Ecological building society’s 30th anniversary was celebrated in style here at CAT


Even the sun decided to join the celebrations for the EBS’s 30th anniversary on 4 and 5 June! As the light streamed into the rammed earth lecture theatre at WISE, over 160 people enjoyed two days of workshops, speeches and debates around building a greener society.

We were delighted to welcome Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP and former Chair of Ecology, as well as Directors, Board members and Chief Executives past and present, to the wonderful new facilities at the Centre for Alternative Technology. While the children escaped to explore the woodland and hills around Machynlleth, the adults were no less entertained by a range of engaging speakers.

Paul Allen, External Relations Director at CAT, began proceedings with a history of CAT and a powerful vision for zerocarbonbritain2030 – an ‘energy progressive’ society, free from fossil fuels. In the afternoon, Chris Herring, Chair of UK Passivhaus and Director of Green Build Store, made the case for Passivhaus low energy building, including a screening of Future Passiv, a short documentary featuring the Denby Dale Passivhaus project. Our keynote speech was delivered by Charlie Luxton, sustainable architectural designer and broadcaster, who outlined the urgent need to improve the energy efficiency of the nation’s housing stock, and took us on a tour of projects showing the practical ways to achieve this.

After a choice of member presentations and tours around the WISE and CAT sites, delegates enjoyed a celebration dinner, music and dancing with local celtic band Hi Jinx.

On Sunday morning members returned to majestic Sheppard Theatre to hear Pat Borer, WISE architect, explain the design principles behind this very special (and award-winning) venue. The final session took us back to the bigger picture, with a talk from carbon footprinting expert Mike Berners-Lee, asking How Bad Are Bananas? (The answer: not too bad, but air-freighted Peruvian asparagus is a carbon nightmare.)

In between sessions, delegates browsed our Green Market, with thirteen stalls ranging from renewables to woodwork and local crafts. We left CAT informed, inspired and energised for the next 30 years of building a greener society… here’s to our conference in 2041!


Couldn’t make it? Find out more here…


Teaching sustainable development and discovering solutions to global food problems

Ensuring the next generation are well equipped for the transition to a zero carbon future the Education department at CAT specialise in delivering Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at all levels. From October 24th – 30th CAT Education are running short courses in communicating sustainability taking in a breadth of topics such as energy, buildings and food.

Teaching Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship from the 24th – 27th October is designed for teachers of key stage 2 – 3 showing how ESD can be applied in a school environment. The course looks at all issues surrounding sustainability with a strong emphasis on finding solutions to global problems. Participants will learn how to deliver informative, dynamic sessions on sustainable development and global citizenship, adapted to suit their specific subject.

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Food for Thought from the 28th – 30th October looks more in depth at food sustainability and the effect our food production and consumption has on our environment and individual health. Aimed at educators and communicators this course delves into issues far beyond food miles and farting cows. This course is recommended for anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of food sustainability, and play a part in finding local solutions to global problems.

For a broader understanding of what the Education department at CAT gets up to, take a look at our resources page where you can download our teaching resources for free and Footprint Futures, a free online teaching resource for sustainable development useful as a full project or for fun activities on sustainability.

To book on a course please call 01654 704 952 or email You can also complete an online booking form on our  website.

There is also a 10% discount available to anyone booking with a friend or colleague, both will receive the discount, please mention ‘CAT blog’ when booking.

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CAT is building a giant flower in natural materials at Shambala festival – come in for a chat


CAT and Shambala have been working together for 3 years to produce the most detailed carbon audit of any UK event. This year CAT is teaming up with Shambala to demonstrate sustainable building to festivalgoers. As part of our shared commitment to sustainable futures (and having fun), the CAT team will be on-site showing what can be constructed with natural raw materials.

We are building a giant flower that offers space for festival goers to sit in, chat, relax and explore some of the principals of sustainable construction (see sketches below). The flower is accessible through a willow tunnel for those who like playing or following straw bale walls showing how natural building materials can be used to sequester carbon. The structure is being build by students on our sustainable architecture courses.

We are going to be around throughout the festival running workshops and on hand to answer your questions on sustainability and talk to people about our ground breaking project- Zero Carbon Britain. Pop in we would love to chat.



The annual mating of ants

Morning Everyone, While walking my dog last yesterday I found myself being bombarded by what seemed like thousands of flying ants. The annual occurence of this event takes place around this time of year when weather conditions are just right–temperature, humidity and wind all play a part and almost it seems, telepathically, ants from different colonies in a locality suddenly emerge to take part in what are known as nuptial flights.

These ‘flying’ ants are all males and fertile females (as opposed to infertile female workers)and the purpose of the flight is for mating to take place and for the mated females to set up new colonies. The trouble is that this is the first time these ants have ever flown and they are pretty much useless at it–hundreds of them crash land and perish or fly straight into trees and walls or get eaten by the many birds who can’t believe their luck at this sudden feast which has appeared.

