Conducting fieldwork

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If you need to bring materials or data in or out of the UK (including via email, fax, video-conferences and shared data environments) as part of your research you may need to be aware of some important controls.

Export control considerations

See more information on the Research Services webpages.

Individual academics and researchers in the University have a legal obligation to consider whether they need a licence from the UK Export Control Organisation (ECO), part of the UK Department of International Trade to 'export' goods, technology, software, designs or other related 'know-how'. Failure to obtain a licence or to comply with its provisions may constitute a criminal offence involving potential fines, legal costs and/or prison sentences of up to 10 years.

The key concerns relate to exporting:

  1. Technologies, material, equipment or know-how that could be used in nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or ballistic missiles other explosive devices or their means of delivery (weapons of mass destruction, for short)
  2. Items that have been specially designed or modified for military use and their components
  3. Dual-use items – those that can be used for civil or military purposes – which meet certain specified technical standards and some of their components

Importing natural materials or samples

See more information on the Research Services webpages.

Individual academics and researchers in the University also have a legal obligation to comply with the Nagoya Protocol.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (the ‘ABS’ Protocol) is an international agreement that implements the access and benefit-sharing obligations of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It entered into force on 12 October 2014.

Genetic resources in this context includes any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity which is of actual or potential value, or derivatives. Researchers who source or use such material are required to 'exercise diligence' to ensure that genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with those resources have been accessed in accordance with applicable access and benefit sharing laws implemented by the source country. 

Note: This information is a brief summary. Please refer to the Research Services Nagoya protocol webpages for the full guidance.

You should consider your own physical and psychological safety, as well as that of your research team, when working overseas.

  • The Social Sciences Division has a good fieldwork resource, which is helpful across disciplines. The Social Sciences and Humanities divisions offer guidance on issues to consider when preparing a risk assessment if working overseas.
  • The Social Sciences Division also runs many fieldwork-related courses to support researchers working overseas. 
  • The Safety Office has a policy and guidance on safety in fieldwork. The Safety Office also runs fieldwork safety overseas courses.
  • There is good support for researchers experiencing secondary(vicarious) trauma caused by fieldwork in challenging environments. This is trauma caused by conducting research in difficult working environments. This may be the case when researchers are exposed to disturbing or distressing sides of human experience. The Social Sciences Division has created a useful video on secondary trauma.
  • The Social Sciences Division has also produced a factsheet on managing secondary trauma. There is also a workshop to prepare for secondary trauma which may be run by your department or division.
  • The insurance office also have key travel restrictions on their website, including a list of countries which require referral to the insurance team prior to travel, due to being high risk.
  • UKCDR has also provided a list of resources for improving risk assessments and safety awareness when working in developing countries.

See also

Transfer/Sharing (Research Services)

Research governance and integrity (Research Services)