence, Ruby decided to confront the issue head-on through her stage performances. Her style brought humour to the issue and helped mainstream the issues. Discussing frankly, but with plenty of humour, Ruby talks about her own personal issues, how it led to a Master degree from Oxford. And how her studies concluded with a show built around mental health.

The “derogatory wrap” to mental health is discussed and why it exists, before moving on to how and why it impacts the construction disproportionality to many other industries. Ruby also expresses her thoughts on how mental health will be perhaps the next pandemic and if we will be ready to tackle it? How COVID has opened new ways we can support each other and how it is important we maintain this post-COVID is also discussed.

The intrinsic issues of the construction sector – machismo, poor diet, lack of rest – are discussed and how they are not helping the issues, but worryingly, whilst the industry is moving forward it still has such a long way to go.

Topical at present, Ruby talks about how the “bad news” that we are being constantly hit with is not helping matters and may even be fuelling some of our mental issues. As she comments “we are all Velcro for the negative, but Teflon though for positive”. Ruby follows with how tools such as mindfulness can helps us all cope.

Ruby considers how letting go of ‘stuff’ rather than hanging on to things – negative – can be a real positive move in dealing with anxieties and other mental health issues, as well as the role of tools like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness in us all coping. She even poses – we go to the gym each day, why not the same for our mind? If there is a take home message, then its “get to know your own mind”. Ruby also speaks of the importance of listening and engaging with others and recognising the signs of mental illness in others.

Steve then brought James into the conversation and after James explains the origins of Mates in Mind, and why it was needed in the construction sector, Ruby then quizzed him on how it supports construction.

James then talks about how they often begin by defining mental health then on to how workers can self-manage or support colleagues. Getting rid of the stigma being a priority. The sense of community was reiterated in supporting each other through meatal health issues too.

How the charity is changing the culture in the construction sector to remove the embarrassment was detailed and Ruby adds how the word “Mental” may actually be more harmful than calling it what it is “a brain illness” – a condition just like any other physical illness.

The impact of COVID on mental health was also discussed, with James presenting some extremely disturbing figures on its impact. Once again, the importance of communities in our wellbeing is reinforced – that sense of purpose and engagement having such a positive impact on us all.

Steve closes the podcast thanking James and Ruby, but also reiterates how important the issue of mental health is to us all.

A must listen podcast, full of helpful advice and tips, and can be listened to here:


AGS Yellow Book Photography Competition

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The AGS are holding a photography competition to source a potential cover for the third edition of the UK Specification for Ground Investigation (Yellow Book). Yellow book is instrumental within the geotechnical industry and is intended to aid general application to ground investigation work as well as associated schedules and bills of quantities. This document is currently within a review process and the Third Edition is due to be published in 2021.

We’re on the lookout for your most creative images which are reflective of the industry. Ideally, the image will be free of people, however this isn’t essential and we’re happy to consider all images of a geotechnical and engineering nature.

Entry into the competition is free and the winner of the competition will win a food hamper basket from luxury retailer, Fortnum and Mason, worth over £75. Three runners up will each win a bottle of Champagne.

There are no restrictions on the photography equipment used, so feel free to use a phone, computer, tablet or a traditional hand-held camera to capture your image.

All entries will be reviewed by select members of the AGS Magazine Editorial Board and the AGS Procurement of Ground Investigation Steering Group, who will decide on a shortlist and a potential winner. Full details will be announced in the March 2021 issue of AGS Magazine.

The AGS are looking for high resolution jpeg images (no less than 300 dpi / over 1mb image file size) of a geotechnical nature. Images should be no smaller than 4200 x 3400 pixels. Please note that landscape images are preferred.

• Please email your image with;
o A short description of what it showcases and where it was taken (up to 50 words)
o Image credit information (if applicable)
o Your full name
o Company name
o Postal address
to with the subject title ‘AGS Magazine: Yellow Book Photography Competition’.
• There is no limit to the number of images you enter.
• The deadline for entries is Friday 5th February 2021.
• Entry into the competition is free

• Applicants must be aged 18 or over.
• All images must be high resolution and 300 DPI (dots per inch) / over 1mb image file size.
• Applicants must be based in the UK.
• The photographer must have full copyright of all entered images.
• All images entered may be reproduced by the AGS and used in future AGS event and marketing literature without prior notice. This may include usage across the AGS’ social media channels, inclusion in the AGS Magazine, event programmes and on the AGS website. Please note that all images used will be credited.
• The AGS will put forward the winning entry to ICE Publishing for use as a cover image for the Yellow Book but cannot guarantee that it will be used.

