Summer Fair at the Centre for Alternative Technology

Over the last couple of days, CAT played host to the Taste of Summer fair, celebrating Welsh art, craft and food. Visitors enjoyed browsing a range of stalls, selling everything from beautifully printed bags made off organic textiles, to delicious cheeses, jams, and fudge. There was also the opportunity to have a go using a potter’s wheel or to blend a smoothie with bike-generated power.

Musicians were on hand to serenade the fair goers with traditional Uillean pipe and fiddle tunes, as well as Venezuelan guitar music.  Clement weather graced CAT on both festival days, and visitors sat about on lawns, benches, and picnic tables among the lush gardens to nibble snacks and enjoy the air.

Children with brightly-painted faces scampered among the fair goers, lightening up the atmosphere with their fantastical colors.

Another pop of color came from Aberystwyth artist Jude Riley’s marbled paper display, which showed the whole process of creating her marbled jewelry, journals, and art from blank paper to finished product.

Knottyburr Woodcrafts displayed a wall of handcrafted wooden clocks and candlesticks, some painted with fanciful designs. Here, a visitor peruses a table full of skeins and balls of natural Welsh sheep wool, possibly considering that the end of the summer is the perfect time to start thinking about knitting warm scarves and jumpers for the coming winter.

A high point of the fair was the Free Market, a special booth powered by donations where visitors could swap things they no longer wanted for something new, or could simply peruse the goods and take something home for free.  Katie, who ran the booth, said that she got the idea for a free market in Edinburgh, where she would set up free booths on big shopping days using the overflow from charity shops.  She said that people’s reaction to a free market are varied; some want to pay for the goods they take, whereas others get rather excited about the prospect of free stuff.  A free market, Katie says, really makes people think about the difference between what they want and what they need, and most visitors end up actually taking fewer items than if they had been asked to pay.  At the free market, there is less a sense of giving yourself an expensive “treat” and more a sense of finding the things you really need.  The best part is that everything at the booth was easily supplied through donations; goods ranged from faucets to lampshades to wool jumpers  to books to classic movies on VHS.

Another  highlight of the fair was the throw-your-own-pottery station, which drew a large crowd of onlookers every time a new visitor sat down to try to make a bowl out of wet, sticky clay on the spinning wheel.  Luckily, an experienced potter was on site to lend a helping hand.

At the Penypound jam booth, visitors sampled sweet treats such as cranberry and elderflower jam, mango chutney, rosemary jelly, damson port syrup, and lemon lime marmalade.  Penypound is a Welsh food festival regular, and prides itself on selling seasonal, local goods.

Flowers, veg, and herbs from the CAT grounds made for a lush, aromatic display.

The Co-op tables at the fair sponsored the popular cycle-powered smoothie, in addition to selling tasty welshcakes.

The Preseli Coffee company served up fair-trade coffee from Tanzania that has been roasted and ground right here in Wales.  They were excited to demonstrate the traditional methods of tamping the ground coffee and making a steamed-milk latte.

The Taste of Summer fair was a great success, for all the vendors and all the happy visitors.  A steady stream of people enjoyed the soft light and bustling atmosphere in the lovely WISE building.

Fair goers became involved in discussions and dialogues about the diverse presentations ranging from food security to knitting to diet choices to climate change.
Thank you to all who made it out to CAT for a Taste of Summer this year, and we hope to see you next year!

A Snapshot of Volunteering at CAT

Some arrived by train… some arrived by bike… all arrived with a desire to learn more about the inner workings of CAT and keen to experience the life of a volunteer here for 6 months. David Jennings has been thinking about volunteering at CAT for a long time, ever since he visited nearly 10 years ago: “If you want to learn about alternative technology, this is the place to be!”.

The would-be volunteers spend 4 days ‘trying out’ CAT, working with the departments that take their interest and learning about the day to day tasks that keep CAT ticking. Pablo has been trialling with the gardening team for the past 2 days. He wanted to experience what it was like to look after the gardens at CAT because “plants are magic!”.

And it’s not all based in the big outdoors; volunteers have also been trialling departments such as media and education, where people behind the scenes are working to promote the work of CAT and spread the word of how we can all live a more sustainable way of life.

Sophie has found the past few days a great experience to get a handle on the internal workings of CAT. She has been taken by the “sense of community on site and the diversity of tasks and personalities at play”.

See them all back in Septembre


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