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CAT’s Rennie Telford takes a look at Life in the Slow Lane

glasssnail21After a spell of rain or a summer shower, snails appear from out of their nooks and crannies in search of food -much to the annoyance of gardeners as they make a bee line (or should that be a snail line) for all your carefully tended young plants – but don’t dismiss the humble snail as just an uninteresting pest – if you take a closer look they are quite fascinating creatures.

There are several species of snail apart from the familiar Garden or Common snail. Look out for the Glossy Glass snail with a thin translucent shell and deep blue colouring on its body. Then there are the two ‘punk’ species, whose shells are covered with patches of ‘ hairs ‘ – the Hairy snail and the Silky snail.

Continue reading “CAT’s Rennie Telford takes a look at Life in the Slow Lane”

The Cereal Blog

By Julie Bromilow – CAT Education

midwales_mapcardIf you read my ‘Get your Oats’ blog in a fever of excitement, you will be wondering how we got on with our cereal tour of mid Wales….

Myself, CAT biology wizard Grace Crabb, and student placement volunteer Wendy Williams who has been researching low carbon food solutions for CAT, joined forces with Jane Powell from Organic Centre Wales, who had planned the itinerary, which we discussed over coffee and flapjack at the Treehouse, the famed Aberystwyth organic café.

We began with some winter wheat trials in the university fields. There were several types of wheat and barley, and many Turkish varieties. High protein wheat, favoured by modern, industrial scale bread makers, grows best in hot dry climates. High protein bread making flour began to be imported to Wales from Canada in the 19th century.

june_2008_028We then continued to Felin Ganol at Llanrhystud for a jaw dropping experience. Anne and Andy Parry bought this old derelict mill a few years ago, on account of the nice garden and granny annexe. Having discovered that they had inherited a water mill with all the parts still on site, they set to restoring it. It is now a working water powered organic registered flour mill, and they would like nothing more than to mill locally grown grains. At present, they are mostly using Doves Farm grains, currently imported from Kazakhstan due to a shortage of British supply.

And then on to another inspirational couple – Mike and Maggie of Mairs Bakehouse, in Carmarthenshire. By now it was bleak weather, and the bakehouse was high in the remote and drizzly beautiful moors so walking into the kitchen was a warm and cosy delight. Completely off the grid, their electricity is provided by wind, and the very efficient purpose build oven is fuelled by wood. The bakery specialises in sourdough and old yeast sponge variety breads, and Mike and Maggie run their business from a health perspective – they want to provide tasty bread that everyone can eat, no matter what their dietary requirements. The oven and large batches of loaves require round the clock commitment – fortunately, passion and commitment are not in short supply.

s5001132smallIn terms of our project mission perhaps the most positive news was to discover that these traditionally baked loaves made at a cottage industry scale, do not require high protein imported flour. Mike and Maggie buy most of their flour from Lincolnshire, some from Anne and Andy at Llanrhystud, and are hopeful, as are we all, that there will be an opportunity to use locally grown grains in the future.

CAT Education Get Their Oats!

By Julie Bromilow – CAT Education Department

oats2I and a colleague Jo Gwillim represented CAT at the Big Tent festival last July by giving a Zero Carbon Britain talk. At the festival I was impressed by the focus on food, and enjoyed sampling the array of tasty local produce – I just couldn’t get those oatcakes out of my head.

The germ of an idea kept coming back to niggle me – how can we regenerate an interest in growing grains for human consumption?

The chapter on land use in Zero Carbon Britain 2030 clearly details the challenges and some solutions we are faced with – a scenario for how we can manage our land to produce all the food, resources, and energy that we need, conserve our biodiversity, and all importantly sequester excess emissions produced by other sectors. As part of this scenario, we would expect a significant reduction of our current meat and dairy production and intake, with a focus on quality not quantity. This means that we will need to shift the current agricultural model from its current high density of livestock to one that is lower in livestock but richer in fruit, vegetables, legume and grain production.

Continue reading “CAT Education Get Their Oats!”

Join CAT Tonight on BBC Wales for the Mid Wales Election Debate

bbc_cymru88aThis evening CAT will be part of an invited audience to put forward an environment question to the Montgomeryshire candidates in a live BBC Wales election debate. The debate will be broadcast tonight at 10.45.

The panel in the Question Time style debate will include Glyn Davies (Conservative), Nicholas Colbourne (Labour), Lembit Opik (Liberal Democrats) Heledd Fychan (Plaid Cymru) and David W. Rowlands (UKIP), who are all standing for the Montgomeryshire seat, and an invited audience of local NGO’s, youth and special interest groups.

Tonight’s Welshpool debate will be chaired by BBC Wales Political Editor Betsan Powys and is one of three events being held across Wales that will cover all party issues from the environment to economics.

You can read political summaries by party and issue with this online tool from the BBC’s Guide to Party Election Policies.

CAT Get Up Close and Personal with the Local Mosses and Lichens at our Nature Knowledge Share

As part of CAT’s monthly Nature Knowledge Shares, Margaret Howell an expert from Aberystwyth University, took us on a guided tour of CAT’s diverse and abundant moss and lichen population.

Despite the rain, we were captivated for two hours learning how to identify common mosses and lichens, their favoured environments and the unique ways they colonise and spread. It became clear in the short session, of the breadth of knowledge that our expert, and our locals, had to share.

The setting for the Nature Knowledge Share series is usually Coed Gwern, CAT’s 15 ache newly managed woodland, but the environment around CAT is so plentiful that we didn’t need to go far to locate over 20 species, before heading back to the CAT restaurant to debrief on what we had found [see our flickr slide-show above].