Amazingly, mating takes place in the air! Now I don’t know about you but if I was an ant and was looking forward to my first (and also last) amorous encounter, surely some more congenial setting would be preferable than trying to perform the act while blundering through the air learning how to fly, dodging other crashing ants and trying to avoid being eaten by voracious birds. I think my performance would suffer to say the very least. Of course, as in most things in the natural world there is a reason for this apparently chaotic way of doing things– some matings are obviously successful and the mated queens are able travel some distance to start up new colonies.

Once mated and fertilised, the females descend to terra firma, remove their wings (by rubbing them against something) and burrow into the ground to lay their eggs and begin a new ant city–after their brief moment of heady freedom and membership of the ant world’s mile high club they will probably never see the light of day again for the rest of their relatively long lives, spending the rest of their alloted time producing eggs. As for the poor old males, well they all die more or less straight away although presumably those that have managed to do what a male ant’s gotta do, die with a big smile on their faces.

Today’s latest deal – a free bat with every hat bought

Morning Everyone, a customer in the shop got a little bit more than she bargained for when she tried on a stylish pink hat the other day. After putting it on she said to Abby that she thought there was something inside it and on investigating they found inside a tiny and probably very bewildered and frightened young bat. I suppose it could have been explained that it was our latest deal –‘a free bat with every hat bought’– or that it was our natural security anti-shoplifting device but after photographing it, Abby put it in the area below the shop where it apparently clambered into a crevice, so let’s hope it survived.

On the premise that the Pipistrelle is one of our commonest bats, I assume that is what it was. Young bats (of all species) are very vulnerable when they first leave the safety of their roosts and make their maiden flights so to speak– (you can imagine them setting out on their first night out with strict instructions to be back before light) and often fail to find their way back, which is when you will find them clinging to walls in the daytime or fluttering around rooms if a window has been left open.

Unfortunately the closest most of us come to a bat is when we find a dead one, but it gives the opportunity to marvel at the sheer beauty of the tiny facial features and amazing wing structures–one of the first presents I gave my wife was a dead Long eared bat I had discovered outside (I know how to treat a lady)! Bats are notoriously difficult to identify in flight– they just hurtle past you in the dark in an erratic fluttering flight– and the only real way to identify them in the field is using a bat detector and preferably with a bat expert on hand to help you with the detective work needed–apart from the different frequencies of their calls, different species hunt at different times of night and certain species favour certain habitats. To be honest I’m quite happy to enjoy sitting in the garden on a summer evening in the gathering dusk with a couple of cans, just watching the vague fluttering shapes without bothering too much about positive identification—just appreciating yet another of the wonderful, evocative experiences of British wildlife–and all for free!

Bats are actually an amazingly successful and widespread species– I don’t usually bother too much with facts and figures but you might be as surprised as I was to know that nearly a quarter of known mammal species in the world are bats! Oh,– and also the smallest known mammal is a bat- the aptly named Bumble bee bat.

The emergence of the Dragonfly nymphs – their incredible transformation from aquatic creatures into flash flying shimmering jewels of the insect world

Morning Everyone, One of the natural world’s most amazing happenings is taking place right now and under our very noses. This is the emergence of the Dragonfly nymphs and their incredible transformation from sluggish rather unattractive looking aquatic creatures into fast flying shimmering jewels of the insect world.

Around the pond and lake at top station you will find the dried out husks of the nymphs with a split along the back where the adult Dragonfly has emerged. When you stop to consider this fascinating occurrence it becomes more and more incomprehensible –the nymphs have hatched out of eggs which have been laid in the water and live for around three years as completely aquatic animals skulking around in the mud on the floor of the pond preying voraciously on tadpoles, small fish and even other nymphs, which they catch by ambushing them and hooking them with their retractable jaws.

It’s a seedy sort of life really- even their breathing and mobility functions are a bit unsavoury–as well as using their backsides for what backsides are normally used for they also use them to extract oxygen from the water (to breath in other words) and to take in and expel water so that they can move by a sort of jet propulsion. Then it’s almost as if they take a good hard look at their lifestyle and decide they have had enough of hiding in the mud, farting water and sneaking up on their prey, so they haul themseves out of the water onto a reed or other plant and over a few hours change into a magnificent aerial hunter and provide us with one of the most evocative sights of a warm day at the height of summer over inland waters.

The Chaos Theory or how to end up with a Hawthorn Shieldbug in one’s underwears

Morning Everyone, I expect you are all aware of the Chaos Theory–you know–if a butterfly flaps its wings in China it causes an earthquake in Brazil or something like that. Well, I experienced a sort of chaos theory in reverse, when due to my wife being in Somerset, I had the rather dubious pleasure of discovering an Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale in my underpants.

Allow me to explain–as I said my wife has been away for several weeks sorting out family business and this has resulted in two things –first the bath became full of dirty washing and the woodland surrounding the house has encroached on the garden and threatens to engulf it completely (I couldn’t be bothered to do any washing and my wife takes charge of the garden). Eventually I reluctantly had to tackle the washing, which I did by the simple expedient of filling the bath with water and trampling on the clothes, a bit like treading grapes. When I came to hang it out on the line however, I discovered that due to the rampant undergrowth, instead of flapping happily in the air it all became draped in the bracken and brambles.