Article Report Instrumentation & Monitoring

AGS Instrumentation & Monitoring WG – Update

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Jonathan Gammon, Leader of the AGS Instrumentation & Monitoring Working Group, has provided an update on the top issues the AGS I&MWG discussed at their last meeting which took place virtually on 16th September 2020.

Critical Links in Ground Engineering Webinar

The I&MWG’s webinar on Critical Links in Ground Engineering is taking place on Wednesday 4th November 2020 at 10am. The four-hour webinar includes presentations from Jonathan Gammon, Philip Child, Paul Burton, Dr Andrew Ridley and Julian Lovell. Further details about the webinar can be found on the AGS website.

Assisting with the AGS Procurement of Ground Investigation Initiative

The I&MWG are currently providing feedback on the Yellow Book extracts and will prepare a proposed rewrite of these sections for the Procurement of Ground Investigation Working Group to review at their next meeting. The I&MWG have also been asked to give examples of their experience of using NEC Forms of Contract for Ground Investigation and to provide feedback regarding procurement processes.

Developing a link with the Geotechnical Asset Owners Forum (GAOF)

The I&MWG are looking to develop a link with the Geotechnical Asset Owners Forum (GAOF). A request has been received for the I&MWG to give a presentation to a future meeting of the Geotechnical Asset Owners Forum, with a view to active participation in the work of GAOF and also GAOF having representation on the I&MWG.


New CIRIA Guidance on Sustainable Management of Surplus Soils

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Article provided by Andy O’Dea – Technical Director at Cognition Land and Water

Materials management is a key commercial and compliance issue on all construction projects, which often generate large amounts of surplus soil.  Managing these soils and navigating the abundance of associated guidance, regulation and legislation is an important but challenging task.  There are significant complexities around deciding if site soils are a waste or when they have achieved end-of-waste status.  There is also much confusion in the industry on how to classify, handle, store, dispose or reuse such soils whilst ensuring compliance with relevant legal obligations and regulatory requirements.

CIRIA has recognised these difficulties and commissioned a research project with the primary aim of producing concise, up to date, interactive guidance on the whole surplus soil management process from ‘cradle to grave’.  The guidance will allow the user to make informed decisions about how to manage their site soils including defining and classifying wastes, and procedures to be followed for treatment, reuse and disposal.  It will differ from other waste guidance by looking specifically at the management requirements for specific site activities.  This will enable the busy site manager to quickly get to the information they need for the actual process they are undertaking.  It will also help the designer or planner understand soil management options at the outset thereby reducing the opportunities for generation of waste soils in the first place.

Funding has been obtained, the project research contractor has been appointed and the first steering group meeting is to be held in November.  It is proposed that the first draft of the report will be completed by late December 2020 and open consultation workshops will be held in late January 2021.  CIRIA and the Project Steering Group would welcome contributions and comments during the consultation phase to ensure that the report meets the requirements of the industry.  If you have any queries or would like to receive early notification of consultation workshops, please contact CIRIA Project Manager, Joanne Kwan on


AGS Magazine: September / October 2020

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The Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists are pleased to announce the September / October 2020 issue of their publication; AGS Magazine. To view the magazine click here.

This free, publication focuses on geotechnics, engineering geology and geoenvironmental engineering as well as the work and achievements of the AGS.

There are a number of excellent articles in this issue including;

AGS Webinar Programme Update – Page 8
The Standard Penetration Test – Its Origin, Evolution and Future – Page 12
Urban Geoscience: Opening the Industry to Inclusive and Diverse Communities – Page 14
Better Risk Management in Ground Engineering – Page 20
Q&A with Jonathan Gammon of Geotechnical Observations – Page 22

Advertising opportunities are available within future issues of the publication. To view rates and opportunities please view our media pack by clicking HERE.

If you have a news story, article, case study or event which you’d like to tell our editorial team about please email Articles should act as opinion pieces and not directly advertise a company. Please note that the publication of editorial and advertising content is subject to the discretion of the editorial board.


