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We hope that by partaking in Overt Research Fieldwork, you will be able to add to the experimental knowledge, sites and methods we are developing. An explanation of how to register in order to submit to this database is on our Participate page.

Preparation checklist - visiting sites

Check road maps, directions, site information, lat / long grid reference or a GPS system .
Check you have appropriate maps, timetables, route plans.
Check weather conditions and that you have appropriate clothing and food/ drink, as many sites are remote.
Check all AV/ documenting equipment is powered up and you have spare batteries / lenses / pens.
Check someone knows where you are going, or utilise GPS tracking device or mark a map using your smart phone.
Check you have personal ID, the Overt Researcher Identity Card and Know Your Rights information to hand.

Consider your own assumptions, what the space will be like and what you would expect.
Allow your imagination to be guided by the site, not by the information you are given on a public website.
Respond to all cues, especially taking care to be aware and note / document anxiety caused in relation to power, observation,
surveillance or suspicion by those acting as authority.
Be aware that you are performing an unusual role in relation to an expectation of how the site is used.
Create the necessary dynamics in the situational moment, apply concepts, draw on experience, refer to context and
information - taking care to note its origins.
Observe, perform, experiment.


It is worth bearing in mind that approaching the front gate of almost any site or establishment is the best way of impeding your research, as it draws immediate unnecessary attentions, and at worse can look like an attempted breach of security, a potential political action, or a criminal reconnaissance and therefore might not be the best way to start (but you may of course develop your own methods of course). Likewise, loitering at fences, hiding in undergrowth and sneaking around is also considered rightly as suspicious.

We have found it is helpful to stay visible, use local pathways and common land – dog walkers, parks and lay-bys often provide ample cover and clues. Overt Research has as its foreground the site, in its interpretation and experience in as many senses as possible, but it is NOT about individuals who work at sites of interest. We would therefore recommend you avoid taking images of Front Gates and major entry /exit points, as well as photos or notation of staff, individual vehicle registrations or other images that could be regarded as for the purpose of identifying people (For example, Research Labs that Animal Rights Protestors have targeted or may target are very sensitive to these issues). However, you may find engaging in conversation with locals is helpful, if not always welcomed (see below).


Performing a simple reconnaissance in a vehicle, by bicycle or on foot is the best way to not only experience and understand the site, and the ways in which it is used, but will also provide clues as to activity that might not be volunteered. You may want to look out for and document unusual or specific landscaping, placing of buildings in relation to trees and environmental indicators including construction of barriers, banks or hills, laying down of cable in roads (entry /exit points), signage, ventilation equipment etc.

Being visible or highly visible is often a good way of remaining 'invisible', as well as to signal your intentions. A 'hi-viz' vest is cheap to purchase and as workers often utilise these, you will be able to both be overt and covert at the same time. When approached you can show your overt researcher identification.

Be aware that opportunities often arise that were not expected, so before you get near to a site, be ready to take photographs/ record audio or take action at short notice.

Local communities

Many of the communities that surround sensitive sites, work in the sites themselves, and therefore act as an informal security presence. They can therefore be more cautious than the security measure employed by the site itself. Be prepared for this when in local villages, next to housing etc. However, you should note that we have found that dog-walkers, ramblers, walkers, joggers, cyclists etc can provide you with not only interesting insights, but local history of the site and comments on recent activity. If not directly employed or using the site, they are often the source of fascinating rumours and stories, critical information that fuels and seeps into the public imaginary.




An enormous amount of false rumour and over-protective behaviour often characterizes security at sites of interest. Security on private land in particular can overstep the mark, and you should be aware of the limits of power in relationship to stopping an individual in undertaking their fieldwork. Read and know your rights, check local byelaws before you proceed.

Law and Photography of Sites in the UK

Photographers are well within their rights to take photographs of almost any buildings, so long as they are standing in a public place (the road is usually a public space - but mind the traffic!). However, if you happen to be within private property and the owner / occupier approaches, they do have the right to ask you to stop what you are doing and ask you to leave if you refuse. Private security guards DO NOT have stop and search powers, or the right to seize equipment or delete images or confiscate film, under any circumstances.

Metropolitan and other Police Forces have used section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to ask to see photographs that have been taken. However, under the section, such a demand can only be made where the police believe you are suspected of actually being a terrorist. Section 44 that has also been used to stop photographers has been notoriously unclear until recently. In relation to section 44 the European Court of Human rights made a judgement to which the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, on the 8th July 2010 to the House of Commons, responded:

The Court [European Court of Human Rights] found that the powers are drawn too broadly – at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used. It also found that the powers contain insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties.

The Government cannot appeal this judgment – although we would not have done so had we been able. We have always been clear in our concerns about these powers, and they will be included as part of our review of counter-terrorism legislation. I can therefore tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of section 44 in contravention of the European Court’s ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of the civil liberties of every one of us. But neither will I leave the police without the powers they need to protect us.

Since last Wednesday, I have sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces. In order to comply with the judgment – but avoid pre-empting the review of counter-terrorism legislation – I have decided to introduce interim guidelines for the police.

I am therefore changing the test for authorisation for the use of section 44 powers from requiring a search to be ‘expedient’ for the prevention of terrorism, to the stricter test of it being ‘necessary’ for that purpose. And, most importantly, I am introducing a new suspicion threshold.

Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using section 44 powers of stop and search, only vehicles. Even in this case they must reasonably suspect terrorism. More information here

Despite this ruling, we advise that in some cases, places of interest may fall under the Official Secrets Act. If you are taking photographs that you think might reveal something you ought not to, then you can refer to the DNA Notices website. The DNA Notice system is a voluntary code that provides guidance to the British media on the publication or broadcasting of national security information.

It is worth bearing in mind that the nature of Overt Research Fieldwork is not seeking to undermine or damage national security, but in most cases these sites are or should be prepared. It is worth noting that in a recent discussion on Alan Turnbull’s UK Secret Bases website, that is specifically interested in military facilities, the following comment is posted:

“These sites should already not only be aware of what is public, but also have taken security measures accordingly.”
Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson – Secretary (1999-2004) Defence,Press and Broadcasting Advisory (D-Notice) Committee

Local Byelaws / Trespass and Access

Finally, please be aware that standing on property without permission can be considered trespass, including climbing up a wall or fence to get a good picture (interference). Other byelaws also exist for control of specific sites, specifically around military and other 'sensitive' areas. You will need to be aware of these, although in many cases, it can be argued that these contravene some areas of the Human Rights Act.

For more information and references for this information see: