Hedgerow Herbalism: make your own teas and massage oils

This year we have a new short course here at CAT, hedgerow herbalism, where you can learn to scout for herbs, sustainable harvesting from the wild, fresh use, preparing herbs for storage, de-hydrating.

Including teas and decoctions, culinary use of herbs, making a basic infused oil, basic formulae for oil infusions, basic salve/balm, basic massage oil, basic cream, herbal vinegars, herbal syrups, bio-regional ingredients, supporting local economy.

You will also be given handouts on the above and on 3-5 very common hedgerow herbs with information on their constituents, home-grown potential, general therapeutic use and folklore.


Bookings and course programs can be found at www.cat.org.uk/shortcourses or by phone on 01654 704952

New long term volunteers – part 2

Following last week’s post on the new long volunteers we have had a few more arrivals. In biology, we now have Jola, from Poland, who came here after studying water and waste water technology at Cranfield University. She heard about CAT during her studies and came here to get experience, hopefully while having a good time. Her goal for the future is to work for a water company or with reed beds.


Danny is now working in the marketing department. He has a degree in graphic design and was working full time as a graphic web designer prior coming here. He sees his volunteering here as a career move to follow his heart down the eco route. At the end of the 6 month, he hopes to go on to explore the world, learn about environmental communities and plans to set up an organisation providing support for disadvantaged children in Asia with his girlfriend Bee … anything strictly not for profit.


We also now have a French engineer, Sebastien who used to install solar panels in France after a studying for a degree in renewable energy. He wanted to discover new things and thought these unusual settings would be ideal for it. He volunteers with the engineering department and when I spoke to him, surprisingly, he was working on our solar panels.


CAT really seems to attract volunteers from all over the world, our new gardener, Martina also came from across the waters and is from Czech Republic. She has been travelling and WWOOFING for a while and tries to live a low impact life. She hopes to get her own land with her own garden in the future. Coming here seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about sustainable living.


A new project is also starting this summer for local volunteers, such as Candy, who has been a regular visitor to CAT for the past 15 years, so when she moved in the area she kept an eye out for opportunities. She has recently started the local volunteers project and tries to recruit volunteers from the area who would like to offer a few hours of their time in exchange for invaluable skills and experience. She has experience in volunteers management and hopes to build stronger links with the local community.


Bumpy Feathered Love

The middle of March and love has been in the air recently at CAT, with the resident chaffinches seeking out their mating partners, and creating some serious collisions in the process.

This year seems no different to any other, with several unfortunate head-on collisions with the windows resulting in slightly dazed and confused chaffinches. It is amazing what such dainty creatures can withstand, with their hollow (but reinforced) bones; Just imagine how much we would suffer if we went running straight into a brick wall!

Possibly the safest place for this chaffinch
Possibly the safest place for this chaffinch

Hopefully there will be some happy endings to accompany the bumps, and plenty of young chaffinches flying around in the Summer.

For the time being, though, it looks like we will all be practising miniature first aid, making sure these courting sweethearts recover as quickly as possible.

Some colour on the steps

The early signs of spring have started appearing at CAT recently, with the appearance of  coltsfoot on the Garden Steps, adding an extra bit of colour to the walk up the hill.

The first coltsfoot emerging
The first coltsfoot emerging

Dyfi biosphere school conference

The Dyfi valley is Wales’ first UNESCO biosphere. It is a special place where conservation and sustainable development go hand in hand. On thursday, the Dyfi biosphere school conference took place here at CAT. Over 100 pupils came from different school across the Dyfi valley to attend a day packed with discussion, adventure and investigation, especially designed to help the children learn and understand the truly special biosphere they live in.
Children took part in a variety of workshops, such as building detectives where they explored the science of sustainable building material or a Dyfi woodland workshop, which investigated trees and woods as a useful, beautiful and sustainable resource in the Dyfi biosphere. They also discovered the benefits and hazards of migration that Osprey face each year as they travel between their breeding and wintering grounds – “It has a white belly, brown back and huge wings, yes, we’ll know how to spot on Osprey in the future” said one of the pupils. They were also given a tour of the new WISE building – “I think the building is pretty cool, pretty big and very eco friendly”. The children left CAT smiling and happy, having had a fun day while learning about biodiversity and the importance of sustainable development – “It’s been fun. It’s better than school…. definitely better than maths”.


Funding for pupils and teachers to come and visit CAT from the Welsh Assembly Government

Here at CAT we have received funding from the Welsh Assembly Government through the  National Science Academy to offer students the chance to engage with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) here at CAT, with a £100 bursary towards group travel to the centre from across Wales. Pupils and students will get £100 towards travel to CAT until 31st March 2011. The offer is open to primary, secondary, special and independent schools as well as Further Education Colleges across Wales.
Testing the water at CAT

At  CAT we offer day and residential visits with a diverse range of  practical and theoretical tuition sessions which can be adapted to tie-in with STEM curricula. Pupils have the opportunity to engage with their energy future, expanding their understanding of energy sources and their effect on the environment.

‘We really had an awesome time. The success was so big that our members are asking for only one thing: MORE TRIPS! Engineers Without Borders – Cardiff will definitely come back and until then keep up the good work because CAT is amazing!’ Engineers Without Borders – Cardiff University

Putting energy, the environment and sustainability into context with a visit to CAT, could open up doors to pupils who may not respond well to traditional classroom methods. Not only would pupils have a unique opportunity to gain essential skills and knowledge for the future but also to interact with a community consciously creating a more ecologically sound future through cooperation, understanding and education.

‘STEM subjects are a key way for pupils to discover and engage with sustainable solutions to the environmental problems faced today, CAT hopes to inspire, inform and enable educational groups to find these solutions both in the short and long term’ Deirdre Raffan, CAT Education Officer

The practical and theoretical aspects of the tours and tuition sessions allow students to kinesthetically develop their own solutions-focused perspective on climate change, global poverty, finite resources and biodiversity loss. All tuition is delivered by our team of experienced teachers and can be adapted to suit your educational needs.

The uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at every educational level has been integral in building the Welsh skill and knowledge base for centuries. From coal mines in the nineteenth century to wind turbines in the twenty-first, Wales is home to some of the richest energy reserves in Europe. Now with a recent push by the Welsh Assembly Government through the National Science Academy, a revival of interest and funding for STEM subjects provides an opportunity for young people to gain skills and knowledge essential in securing our energy future in Wales.

For more information and to book your visit please  click here or contact CAT education department at  education@cat.org.uk or telephone 01654 705 983.

New volunteers at CAT

This week at CAT is the starting date for new long term volunteers who will work alongside staff members for the next 6 month. My name is Marie and I will be working in the media department. I had heard about CAT quite often during my studies so when I saw they were recruiting volunteers, I thought this was my chance to be part of something interesting. I am really excited about working here, especially since summer is coming and I never lived in Wales before. Today is my first day and I went on a walk to meet the other volunteers and hear their stories on how they ended up here.

First I met Elis, who is volunteering in the building and maintenance department. He used to work with a stone mason and thought working here would widen his knowledge. He is also planning on going to university in September to study mechanical engineering and has a 6 month gap to fill, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to come here.
I then met Jonathan in the display department, who came all the way from the USA to be with us. He has an engineering background and also intends to go back to university in September for a masters degree in sustainable development. Having heard about CAT quite a few times and having some free time, Jonathan thought coming here would be a great opportunity to change the world, and himself.


In the education department, I found Kit, who visited CAT several times before and always had a sense that he would feel at home here. Kit has been quite active since finishing his environmental science degree at the University of East Anglia and has been volunteering with different organisations. He even plans to go on to Prague in September to work with a youth organisation.


The other volunteers are due to arrive during the course of this month. In total, there will be 16 of us, volunteering here over the summer, trying to change the world and ourselves, and hopefully, feeling at home.