Q&A with Jonathan Gammon

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Full Name: Jonathan Robert Arthur Gammon
Job Title: Non-Executive Director / Advisor
Company: Geotechnical Observations Limited (GeO)

I am very fortunate to have enjoyed almost forty-five years of international ground engineering experience working for consultants and contractors. In addition to project work in the UK, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, I have lived and worked in Hong Kong and New Zealand. I was Geotechnical Design Manager and Resident Engineer for West Rail in Hong Kong and Sub-Surface Design Manager for Dublin Metro North in Ireland. My infrastructure experience in London includes the Northern Line Extension, for which I was the Expert Witness, Engineering at the Public Inquiry, and the Bond Street Station Upgrade for which I was Design Project Manager. From 2014 to 2016, I worked on Phase One of High Speed Two (HS2) as Head of Ground Investigations. In 2019, I was responsible for establishing AGS’s Instrumentation and Monitoring Working Group (I&MWG), of which I am now Leader, and which featured in the June/July 2020 issue of AGS Magazine.

What or who inspired you to join the geotechnical industry?
When studying for my Civil Engineering degree at the University of Surrey in the early 1970s, I was very fortunate to fall under the “spell” of Noel Simons and Bruce Menzies, who taught us Soil Mechanics. Although I had intended to take up a career in bridge engineering – my year in industry had been spent working for contractor Marti AG on the construction of the fantastic Felsenau Bridge in Switzerland – I was easily persuaded to change direction and had their support to gain a place on the MSc Course in Soil Mechanics at Imperial College. In 2018, I was very pleased to be invited by the University of Surrey to give a lecture about my career and acknowledge the inspiration Noel and Bruce had given me. In 2019 I gave the same lecture at Imperial College and could acknowledge the inspiration given to me there.

What does a typical day entail?
I retired from full-time work in August 2017, when I was Technical Director, Tunnelling and Geotechnics at CH2M (now Jacobs). In late 2018, I was delighted when Managing Director Andrew Ridley gave me the opportunity to be, on a part-time basis, Non-Executive Director and Advisor at instrumentation and monitoring (I&M) specialists Geotechnical Observations Limited (GeO).
One of the features of previous AGS Magazine “Q&As” has been an inability to assign the word “typical” to our days. Even in semi-retirement this applies. I am fortunate to have opportunities to join fitness classes at a nearby gym, or online during the COVID-19 lockdown, so some days start in that way. I will also admit that some days involve the typical retirement pastimes of gardening and walking!

My work at GeO and my input in a volunteer capacity to AGS and other organisations means that I keep a keen eye on the technical press. Most days I will be receiving and sending emails and searching out news and information via the internet. Zoom, Teams, and similar Calls often feature during my day. WhatsApp messages arrive and need attention. I have benefitted from watching excellent webinars on a wide range of topics.

Although based at home in West Sussex, I always enjoy the opportunity to travel to our offices in Weybridge and to catch up with everyone there. In November last year Andrew and I made a successful business visit to Switzerland, where I was able to use the German I had learned all those years ago for my Industrial Year at Surrey!

Once a month I prepare my Report to the GeO Board and take an active part in the Board Meeting.

I am a STEM Ambassador and that led to my role as a Volunteer at the Science Museum in London which would, prior to COVID-19, feature regularly in my calendar.

I am fortunate to have contact with those who have worked for me going back many decades and, as a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Geologist, I have been able to help those applying for their own professional qualifications. As a Fellow of Engineering New Zealand, I continue to take part in the on-line Assessments of UK-based candidates for New Zealand professional qualifications

Are there any projects which you’re particularly proud to have been a part of?
Yes. And I am very lucky to have too many to list here! However, when pressed for an answer I will readily admit that my very first project – the Felsenau Bridge in Switzerland, where I learned about foundations, superstructures, temporary works, and site operations and was given an astonishing amount of responsibility – is still a favourite. I am also particularly proud of all the wonderful staff who have worked with me on projects in the UK and overseas.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
One challenge, being semi-retired, is not having the daily contact with friends and colleagues that I enjoyed when working full-time. That situation has applied to almost everyone during the COVID-19 lockdown, so there should now be a wider appreciation of that aspect of retirement.
I am fortunate to have a never-ending To Do list, not all work-related, and a major challenge is setting priorities and trying to exercise effective time-management. I had thought I would be able to keep up to date with my reading of the journals that my professional memberships keep supplying through my letter-box; that has proven harder than expected, even more so when the journals are delivered electronically.
Directly related to my part-time role at GeO, the most challenging aspect would be keeping sufficiently engaged with our overall operations and commercial well-being to know where I can best apply my experience and provide the advice required of me. I am very fortunate to be able to continue my involvement with, and passion for, civil engineering in this way but it is a challenge not to make it a full-time commitment.

