If 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.
We 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.
In 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.
I 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.
This 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.
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.email@example.com.
Given 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!
The 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.
Following 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.
Thankfully, 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’s Education Officer Julie Bromilow, shares her holiday on Whitmuir Organic Farm, swapping the latest food education tips for good company and lavender bags.
I 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.
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.
But 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.
World Poetry Day was declared by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1999 “to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world” identified as “the unrestricted pursuit of truth”.
Whilst poetry has been used as a tool for social change throughout history, it is important to remember the one in five adults that are illiterate in the world today. As Leif Utne from Worldchanging states: “access to education, or rather the lack of it, is one of the greatest barriers to sustainability”.
Below are a selection of modern day poems, slams and haiku’s that have been recommended by CAT staff and facebook fans that address our changing climate.
Danny Chivers; climate activist, poet and writer performs Lifestyle Choice at Climate Camp In The City 2009:
Less is More, was written by Matt Harvey; poet, writer, broadcaster and Wondermentalist, inspired by the Schumacher conference of the same title:
Can less be more, can more be less?
Well, yes and no, and no and yes
Well, more or less…
More bikes, fewer cars
Less haze, more stars
Less haste, more time
Less reason, more rhyme
More time, less stress
Fewer miles, more fresh (vegetables)
Fewer car parks, more acres of available urban soil
More farmers’ markets, less produce effectively marinated in crude oil
Less colouring, more taste
More mashing, less waste
Fewer couch potatoes, more spring greens
Fewer tired tomatoes, more runner beans
More stillness, less inertia
Less illness, more Echinacea
More community, less isolation
Less just sitting there, more participation!
More wells (not oil ones, obviously), fewer ills
Fewer clean fingernails, more skills
More co-operation, less compliancy
Less complacency, more self-reliancy
Less competition, more collaboration
Less passive listening, more participation!
Less attention defic…, more concentration
Less passive listening, more participation!
Less of a warm globe, more a chilly’un
More of a wise world, at least 34 fewer parts of C02 per million
Less stress-related cardio-vascular and pulmonary failure
More nurturing quality time in the company of a favourite clematis or dahlia
More craftsmanship, less built-in obsolescence
More political maturity, less apparently-consequence-free extended adolescence
More believed-to-be-beautiful, known-to-be-useful things
Less cheap, pointless, petroleum-steeped stuff
So Yes, less is more – and enough’s enough…
Marcus Brigstocke (Radio 4’s The Now Show) recites his somewhat humorous take on The events at Cop 15 in Dr Seuss style:
Change For Dinner was written by our facebook fan John J Macdonald:
Canopy’s were constructed from timber
Allowing entrees of coal, oil and gas
Leading to mammoth heaps of cooked cinders
From every kind of conceivable mass.
The result of this main course is desert
Which appears when we clear the plates
Having licked them so clean they are inert
We advance to new portions which await.
Yet the yeast offers proof in the kitchen
That our bread will not rise when its cooked.
Raw materials frozen in fiction
Seldom ever taste as good as they looked…
On and on, baking ‘sustainable growth’?
How many cooks? and who’s using their loaf?
Untitled is from another facebook fan John McCreesh:
Gordon is red
David is blue
The climate is changing
But can they change too?
Sea Inside was written by CAT’s very own Bruce Heagerty:
“Nature for us lies more in depth than on the surface” – Paul Cézanne
Excuse me but..
Your feet pace on a fireball
That your roots are pushing through;
Your heart beats to a rhythm
That the moon distracts in you;
Are Nature through and through.
The water in that river
Is the stuff that pumps round you;
You imbibe it and return it
To the blue-reflecting Blue,
You know it’s true,
You’re Nature through and through.
Your skin anoints the air
That blesses every blade with dew;
Your breath is synthesised by trees
And then returned to breath in you,
You twig that You
Are Nature through and through.
You feed on farmer’s harvests,
– you defecate them, too –
Expend the juice on just one lifetime
And so everything you do
Is down to you,
As Nature through and through.
Your senses sense each atom of the world
And they feel you;
Energy flows outwards
From the sun and flows through you
And glistering You
Are Nature through and through.
Your fingers zing with zephyrs
That butterflies flit through
And birds perch on your branches, singing
“Are you singing, too?”
Sing out that You
Are Nature through and through.
You smile at potent partners,
Feel the lava rise in you
And later sleepily you touch
Them in your silent moments, too,
You know you do:
You’re Nature through and through.
Divine your journey with the care
That Nature took in making you;
When you die you’ll touch the sky
And your remains will pay their due,
Abide with Nature, as we do.
Now Nature packs a punch
That Nagasaki never knew
Let he who wakens up the krakens
Be no friend to yours or you,
Are linked with Nature through and through.
Your children and their children
Are all captive in this zoo;
Will you leave them playing with krakens
Or is there something you can do?
Accept that You
Are tangled in this Blue.
And finally on World Water Day no selection is complete without a line from the epic Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge:
…Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink…
Post your favourite climate change poems in the blog comments.
There are a lot of blogs out there – Here are 10 favourites selected by CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research team, plus a video from TED looking at The Science Behind a Climate Headline
“As long as you read reliable ones, you can get a much better picture about climate science from blogs than you can from the media…From blogs written by climate scientists you can also get a window onto the social world in which the science is conducted -which is important because a lot of scepticism stems from having the wrong impression about what the science and the people who write it are like”.
Josie Wexler from CAT ZCB team.
RealClimate: Is a commentary site on climate science ‘by working climate scientists for the public and journalists’.
Stoat: (William Connolley) Is an ex-climate modeller who specialised in Antarctica.