The monthly Saturday morning sessions each have a particular focus from identifying the calls of birds to learning traditional woodland crafts. The next Nature Knowledge Share will be this Saturday morning (April 17th) with the theme Mammal Detectives. We are calling for locals living within a 20 mile radius of CAT to suggest the specialist focus of the following session on Saturday 15th May.

To book a place, make a suggestion for the May session or to find out more about Coed Gwern please contact CAT Biologist Grace Crabb on 01654 705971, or email Grace.crabb@cat.org.uk.

CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment Considers the ‘eco’ in Eco Build 2010

ecobuildGiven the sheer size of this years Eco Build; “the world’s biggest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment” held earlier this month in London, Distant Learning Tutor Sam Saville, reports on a wide range of perspectives by students of CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment.

The main thread running through many of the comments indicate that although ‘Eco Build’ is certainly not 100% ‘Eco’; our students and graduates are out there asking the awkward questions, refusing to bathe in the abundant greenwash and finding the hidden gems worth talking about- thanks for everyone’s contributions!

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Urgent WISE Appeal: You can help us complete this landmark building by June

4332868578_183f304308The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE) is CAT’s most important project to date and is due to open to the public in June. Conferences are booked, the launch event planned and important keynote speakers – such as Sir John Houghton, formerly of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Lord Elis Thomas – are confirmed.

Originally a £5 million project, the building costs for WISE have risen because of a legal dispute between CAT and the main contractor, Frank Galliers Ltd. They were formerly a family-run company with whom we formed a friendly and innovative partnership that sadly deteriorated after the company was bought by a venture capital firm.

4330062410_fa26e64a31Following the dismissal of Galliers, after numerous difficulties, several defects were discovered in the building, some structural. Last month, in the High Court, CAT was awarded over £530,000 in costs and our actions in terminating Galliers’ contract were exonerated. Unfortunately, within a week of CAT obtaining judgment, Galliers went into administration and a short time later, liquidation. Given the magnitude of Galliers’ debts (almost £10m), it is unlikely that we will see a penny. This has left CAT as a company in an incredibly difficult position. As a busy educational charity, our committed staff, volunteers and other resources have been stretched to breaking because of this financial predicament. Whilst we are amply able to deal with long-term financial issues through careful planning and sophisticated management systems, the immediate impact on our present cashflow threatens to mar an otherwise amazing year in CAT’s unique history.

4332717650_8cf80a0087Thankfully, our new building firm, C. Sneade Construction, has a good track record in environmental building and is doing a fantastic job of repairing the damage. Unfortunately for us, we now have to meet the cost of this repair bill through no fault of our own.  The amount we need to raise is £530,000 and we have a short and challenging timescale in which to achieve this target. Please could you help us at this critical time.

All donations will be greatly appreciated. To donate please fill in the donation form or send a cheque made payable to CAT Charity Ltd, and addressed to Centre for Alternative Technology, Freepost AE 24, Machynlleth, Powys, SY20 1BR.

CAT and Whitmuir Organic Farm Swap Food Teaching Tips

CAT’s Education Officer Julie Bromilow, shares her holiday on Whitmuir Organic Farm, swapping the latest food education tips for good company and lavender bags.


whitmoreI don’t know much about permaculture, but apparently it includes the theory that all the important things happen around the edges. When I met Pete Ritchie at the Carnegie Rural Convention in November, we were both very excited. Me, because he was involved in the One Planet Food project, and managed an organic farm, and he because I am an education officer at C.A.T.

Globally, food accounts for a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, so therefore plays an important role in our education programme. At C.A.T. we have expert organic gardeners and biodiversity specialists, and an incredible research team who are currently pulling together the very exciting land use chapter of the current edition of Zero Carbon Britain. What we do not have, is on the ground agricultural experience. Pete runs Whitmuir Organic Farm near Edinburgh, and is involved in a host of food, farm and energy projects. His latest venture is a community education project, to connect people with food and farming. We planned to get together to talk about food education during the convention, but as it was an action packed programme, we didn’t get the time.

food

So having accrued a sizeable chunk of time off in lieu, I decided to take my holiday in Scotland, visiting Whitmuir en route to the West Highlands. For me, the visit was invaluable. To actually walk around the farm was gold dust in itself, to see the animals, the crops, the farm shop, restaurant and gallery with renewable energy installations made a strong impression. In one evening I learned so much about winter wheat, organic yields, and agricultural policy, I’ll be lucky to remember just a fraction. Pete and his wife Heather are an incredibly hard working and highly motivated couple, and their enthusiasm and warm hospitality is inspirational. I was showered with good food and wine, and the speed with which they whipped up a delicious roast dinner without actually stopping work was phenomenal. At the end of a long and cosy evening, I was put to bed in a beautiful room with a lavender bag.

smallpigletsBut the thing that really struck me was the community of people that radiated around the farm. The staff that worked there seemed incredibly happy, and the way Pete and Heather regaled affectionate anecdotes about them late into the night, showed how much they were valued. I was there to give a talk to share my experience with food education working for CAT education department. On a sleety cold Monday night, I was amazed that they had managed to gather a small but incredibly committed, friendly, and intelligent audience who were for the most part on their way home from work. Among the group was a renewable energy installer, a school governor, an acoustician, a mental health worker, a secondary biology teacher, a primary school teacher, and a lecturer in renewable energy at Edinburgh University, plus many more. It was supposed to be a forty minute talk, but two hours later we were still going strong so passionate were the audience, so keen to debate and discuss the issues and ask questions. Even when I was packing away my resources, they were still talking to each other and coming to ask me even more questions, and I wondered if they actually had homes to go to. If these are the people who will begin the new education project, then it’s hard to imagine anything less than success.

I had to leave early the next morning and am an early riser, but not as early as my hosts – Heather had already been working on their environmental health report and Pete had written an article for a local website, and they still managed to make me a delicious breakfast before taking me to the bus stop. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my holiday.