What AGS Working Group(s) are you a Member of and what are your current focuses?
I am the Leader of the Instrumentation and Monitoring Working Group (I&MWG). Members of the I&MWG are nominated to be Primary Contacts with the other AGS Working Groups, and I represent the I&MWG on the Business Practice WG.
We are currently focussing on: the I&M Webinar we are broadcasting on 4 November 2020 at 10am; input to the revision of the “Yellow Book” (UK Specification for Ground Investigation); and contributing to the AGS initiative relating to procurement and related matters as influenced by the Institution of Civil Engineers’ “Project 13”. We also expect to be helping the British Tunnelling Society with revisions to their published documents and contributing to the work of CIRIA.
Education, training, and qualifications for those working in I&M receive on-going attention.

What do you enjoy most about being an AGS Member?
I attended the meeting at Imperial College in 1988 that led to the formation of AGS, I helped establish AGS in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, and I was Chairman of AGS from 2008 to 2010. I was both surprised and delighted to be made an Honorary Member of AGS in 2019. So, it is fantastic to be able to continue my very enjoyable involvement with AGS and to represent the I&MWG and GeO on AGS’s Executive.
AGS Meetings, Seminars, and other events are not only informative and stimulating. They are also enjoyable. It is a hallmark of AGS. I have been told by guests invited to our meetings that they find them a refreshing change from other gatherings of a similar kind. That is not to say that we do not have differences of opinion and some very robust debates before reaching final decisions. We do. This reflects the breadth of experience, the different work-place roles, and the range of ages sat around the table. Mutual respect is a feature of AGS membership; that means that no “harm” is done because of such exchanges and enjoyment persists.

What do you find beneficial about being an AGS Member?
As a Member, we have access to the fantastic library of guidance and information – and the Help Lines – that AGS provides. And to the practical advice and know-how available directly from other Members. AGS Seminars and Webinars on a wide range of topics are very beneficial to Members.

Membership also generates the awareness, particularly to those just setting out in careers, that the term “specialist” is far from being equal in meaning to “narrow”. The breadth of involvement of geotechnical and geoenvironmental specialists in projects is huge. The opportunities to be engaged in ground engineering are immense. The names of the Working Groups at AGS, with active participation in their activities always extremely beneficial, reflect the diverse nature of the membership of AGS.

Why do you feel the AGS is important to the industry?

As someone who was involved in that first meeting in 1988 that led to the formation of AGS, I can confidently say that AGS is as important to the industry today as it was then. During the 1980s it was becoming very clear that the “learned societies” and the professional bodies were unable to represent, fairly or adequately, the whole range of types of companies and organisations that were working in or contributing to geotechnical activity. Adopting the role of a Trade Association, AGS increased in importance to those involved in ground investigation, laboratory testing, equipment and material supplies, education and training, insurance and legal matters, as well as those working as specialists within consultants or contractors or working as sole practitioners who then had access to a wealth of know-how and experience not easily available elsewhere.

Initially an Association of Geotechnical Specialists, it was not long before those working in the “new” Geoenvironmental sector found themselves welcome at AGS. The outstanding success of the Contaminated Land Working Group from those earliest of days is testament, alone, to the importance of AGS to the industry. As has been the establishment of the Loss Prevention Working Group.

AGS is a unique and vital organisation. Less than ten years after AGS was established in the UK, I arrived back in Hong Kong for a second period of work on the exciting geotechnical and geoenvironmental challenges there. Immediately, and with the support of the whole specialist community for reasons that echoed the UK in 1988, I found myself involved in setting up a “sister” to the UK’s AGS. With the enormous assistance of the wonderful AGS Secretariat, an AGS Hong Kong came into being and persists with great importance to this day; its programme of Continuing Professional Development events is highly regarded and much treasured.

What changes would you like to see implemented in the geotechnical industry?

Those working in the geotechnical industry, irrespective of background or area of work, do seem to get on well with each other. However, this sense of “camaraderie” does not seem to find its way easily into commercial arrangements. When looking after the Ground Investigation for Phase One of HS2 I spoke on several occasions about the benefits that would be realised if contractors would collaborate and form Joint Ventures. In some instances, ground investigation contractors, as an example, are owned by large Tier One contractors and the opportunities for collaboration then seem remote; a similar situation occurs in I&M. This does conflict, however, with the ability of Tier One contractors (and their consulting engineers’ equivalents) to collaborate with their peers to bid for and secure work.

It is important that we are represented on the various committees and steering groups, national and international, that are involved with Standards, Codes, Specifications, Good Practice Guides, and the like; AGS enables us to do this.

