On Friday I disappeared off to a meeting with Woodcraft Folk. Woodcraft Folk is a great educational voluntary organisation that has youth groups all over the country. CAT and Woodcraft Folk have worked together on a whole range of projects over the last ten years, including most recently a project to visit festivals talking about climate change and sustainability education. We’re looking forward to being at Latitude festival again this summer and are preparing a whole range of drop in activities to inspire, inform and engage the Latitude festival goers – look out for us there.
Morning Everyone, It is great to see House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) making a bit of a comeback after a worrying decline in the numbers of this once extremely common and widespread bird. A little troupe of these gregarious but rather quarrelsome birds regularly visit the Cabin’s feeders although I’m not sure where they nested this year. They like to nest close together in small colonies and you can attract them to your house and garden by providing them with nest box ‘terraces’, sort of like three nest boxes joined together with the entrance holes to the two end of terrace houses on the sides rather than the front.
The males are the ones who seek out favourable nest sites and proudly show off outside the entrance, chirping excitedly to attract a female mate, and displaying the black bib on their throat and breast, the larger and more prominent the bib, the higher up the social ladder is the owner.
House Sparrows are inextricably linked to human habitations and dwellings, both for nesting sites and food (the Welsh name is Aderyn y To –Roof Bird) and sometimes their private lives almost mirror ours. They often fall out with their neighbours and squabbles and tiffs are a regular occurence and their love life can be a bit on the shady side. Although they form pair bonds, the males are not averse to a quick dalliance with the next door neighbours and the females are only too willing to strike up an intimate relationship with any big bibbed fellow who attracts their eye. In fact it has been found that often, most of the fledglings in a nest have different fathers although the resident male is a diligent dad and looks after the young until they can take care of themselves. Of course I’m not for one minute suggesting that any of us behave like this but- allegedly- it happens in some quarters. I think I’ll stop now before I dig myself into an even deeper hole.
Last tuesday, I spent the day on the beach with a lovely group of primary school children from Welshpool. We were at Ynyslas investigating the sand dunes – something the class had obviously done a lot of preparation for as questions like “is this Marram Grass?” and “why is it called eggs and bacon?” (birds-foot-trefoil) proliferated.
The class was able to carry out a number of very basic scientific experiments including testing whether soil from CAT retained water better than sandy soil from the dune. They also found loads of different flora and fauna on the dunes as well as the range of natural and manufactured things that get left along the high tide mark. They also got to think about why it is important to protect sites like this one and what managing them involves.
The project, which involves CAT educators partnering with the staff from the nature reserve, is an example of how diverse the education on offer at CAT is. Our education staff, all qualified teachers, have backgrounds in engineering, design and technology, primary schools, environmental science and more.
At a prestigious awards ceremony in London on Thursday 16 June CAT was awarded the Ashden Award for Training in Sustainable Technologies. The Ashden Awards are the world’s leading green energy awards and CAT won for its achievement in training and inspiring people to work in green technologies through a range of postgraduate and professional courses.
The Ashden Awards showcase practical solutions to combat climate change, rewarding outstanding and innovative low-carbon schemes in the UK and developing countries. CAT received the Award from Grand Designs presenter, Kevin McCloud and £10,000 to be spent on expanding their sustainable energy work.
The world-leading centre for practical learning on sustainable energy and architecture is among five UK winners, all of whom are leading the way to a low-carbon society.
CAT, which was established 35 years ago, impressed judges with its range of innovative short courses and postgraduate degrees. Its courses are unique in combining hands-on experience with top-grade academic teaching, and their work is crucial in consolidating the skills and know-how required for a green economy.
Nearly 4,000 students have already benefited from the hands-on experience offered by on-site technologies such as hydro, wind, solar and biomass; the access to leading practitioners in their fields; and the inspiring community that has evolved at CAT.
The recently completed award-winning WISE (Wales Institute for Sustainable Education) building provides accommodation for students, but it also serves as a practical example of sustainable architecture and is used by students for practical elements of their courses.
Over the past five years, CAT has educated over 1,400 MSc students and had over 2,100 people attend short courses in sustainable energy, including 370 for accreditation in the installation of renewable energy technology.