I should have been warned when I came to take it in as a couple of earwigs fell out of a shirt, but I didn’t examine it all too closely and it wasn’t until I became aware of a strange sensation in my nether regions that I found I had the afore mentioned insect with the unpronouncable scientific name keeping me company. This is more commonly known as a Hawthorn Shieldbug, which had unfortunately not survived the ordeal and had succumbed, probably due to asphyxiation.

Sad as this was for the bug, it had the benefit to me of being able to study it closely through an eye glass and appreciate its really amazing colors and shape. It was a beautiful irridescent, apple green with tiny black dimples (rather like a Hammerite paint finish) with lovely reddish brown ‘shoulders’ and of course the wonderfully complex and delicate legs, anntennae and eyes. The Hawthorn Shieldbug is a common and widespread species and I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in delving into the fascinating world of entomology could do worse than investing in a hand lens and start off by studying Shieldbugs, some of which are extremely colourful and the more common ones are relatively easy to identify. Probably the use of a ‘pooter’ to collect them would be preferable to the ‘underpants in the undergrowth’ technique though! Cheers Rennie x

CAT’s Stupendous Summer Fair 9th-10th August 2011. A celebration of local arts, craft and food

The Centre for Alternative Technology is celebrating this August with a two day Summer Fair for all the family. The fair will feature a range of activities, workshops and stalls selling high quality local produce, arts and crafts. There will be a variety of entertainment including cooking demonstrations, craft workshops, children activities and live Music. Visitors can spend the day wandering the display circuit, relaxing on the lawn or take a seat in our wholefood restaurant and enjoy our delicious home-made food and drinks.
More information, tickets and details

The event has been made possible with kind support from the Cooperative Group.

“This event is a chance, not only to view some of the Wales’ finest artists and craftspeople but also to get some hands on experience in some of the specialist workshops that will be running throughout the Summer Fair. It will also feature a variety of extraordinary food and drink that has been sustainably and ethically produced” said Sylvie Fabre, Events Manager at CAT

Local artists displaying their work include: Gina Jewellery, Tweedies, Rustic Angels, Organic Textiles Wales, Catherine Cariad chocolates, Narna’s Luxury Handmade Chocolates, Loglike, Turnpike, Artist Liza Zannoni, Flourish, Garthenor Organic Pure Wool, Robert Price fine art, Siop Gardd, Preseli coffee, Trioni, Pili Pala Childrenswear, Jude Riley – Marbling on Paper and Silk, Toloja Orchards, Alex Allpress Ceramics, Art of Wales, Foxxbodyart, Benporium – Candy Fleece, Fizzy Popov, Merlin Cheeses, Peris & Corr, Adrift Gallery, Impress Designs…

For children there are loads of exciting activities and workshops that are suitable for all ages. CAT is a great place for kids to learn about sustainability through fun, creativity and experimentation, using sustainable and recycled materials. The activities run from 12pm until 4pm with four main sessions a day, each around an hour long, and storytelling to finish the day off.

Contact the media office: 01654 705953 /

Interviews are available in Welsh and English

Hi- res photos are available upon request

The utopian realism project – 2 artists working at CAT on their tour of radical projects in UK rural locations

Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy are two artists currently working together on a project in collaboration with CAT. The project started in May and is funded by the art council of Wales and the art council of England.

Mair and Bridget are visiting a variety of radical projects in rural locations in mid-Wales and in the North East of England. They are looking at two moments in time: the industrial revolution and now, looking how the resources of a place influence people’s activity.

Before coming to CAT, Mair and Bridget spent a few days in the Robert Owen museum. Robert Owen was the founder of the cooperative movement. There, they looked at the link between industry and philanthropy.

It is their third trip to CAT but this time they are staying for a week, living on site community, volunteering in a few department, so as to get a feel for the place. They will then come back in October to exhibit their work in the WISE building, as well as in Machynlleth.

You can follow their work on




Worm-based sanitation for developing countries – A new exciting project in our biology department

Over the past couple of weeks, we have had two new researchers in the biology department who are working on a new project looking at worm-based sanitation for developing countries. These are not compost toilets, they are have a flush mechanism, but they will use much less water than conventional toilets.

The purpose of the project is to design non-piped sanitation systems that don’t fill up quickly – which is a problem with the conventional pit latrines used by millions of people in developing countries. Biofilters are contained units typically consisting of an active layer near the surface, where worms (often tiger worms) and other organisms digest the solid waste as it enters the system. Beneath this is a filtration bed where the liquid waste is further treated by aerobic bacteria, resulting in a highly treated effluent which can be safely discharged into the environment. The unit can be linked to flush or pour-flush toilets, so there’s the immediate benefit of waste being removed from sight, compared with a latrine.


Research shows that worms such as tiger worms eat human poo, but experiments have to be carried out to work out exactly how much they can consume.

The first set of experiments will therefore look at how many worms would be needed for these new types of toilets.

The second phase of the project will be to design and test these new toilets. We should have a small prototype at CAT in a few months and will keep you updated on the findings following this project.

This worm-centred approach is just one of several being explored by Sanitation Ventures ,a larger project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation working to find solutions to the problem of pit latrine filling. More information can be found here.