We need to assert ourselves in the arenas occupied by Quantity Surveyors and Structural Engineers, to make sure that geotechnical and geoenvironmental considerations receive timely attention. The need for adequate Baseline Monitoring and, where appropriate, Whole-Life Monitoring, must be understood and underlined.

Attention to the ICE’s “Project 13”, and its related changes, is vital, especially if we are to align the geotechnical industry with the NEC Forms of Contract.

One major change? Not so much in the geotechnical industry but for the industry. To find that Ground Investigation and I&M are thought about and actioned at the appropriate time and do not become an after-thought, entirely out-of-step with the design and construction programme.


Inside Datgel

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Name: Phil Wade

Job title: Managing Director

Company name: Datgel

What does the company do and what areas does it specialise in?
Datgel is a hybrid software company focusing on ground engineering data management and reporting software. We develop Add-Ins to gINT, provide customisation and software development consulting services to our clients, which oftentimes is to further develop our gINT Add-In products. We also provide training services for gINT and Datgel software, and we resell gINT as well as other Bentley Systems software and Golden Software.

Where is Datgel located?
Datgel’s team is in Singapore, Spain and Australia. Further, we have companies in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. I’m based in Singapore.

How many people does the company employ?
Currently 7 people contribute in a range of specialist roles. By the way, we are on the lookout for suitably qualified and motivated sales engineers in the UK and North America.

When did you set up Datgel?
I started Datgel 15 years ago, in October 2005.

What is your career background, and what enticed you to set up Datgel?
I began my career in construction as a labourer for a construction company during summer holidays before university started and after my first year.  My interest in geotechnics was initiated when I worked on a landslip dewatering project, followed by work experience with a geotechnical consultant.

After graduating from Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, I went on to work for a major global geotechnical consultancy, based in their Sydney office. I worked on site investigations in Australia and New Caledonia.  I also became their gINT developer, developing Excel VBA applications, and managing the site data for a massive new nickel mine development.  From here I could see my future career was to be focused on Geotechnical Software. Through this period, I did a part time course work masters in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

I went on to work for the gINT reseller in the UK at the time for 18 months.  We won some major new clients in my time in the UK, and I developed the geotechnical data management system for the civil works contractor for the New Doha International Airport.

In 2005 I returned to Australia to start Datgel.  At the time I don’t think many geotechnical companies in Australia took data management seriously (which has changed now). I saw running my own business was the way for me to do the type of work I wanted to do and turn my ideas in to products.

What does a typical day entail?
Being a small enterprise, and the technical expert in our company, I wear many hats as the Managing Director.  My week would entail a wide range of tasks including sales calls with customers, technical support, programming new features in Datgel’s software products using VB.NET, developing reports in gINT, reviewing the work of my team members, through to people and financial management.

What are the company’s core values?
A few years ago I wrote these aims for Datgel, and they still ring true:

    • To provide quality solutions and support to our clients
    • To advance the use of databases and electronic data interchange in Geotechnical Engineering
    • Humane organisation – people are the organisation
    • Straight and honourable dealings
    • Social usefulness

Are there any projects or achievements which Datgel are particularly proud to have been a part of?
The first project Datgel worked on was to set up a gINT system and customised/localised AGS Format for the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority (now Transport for NSW).  This kick started AGS format use in Australia and set the stage of our business in Australia.

Since the beginning, Datgel has worked with 3 of the world’s biggest dredging companies, which seeded may of our software products.  Two of the biggest projects were Ras Laffan Port Expansion and Khalifa Port. Coincidently, today these same companies are using our software on the Tuas Mega Port in Singapore.

Datgel’s software products are our lasting achievement.  Most were developed with close collaboration with clients, and it is very fulfilling to see them in use and see the logs and other reports made by our software posted on the internet or in publications.

How important is sustainability within the company?
Datgel has made a big effort over the past few years to go paperless in our internal work. Compared to a more physical company, there is only so much we can do in this space.

How does Datgel support graduates and early career professionals who are entering the industry?
Datgel has taken on half a dozen paid interns/work experience students, and graduates over the years in the software engineering/computer science space. We supported their development by allowing them time to self-study new technologies, mentoring and external training.

How has COVID- 19 effect the day to day running of the company? How have staff adapted?
We pivoted to all online marketing and conducted a well-attended webinar series on our product range.  For a time, we all had to work from home, but thankfully we were already in a position to do this as our IT infrastructure was already in Microsoft Azure (cloud) and we had multiple remote employees already working from home so everything was proven. I think for us, the way of working was not fundamentally different, and other types of companies had a much more difficult time.