Skeptical Science: ‘Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism’ aims to explain what peer reviewed science has to say, and is now also an iphone app!
James’s Empty Blog: (James Annan) A scientist involved in climate prediction, living in Japan.
Open Mind: (“Tamino”) Is a bit more technical with lots of stats.
More Grumbine Science: (Robert Grumbine) Aims ‘to be inclusive of students…as well as teachers and parents’.
Deltoid: (Tim Lambert) A computer scientist living in Australia, blogs about ‘areas of science with political implications such as global warming’ -amongst other things.
Rabett Run: (Eli Rabett) ‘is a not quite failed professorial techno-bunny…’
Only in it for the Gold: (Michael Tobias) Is a Research Scientist Associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Austin.
Climate Science Watch: Is a ‘not-for-profit public interest education and advocacy project dedicated to holding public officials accountable for the integrity and effectiveness with which they use climate science and related research in government policymaking’.
And a favourite:
Denial Depot: Who ‘are not afraid to be called climate “deniers”’ -this one is a bit different!
Also check out this short video with Atmospheric Chemist Rachel Pike explaining how much work goes into making a climate headline in the media:
If you have any favourite climate science blogs to share – we’d love to see them via our blog comments.
Following on from last Friday’s Naycher Korner, my candidate for Britain’s most ferocious predator is the shrew — more specifically, the common shrew (we have 5 species). These diminutive (3 inches long) but belligerent creatures live in nature’s fast lane and spend most of their short lives (they live for about a year) hunting, eating and fighting. They even have to sleep in short snatches, as if they go without food for more than about 3 hours, they will starve to death. Their diet consists of earthworms, woodlice, caterpillars and just about any insect they can catch during a ceaseless search for food. They are solitary, extremely territorial animals and if two rivals meet, they hurl themselves at each other with unmitigated fury, emitting what they probably consider to be ferocious and bloodcurdling roars, but which sound to us like high pitched squeaks. In fact this sound is usually the only indication of their presence you will get, unless you spend a lot of time skulking around the bushes on your hands and knees –(I don’t do that any more, since the incident in the park — my case comes up next week).
Oh yes– and their saliva is poisonous – if one bites you it leaves a burning sensation and believe me, they will bite when handled. What I love about shrews is that they don’t seem to realize that they are small and to see one determinedly hauling an earthworm much longer than itself out of the ground or defiantly chewing your thumb are sights to behold. They are one of our commonest mammals so there are bound to be plenty around the Quarry — You have been warned!
Another interesting little bird to keep an eye out for around the site is the Treecreeper. This has been spotted by several people although I’m a bit miffed because I haven’t seen it myself yet. This time of year is a good time to catch a glimpse of this unobtrusive bird as it does what its name implies and creeps up the bark of the trees searching for insects which it digs out with its slender bill. It spirals around the trunk always going upwards and then flies off to the base of another tree to repeat the process. I have made a V shaped nest box which I think Biology have put up somewhere to try and encourage it to nest — being almost exclusively insectivorous severe winters take their toll so it needs all the help it can get.
Some of the older bird books will tell you that it can easily be confused with a mouse as it climbs around the tree, but after years of observation I have noticed some subtle differences. Mice tend to have four legs, fur and a long tail, but the Treecreeper on the other hand. You pick up these little aids to identification as you go along.
You all probably have your own sight or sound that is a sign that spring is on the way — the first daffodils, newborn lambs etc. — but for me the real harbinger of spring is the raucus noise of a flock of rooks beginning their annual repairs and renovations of their rookery nests. I was watching the rooks down by the railway station in town the other night while waiting for the train — they were returning to their roost for the night –and were arguing and jostling each other for the prime positions. They are intensely gregarious birds– I hesitate to use the word sociable as they seem to be constantly bickering with each other. Here at the quarry we get predominantly crows rather than rooks –the old rule of thumb is; if you see a rook on its own it’s a crow and if you see lots of crows together they are rooks — a bit of a generalisation but more or less true. Adult rooks have a bald patch at the base of their bills and also have a more ‘ baggy trousered ” appearance to the feathers at the top of their legs. If you get a chance it is well worth spending a few minutes watching a flock of rooks –there is something almost human like in their interaction with each other — squabbling, playing –exercising their dominance but at heart enjoying the company of each other. It reminds me of somewhere, I just can’t place it?
It’s around time for the annual invasion of the warblers. These unremarkable looking little birds are in fact extremely remarkable — they are the first of the summer migrants to arrive and thousands of them are at present battling the elements on their, perhaps two thousand mile journey to Britain. The first to arrive is usually the onomatopoeically named Chiff Chaff– In fact some may already have arrived although I haven’t heard one yet myself. This little greeny -brown bird is the Seasick Steve of the bird world — it only knows two notes and it repeats them over and over — but it’s another welcome sign of spring. Listen out for it, especially over by the north drive or in any mature deciduous woodland. In a couple of weeks time the other warblers will start to appear, the most common one being the Willow Warbler (Telor yr Helyg in Welsh). This is practically identical in appearance to the Chiff Chaff but has a beautiful melodious song. Another more uncommon one often found in Wales is the Wood Warbler, again extremely difficult to identify by sight (at least to me) but with a subtly different song.
In fact all the warblers look much the same and can be incredibly difficult to differentiate between. After spending a couple of hours with a rather nerdy friend, who was pointing out at great length the subtle difference between (I think) a Grasshopper Warbler and a Cetti’s Warbler (something about the colour of their legs I seem to recall) I have now given up and just enjoy them as little brown jobs that sing beautifully. I’ll never make a twitcher.