We’re launching our new Wind Power Workshop book to coincide with National Science and Engineering Week


We’re publishing a book this week to help aspiring renewable energy engineers and home power enthusiasts to make their own wind turbine. Wind Power Workshop, written by Hugh Piggott – the UK’s leading expert on small-scale wind turbine design – takes the reader through the process of designing and building a small wind turbine.

The book shows the reader how to carve aerodynamic efficient wind turbine blades from wood, match and connect the blades to a generator, build mechanical and electronic controls and erect the turbine safely using a guyed tower.

“We feel good about launching the book during National Science and Engineering Week” says publisher Allan Shepherd. “The week celebrates science, engineering and

technology and we think that wind turbine design represents the best of modern sustainable engineering design. Hugh lives off the grid in a remote community in Scotland where his wind turbines provide power for about 100 people. As such he is well qualified to promote the importance of science and engineering to life.”

“There is a skills gap in the British wind industry – despite Britain having the best wind power resource in Europe. Although Wind Power Workshop focuses on small-scale wind power for domestic properties and is perfect for anyone who wants to make their own turbine for a home power supply, we think it will provide aspiring engineers with a spring board to the commercial wind power industry by teaching the essential elements of wind turbine design.”

CAT has championed wind technology for over thirty years. As well as publishing Wind Power Workshop and Choosing Wind Power (also by Hugh Piggott) it also runs several wind power courses – including an MSc in Renewable Energy and the Built Environment.

Hugh Piggott has been teaching small wind turbine construction for over 20 years, both at CAT on a twice-yearly course, and in locations all over the world. His teaching experience is second to none, and living ‘off the grid’ on the Scoraig Peninsula in Scotland he has more direct experience of small wind turbine use and maintenance than almost anybody in Britain.

Lichen by the Lakes

The hills around the beautiful Cregenna Lakes seem to harbour a hidden selection of lichens, only noticable to those with their eyes to the ground, making them able to experience all the different textures and colours and the sheer variety of sorts that there are. As lichens are so slow growing they need a stable substratum to grow on, which is why they are mainly found on rocks and tree trunks and branches. They are also excellent indicators of clean air as they are extremely sensitive to air pollution. Now here’s a thing —in woodlands they nearly always grow in the greatest profusion on the side of the tree facing west or south west to catch the sun and moisture from the prevailing winds– it’s so reliable you could almost use it as a sort of natural compass–check it out. Most lichens don’t seem to have common names but one that is very familiar is the Map lichen which is that one you see on rocks and boulders looking for all the world like an atlas even down to the black edges corresponding to national borders. Map Lichen clinging to a rockThen there is the beard lichen which sprouts out of moss covered damp branches, hanging limply like the hair it is so aptly named after.
These tiny, slow growing organisms are fascinating and it is well worth taking the time to get closer to nature to witness it.

The Sex Life of Spiders

Spiders have a really roundabout way of getting on with the task of procreation– male spiders have two modified appendages called pedipalps on the front of their heads which are used to transfer sperm to the female, but unfortunately they produce sperm from the other end of their bodies which means that they have to disappear into a corner and concentrate on the job in hand so to speak and then transfer it to their palps. Then charged up and ready to go they venture out in search of a female. Courtship is fraught with danger for the generally much smaller male and spiders have developed an extraordinary range of techniques to ensure successful mating. The Nursery web spider wraps up a juicy insect in silk and presents it to his spouse and while she is busy unwrapping and eating it he gets on with what he’s come for. Some spiders practice bondage and tie the compliant female down with silken strands before getting on with it.Yet another species attracts a likely female by impressing her with a lively display of break dancing while others serenade their chosen lady with a tune by rubbing their legs together (stridulation). Perhaps most incredible of all some spiders put their spouses in a form of chastity belt after mating to ensure it is only their genes which are passed on–it’s thought that they leave part of their pedipalp which breaks off and forms a plug which means she cannot be mated, but also means that the male has now effectively castrated himself and is no longer of any use in continuing the line. It now makes sound practical sense to donate his body to the female giving her sustenance and converting him into eggs. So there you go—the humble spider has a lot more up its sleeve than it seems.