Why do you feel the AGS is important to the industry?
I probably have a different viewpoint than most, being a remote member of AGS. I see AGS facilitates the UK industry to get together to do greater good tasks.  It brings together professionals from across the ground engineering industry that other societies/organisations just don’t achieve.  This has facilitated the creation of the world’s leading ground engineering data interchange format.

What are Datgel’s future ambitions?
There have been quite some changes over the years with Bentley Systems buying out gINT ten years ago and now Keynetix last year. Further with Bentley Systems’ greater focus on a SAS cloud application, not that gINT is going anywhere.  But we can assume there won’t be too many big leaps in future for gINT, the platform for Datgel’s existing software products.

Also, the business of software reselling is not what it was with the greater focus on subscription licenses and SAS cloud applications where resellers see less or no revenue.

Certainly, some plans are in the making, and you should look out for our new initiatives over the coming years. What I can say now is we are looking to make our software more accessible to the North America and Europe markets, partly through making it easier to buy online, and secondly with further localisation.

Datgel are the diamond sponsors of the AGS4.1 webinar which is due to take place on Tuesday 8th December 2020 at 11am.



Article Geotechnical

The Standard Penetration Test – Its Origin, Evolution and Future

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Tags: Featured

Article provided by Stephen West, Ramboll

On 15th September the AGS hosted a webinar on the evolution and use of the Standard Penetration Test which was generously sponsored by Socotec.

Stuart Wagstaff and Peter Reading built on their respective articles published earlier this year in the AGS magazine providing their insights on the history and development of the SPT and the issues that all geotechnical practitioners must consider when specifying, executing, and using the SPT.  This was a very popular subject with nearly 400 live views of the webinar.  After their presentations Stuart and Peter were joined by Julian Lovell and Stephen West to discuss this topic further and reflect on the many questions and feedback provided by the viewers on this topic.  The webinar also included a number of polls which provided information on how the SPT is used.  Many correspondents supported the use of the SPT as part of an effective ground investigation however there were also calls for development of the test to better measure energy expended in the test to provide more information on the state of the ground during the test and to automate the recording of key pieces of data collected during the test.  Observations were also made on improving safety precautions for drill crews during the test.

It’s clear that there is enthusiasm in the industry to evolve the execution and use of the SPT.  The need for research and investment by the Geotechnical Industry was discussed and the AGS is well placed to help encourage this evolution.  If you missed this webinar there is a recording on the AGS website which can be viewed HERE or on the AGS’ Vimeo channel.  Look out for further technical webinars from the AGS over the coming months.

Polls results

Do you use SPT N60 values to correlate to geotechnical properties / analytical input factors?

  • Yes: 77%
  • No: 22%
  • Other: 1%

Do you routinely use ‘improved’ sampling techniques to obtain Class 1 samples?

  • Yes: 46%
  • No: 53%
  • Other: 1%

Do you think techniques such as rotary coring or pressuremeter testing and the results obtained are value for money?

  • Yes: 69%
  • No: 30%
  • Other: 1%

Would you like to see a better ‘standardisation’ for the SPT test and more reliable correlation factors?

  • Yes: 94%
  • No: 5%
  • Other: 1%

What is your preferred method to characterise ground strength?

  • Standard Penetration Test: 28%
  • Laboratory shear strength testing: 45%
  • Direct observation of undisturbed soil samples: 3%
  • Other in situ test: 12%
  • Other: 12%

What method do you typically use to derive soil stiffness parameters?

  • Published correlation with Standard Penetration Test N values: 47%
  • Laboratory stiffness measurements such as oedometer tests: 26%
  • In-situ measurements using CPT: 8%
  • In-situ measurements using pressuremeter: 5%
  • Other: 14%

Urban Geoscience: Opening the Industry to Inclusive and Diverse Communities

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Article provided by Dr Nick Koor – Reader in Geological Engineering University of Portsmouth

Over the last 15 years, we have seen numbers enrolling for geoscience degrees steadily falling and this has prompted many of us to do some serious soul-searching to work out why this might be. In doing so, what has become apparent to me is that Geoscience, as we have all known it, is perhaps no longer relevant to today’s demands for sustainability, or reaching the wide student audiences that other science degrees continue attracting. Numbers have fallen by 43% since 2005 and mirror a similar demise in students taking A-Level Geology, which tends to track the oil price (Figure 1). Looking at the longer term, A-level Geology student numbers peaked in 1983-84, coinciding with the North Sea oil boom, and since then there has been a steady decline of 66% in total numbers.

The climate emergency and shift away from carbon based energy will require Geoscience at Universities to examine and perhaps loosen its ties with the oil sector, to focus more on climate change, the energy transition, and urban geoscience, while embracing artificial intelligence and the big data challenges to make our degrees more relevant to Generation Z. In conjunction with these falling student numbers is the realisation that geoscience, in a University setting, is dominated by white middle-class males with black and Asian minorities poorly represented as students and academics, as well as those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

This article will focus on how we should make our degrees, and as a consequence industry, more fit for purpose sustainability-wise, inclusive and diverse academically, and potentially broaden the understanding of Geoscience to young people who are currently unaware it exists as a subject or that it provides viable career opportunities. I use the term Geoscience as a catch-all to include subjects at University and in the profession that encompass geology, earth science, hydrogeology, geophysics, engineering geology, and geohazards etc.

Figure 1 – Geoscience A-level and HE entry from 2002 to 2020 – statistics courtesy of University Geoscience UK

During the Webinar on the 30th July 2020, I asked the question: “Does anyone actually care, apart from geoscience departments at Universities, about this demise?” Until the lack of UK geoscience graduates actually starts to negatively impact UK PLC in terms of its ability to function, then unfortunately, I doubt that industry or government will be concerned. According to a survey taken after the Webinar, 83% (28 out of 34) of respondents stated that they did not currently have difficulty in recruiting geoscientists. So it would appear that this is presently a problem for geoscience departments in Universities but not necessarily industry. But what about over the next 30 years? If numbers continue falling then will this decline adversely affect UK PLC in achieving some of the grand challenges of our time? Such as: carbon neutrality by 2050; the energy transition; and resilience to climate change, all of which are problems that require significant geoscience expertise and leadership. Interestingly, 76% (26 out of 34) of AGS members who gave feedback studied for a geoscience first Degree, which suggests that if geoscience student numbers continue to fall radically then this will negatively affect the ability of AGS members to recruit graduating UK geoscientists.

There is much research around access to the STEM subjects (Geoscience is STEM). I will briefly discuss some longitudinal research that investigated the science aspirations of young people. The ASPIRES project started at Kings College in 2009 and continues now at University College London as ASPIRES 2 (Archer, Moote, Macleod, Francis & DeWitt. 2020). Looking at some of those important outcomes from the ASPIRES 2 project: only 16% of 10-18 year olds aspire to be a scientist, and within that age band aspirations remain unchanged. Yet, we know there is considerable interest in science and that 10-18 year olds appreciate and understand the importance of science. So why is it that only 16% of 10 to 18 year olds want to be a scientist? The research tells us that science is perceived as a subject only for “brainy high achieving students” and this attitude is exaggerated through to secondary school years. It is the students identifying as white middle-class males, with high levels of what the APSIRES 2 researchers term “science capital”, who are inclined towards science as a career. Science capital is defined as a person’s understanding of science through parents, friends and family, careers and teacher advice at school etc. This reinforces white middle-class dominance in science as this group is more likely to have access to these capital-building experiences than someone from a low income, inner city background. When looking at black students the trend is different. Many aspire to be scientists at a young age but this enthusiasm does not translate beyond 16 years of age. The ASPIRES 2 research tells us that this is due to many factors but primarily structural racism, societal inequalities, and the lack of science capital.

The Black Lives Matter movement has had the effect of accelerating the whole issue of underrepresentation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students and academics in Higher Education (HE). This is a really important issue that needs to be addressed by all of us. In the UK, 14% of the population is BAME, this percentage increases to about 18% for 18 to 24 year olds (UK Census 2011). When we consider urban populations, that percentage increases to: 42% in Birmingham, 40% in London, and 33% in Manchester for instance. Dowey, Barclay, Fernando, Giles, Houghton, Jackson, Mills, Newton, Rogers and Williams (Unpublished) report that in 2018/19, BAME enrolment in undergraduate Geoscience was just 10.1% with Physical Geography being the worst of all the 54 Physical Sciences, with 8.5% BAME representation on undergraduate courses. An internal report by Fernando and Antel (2020) for Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences asserts that BAME students make up about 5% in Geoscience compared to about 11% in other science departments at Oxford. I would imagine that these percentages are very similar in the UK “ground engineering” sector.  For instance in a survey carried out by Business in the Community, results show that just 3.4% of all construction managers in the UK are from ethnic minorities.

