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.

It’s Spring?… well the birds seem to think so

Mid February and we arrive to a veritable cornucopia of birdsong…

A Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Great Tit and the chaffinches were all in full song among the trees and rafters that they call home around CAT, accompanied by the cheerful song of the Robin.

The Song Thrush was really giving everything it had to be the strongest in the choir, but the tinge of sadness in the Mistle Thrushes song still came through, only to be cheered up by the jolly  Robin. The song of Spring has begun, and it promises to become ever more beautiful as the season continues.

The Great Tit sure it is Spring
The Great Tit sure it is Spring

So open the windows or step outside and let the birdsong wake you and convince you of an early spring. The birdfeeders at CAT have started to attract lots of attention from these feathered friends, and hopefully yours will do the same.

Spring Spiders come out of hiding

This morning emerged a fascinating House Spider (Tegenaria domestica), checking on the state of its beautifully constructed web before going about the days’ business. These self-sustaining fly catchers make the perfect tenants of every room in the house.


The different spider species have different techniques for catching their prey; the house spider, for example, chooses to patiently wait for an unwary insect to get ensnared in its web, whereas the Wolf spider runs its prey down. Some spiders lasso their victim with silk strands, whereas others like the jumping spider lie in ambush and then pounce on a passing insect.

Although their methods vary, there are a few things that remain constant: they are all carnivores, they all produce silk, and nearly all of them use venom to subdue their prey.

What’s more, family ties seem to be somewhat loose in the world of the spider and many spiders are not averse to eating their own species.

B2 workshop on ‘Active citizenship’.

Today the students on B2 where introduced to methods of ‘active citizenship’. They will discuss issues surrounding the Localism Bill being put forward by the new coalition government.

The three different groups will be using 3 different methods to communicate with each other, practicing the ‘active citizenship’ methods presented by their workshop leaders. Group one will be using ideas of consensus decision making, presented by Kim Bryan, group two will look at ‘world café’ with Blanche Cameron and group three will be looking at non-violent direct action with Lotte Reimer.

1: World Café:

World café is an interactive way of hosting conversations about questions that matter. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in their life, work or community. As a process, World Cafe can evoke and make visible the collective intelligence of any group, thus increasing people’s capacity for effective action in pursuit of common aims.

2: Consensus decision making

The workshop introduces the theoretical and practical elements of consensus decision making and offers the opportunity to experience the method in use. We will use participative and creative exercises to allow you to explore the benefits and issues around consensus decision making.

3. Non-Violent Direct Acting

Basic CIRCA training, focusing on ‘Build the clown’: get out of your head and into your body – individual, group, spontaneity, acting together, acting under pressure, consensus decision making under pressure ‘Clown story’ – assess the situation and create a ‘clown logic’ response. Plan an action and act it out.

The workshops begin Friday at 11.30.

VOTE on our facebook page for which of the three workshops you would choose to go to- I will go along and report back!

Being a media Long- term – volunteer.

I was studying Film and TV at Aberystwyth University when I found the ad for Media LTV on a job-search website. I was looking to get experience that combined film with environment. I thought the CAT media office could be a great way to learn about how media is used to promote environmental issues.

The experience has been invaluable. It’s been great to make films at CAT and I’ve learnt so much about communicating environmental issues alongside people who have amazing experience in such a variety of areas. I’ve made some great contacts and been inspired to really push myself to use film as communication tool.

It’s not just the work that has inspired me, I’ve never worked in such a beautiful environment. Machynlleth and the surrounding scenery is stunning and everyday the natural environment amazes me. But it’s the people who live here that make it such a stimulating place to be. There is so much going on and an atmosphere that really inspires creativity.

I couldn’t recommend it enough! I came here with a vague idea of the direction I wanted to go in, after 5 months; thinking about my future career has changed from being a necessary chore- trawling through job websites and trying to work out what I’m qualified to do, to getting excited about my next project, bouncing ideas off people and enjoying each project as it comes. My ambitions and ideas are getting bigger every week, creating more opportunities. Being a CAT LTV is a pretty liberating experience! I highly recommend it!

The next intake for LTVs is March, spaces are filling up pretty fast and I would urge anyone who is interested in the work that CAT do, to get in touch. I’d recommend the media department – you get the opportunity to go round all the departments, find out what they are up to and promote their good work.

To apply to be an LTV this summer you need to contact Michelle by Friday 14th January:


01654 705955

An LTV night in cottage 1
An LTV night in cottage 1 (site community)