Sarah Butler-Sloss, Founder Director of the Ashden Awards, said:
“To transform the UK into a low-carbon nation we need vision, investment, skills and infrastructure. CAT’s training and education programmes are helping bridge the gaping skills gap that we face in the green technology sector if we are hoping to address climate change and energy security. The challenge now is to step up our game, and replicate approaches like this in every corner of the country, to create a better future for us all.” Zero Carbon Britain
Commenting on receiving the award, Paul Allen, External Relations Director at CAT said:
“We are thrilled to receive such prestigious recognition from the Ashden Awards and very proud of the work we do at CAT. Many students go on to work in the green sector as consultants, public sector specialists or some set up their own businesses. Our approach is helping create experts with the skills and knowledge the UK needs to speed the transition to a low carbon economy.”
CAT plans to develop its educational work and continue to promote its Zero Carbon Britain strategy to increase its profile. The Centre’s Graduate School for the Environment recently launched a new MSc course, MSc Environmental Change and Practice: Buildings, and is working to increase student numbers on all its courses.
On Tuesday Ann, Jo and I went to Leicester to a conference called “Sustainable school design and operation – a whole school approach”. Our involvement in the conference is as result of a project we have been doing with DeMontfort University about involving school children in the design and operation of their schools and learning about sustainable design in the process.
It was a great conference; imaginatively put together and with some inspiring speakers and workshop leaders. One of the most exciting thing about it was the range of people it brought together – architects, head teachers, researchers, local authorities, pupils and educators like us. One powerful aspect of the conference was the “visual minuting” – a team of artists recorded what was being said at the conference in a visual way on huge pieces of paper on the walls.
CAT was running two workshops billed as a hands on opportunity to explore sustainable building materials and design. We talked people through the design of five outstanding educational buildings (including our very own Welsh Institute for Sustainability Education – WISE), we demonstrated some of the classroom aids we have devised to talk about sustainable building and we got people to identify a range of natural building materials. Both workshops were really well attended and the feedback we received was great.
The announcement by Tim Oates this week that his review of the school science curriculum is expected to advise that climate change should no longer be in there made the conference seem particularly topical. There was real anger and also total bafflement expressed by conference delegates at the reckless narrow-mindedness of such a position. Focusing only on traditional education and not equipping children with the skills to apply scientific methods to the most pressing contemporary challenges amounts to a watering down of school science. School leavers need to be able to think critically and innovatively about the serious challenge of climate change and be ready to participate in modern Britain and the low carbon economy.
Food contributes to at least 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, here at CAT we are committed to improving education and understanding of food related emissions, enabling people to make positive, informed choices about their diet and where they source their food.
This year Julie Bromilow, CAT Education Officer, has contributed to the steering group of the first Regional Centre for Expertise (RCE) for Education for Sustainable Development in Wales set up in 2009, and from this became a member of their first ever working group.
The RCE Wales Food Working group aims to link broader Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) goals in Wales, with local issues surrounding food, and has pro-actively related ESDGC practice with food sustainability in their report Transformative Education and Food: Thoughts from Wales.
The first output from the Working Group for RCE Wales, the report looks at food sustainability as a stepping stone to a wider understanding of sustainable development and global citizenship in Wales. It also considers how people learn about food and offers educational theories to highlight how we can bring about positive change at the community level.
Peter Harper, head of research and innovations at CAT said of the report “What an intriguing and sophisticated document. Reading it feels like that trust game where you stand rigid in a circle of friends and get bounced gently and unpredictably from one side to another, but always coming back to the balanced middle.”
At CAT we believe that creating a more sustainable food cycle will have a huge positive impact on the struggle to create a more sustainable environment and society, whilst also having a beneficial impact on individuals’ health. From 28th – 30th October CAT will be running a short course which delves into the issues surrounding food, looking far beyond food miles and farting cows. Food for Thought will allow participants to understand why food has such a big impact, and offer solutions from CAT’s zerocarbonbritain2030 report.
To have a read of the RCE Wales Food Group’s report please go to their website where you can download it for free and space to leave feedback.
Yesterday the Guardian reported that the government may be considering taking climate change of the national curriculum. Here are three reasons I think climate change should stay.
1. Climate Change is widely accepted by scientists as the major environmental challenge facing this generation. We cannot allow political pressure to mean that some children are denied the opportunity to learn about those issues that will clearly have a big impact on their lives.
2. Learning the basics is important but education based on innovation and problem solving develops far more useful skills in young people than simply teaching them to repeat facts.