What are the barriers to BAME students with respect to Geoscience? From anecdotal evidence, work undertaken by Oxford University and others, plus the Aspires 2 research, I would argue that: Geoscience is perceived as a white male dominated subject and as such this discipline does not look inclusive; Geoscience is seen as the “dirty polluter” rather than the solution to climate change; BAME students are commonly from inner city communities (as the stats tell us) and have little or no “geoscience capital” as opposed to white middle class students who are more likely to go to a private school and therefore have access to far better careers advice and teachers who are tuned-in to Geoscience etc.; BAME students have little or no exposure to the principles of field work, which they may perceive as expensive and often tied to locations where there are very few BAME people (rural France for instance) which might feel threatening as an experience; Geoscience is seen as being for outdoorsy types with little or no urban context; the subject is considered old fashioned and out of date, focussing on outmoded industries such as oil. These barriers are intersectional in so far as they affect not only BAME students but other underrepresented groups in Geoscience including students that identify as female or transgender, for instance (Fernando and Antel, 2020) .

Our current approach to Geoscience is, in my opinion, far too old fashioned and probably does not appeal to young students from an urban background who: do not have any Geoscience Capital, attend inner city schools with little outside space, have careers teachers who do not fully understand the opportunities that Geoscience can offer, and parents who are not aware of the professions that a degree in Geoscience lead to. I would argue therefore that there needs to be a complete re-think in the way we teach Geoscience. As the ASIPRES 2 researchers say, “we need to change”, not the students, in order to make Geoscience much more attractive and relevant.

Photo: 2019 Jan. Lam Tin Tunnel Hong Kong. Photo taken by Nick Koor

In light of the above it is clear to me that we need to do something different in Geoscience education to increase diversity and at the same time boost the overall numbers of students wanting to take Geoscience as a Degree. Introducing Urban Geoscience into the undergraduate curriculum may be one way of achieving some of the changes that are clearly required. Urban Geoscience is about the understanding and utilisation of the ground beneath our cities. In the UK over 80% of the population live in urban areas (2011 UK census). According to the UN, 55% of the world population currently live in cities and this is projected to increase to 63% by 2050. Therefore, Urban Geoscience has the potential to be relevant to a massive number of young people. I should emphasise that Urban Geoscience is not just another term for Engineering Geology or Geological Engineering (see Abolins, 2002). In my mind it encompasses subjects such as sustainable and resilient cities, sub-surface urban planning and architecture, and future cities to name a few. A Degree could encompass multi-disciplined teaching with architects, engineers and planners to develop an integrated, modern holistic degree which satisfies industry and produces graduates that are equipped with the correct skills in digital visualization, manipulation of big datasets, spatial analysis and programming together with the fundamental knowledge around geoscience, ground characterisation, hydrogeology, the Anthropocene, ground engineering design, and ground-structure interaction.

There is an opportunity here for industry and the HE sector to work together to develop a totally focussed and inclusive new type of degree in Urban Geoscience. It is recognised that some University geoscience departments will not have the expertise or staff to deliver a full degree programme and may require help from others if they want to travel this route. My thoughts are that there could be a movement to develop a Degree Apprenticeship (DA) “Geoscience” Standard which has a number of degree pathway exit points, one of which would be Urban Geoscience. The advantages for the student in doing a DA are many, but one significant benefit is that there is no debt at the end of the degree. As there is no DA in geosciences or related disciplines, the combination of DA plus Urban Geoscience may be attractive to an entirely new set of potential geoscientists who may otherwise not think University is for them or would never consider Geoscience as a degree or career.

My challenge to the geoscience community is therefore as follows:

  1. Support the development and teaching of Urban Geoscience at University in partnership with and support from industry.
  2. Actively engage with movements such as @BlkinGeoscience to support and enhance awareness and opportunity for minority groups in geoscience.
  3. Become involved and expand the mentoring initiatives launched by the Ground Forum and Federation of Piling Specialists to guide and tutor underrepresented groups through university and into the profession.

Archer, L., Moote, J., Macleod, E., Francis, B., & DeWitt, J. (2020). ASPIRES 2: Young people’s science and career aspirations, age 10–19.

Fernando, B and Antell, G. (2020). Recommendations for improving racial equality, diversity, and inclusion in the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford Ad hoc working group on BAME issues1 February 2020.

Dowey, N., Barclay, J., Fernando, B., Giles, S., Houghton, J., Jackson, C. A. L., … & Williams, R. Diversity Crisis in UK Geoscience Research Training. Unpublished.