3. Over the next 20 years we will have to make the transition to a green economy. During this period, children in school now will be entering the workplace. It is vital that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to make this happen.
This week, the education department will take over the facebook, twitter and blog pages. Before that however, I will give you a quick introduction to our department and the work we are doing.
During school terms, we have lots of children around the site. Schools, colleges and universities often come on day trips to CAT. It is then the work of the education department to welcome them and show them around CAT. Schools can also book lessons and hands on activities on subjects such as climate change, eco footprinting or renewable energy. Most of the students we get are from Wales but some also come from the Midlands, Liverpool or even Singapore.
On site, we also have two eco-cabins where school or university groups can stay for up to a week. The two cabins can host up to 36 students and their stay is overseen by the education department. Whilst in the cabins, the students have to manage their own energy and water consumption, which can be accurately monitored from inside the cabins. The electricity comes from a wind turbine, solar panels and a micro hydro turbine. This is a unique educational experience where they leave the cabins with a better understanding of how much energy is required for our daily life’s activities.
The education department also works on other educational projects, often with local schools. One of them is the biosphere project. As you may know, the Dyfi valley has been designated by UNESCO as a biosphere, which is a site of global importance for how people and landscape relate to each other. This project, set up with local schools, is aimed at showing the children how special this area is, locally and globally.
The education department is also involved in other exciting educational projects, which we will present to you throughout the week.
With over 35 years experience, CAT is dedicated to informing, inspiring and enabling in the field of sustainability through a diverse range of activities. The Centre offers information and education and has a visitor and conference centre. We attract around 60,000 people a year and employ more than 100 dedicated and creative staff.
Volunteers are extremely important to the work at CAT and the achievements over the last 30 years simply wouldn’t have happened without the hard work, inspiration and dedication of the initial idealists who founded the centre in 1975.
Long Term Volunteers (LTV’s) come every March and September to work full time for 6 months in various departments across CAT. Whilst gaining hands-on valuable work experience and learning more about sustainability during their unpaid placement, individuals make a valuable contribution to the work of CAT which is highly appreciated.
Volunteers will most probably be taken in the following department:
2) Buildings and Site Maintenance
8 ) Marketing
Applications are now being taken for our long term volunteer placements starting September 2011 at CAT. Information is available at www.cat.org.uk/jobs
A few weeks ago a project was started here at CAT to research and develop open source digital fabrication methods. Digital fabrication tools allow us to build precise parts for everyday useful objects; and have been used for rapid prototyping in industry for many years. The focus of this project is to make such tools accessible at a community level, a bit like having access to a master craftsman in your local town or village, but in digital form.
A key aspect of this project is that all software source code and hardware designs are available freely under the GNU General Public License. Open sourcing allows a horizontal transfer of technology, gives greater autonomy for local communities to build the technology they need, and enables them to tap into a global knowledge base. It often gives rise to greater modularity in design (easier to fix, maintain and integrate), and thus in many cases better re-use of materials and components: leading to a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle.
Our initial focus is the RepRap 3D printer: a fabricator that can self replicate many of its component parts, thus the technology can be easily passed on to other communities. Documentation can be found at www.reprap.org . A RepRap can print using a variety of plastics (such as starch based biodegradable PLA). Other materials will also be investigated, such as ceramic extrusion and wood milling. An analogy for this project is like the symbiotic relationship between bees and flowers. In the same way bees pollinate flowers in return for nectar, humans will assemble machines in return for useful objects. In this way, both parties mutually benefit and human creativity and innovation can still evolve.
Local manufacturing itself should give rise to ‘just in time’ ‘pull-type’ production as opposed to a centralised ‘push’ approach with its associated inefficiencies of storing and distributing goods (naturally there will always be energy/ecological/social trade offs between the two methods). Digital fabrication is just one of many tools for localised production and living; other aspects are still to be explored within the open source eco-system, such as energy production, material extraction, transportation and agriculture.
At CAT one focus will be the application of these tools for building parts for our displays and renewable energy systems such as molds for wind turbine aerofoils, pelton wheels, mechanical cogs, connectors, jigs and fixings. The project is open to discussion on what the best approaches might be for given situations, and also to explore the infinite realm of ideas on what we can build!
To follow progress of this work, please visit the blog www.digitalfabcat.blogspot.com and feel free to share your findings, links, experiences and thoughts for applications in this collaborative project.