Wild CAT – new nature connection course for rewilding the self

A figure emerges from the undergrowth, with mud-covered face and a wild look in the eyes. Is it a fox? A badger? A wildcat? No… it’s a participant on CAT’s nature connection course! Kara Moses reports…

Listening for bird song in the CAT quarry
Listening for bird song in the CAT quarry

Traditionally, people have had an intimate, even sacred, relationship with nature, recognising and honouring our dependency on the natural world for our very survival – indeed understanding that we are the natural world, not separate from it. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The Earth is not the environment. The Earth is us. Everything depends on whether we have this insight or not.”

In more recent times in our history, we have come to see ourselves as somehow separate from nature. We have created socio-economic systems that don’t honour our place within the web of life; nature is treated as a resource to be used for human profit and pleasure, as a waste dump to discard the spoils of consumerism, or as an adventure playground.

This separation works to devastating effect, causing not only ecological – even civilisation – collapse, but exploitation of people, growing inequality and greater suffering in our world. There is a clear need for a deep shift in perspective individually and collectively, towards a life-affirming worldview and social structures that honour our Earthly home.

Why connect with nature?
The emerging field of ecopsychology is discovering that it is not only our relationships with our family and society that fundamentally affect our well-being and inform patterns of behaviour, but also our relationship with nature. To begin to heal the broken relationship with the natural world and each other we must reclaim meaningful connection that brings us into a deep, embodied sense of participating in a cosmos full of wisdom, value and meaning.

Rekindling this sacred connection to the earth and all its inhabitants has the potential to heal the sickness of our times, transforming social relationships. A growing body of research shows that increased time in nature brings greater happiness, better mental and physical health and emotional resilience. Connecting to nature supports us to connect more deeply with our selves and others.

Deep solidarity
Research also shows that feeling more connected to nature also leads to an acting as well. Through recognising that we are in fact part of it, people who feel more connected to nature are more likely to display ‘pro-environmental behaviour’. They begin to see that we are not defending nature – we are nature defending itself.

natureblog2Here at CAT we’ve recently added nature connection to our short course programme. The first one ran in late summer, and went down a treat. Through play, mindfulness and practical nature connection exercises, we developed our powers of observation and saw all sorts of natural delights we would normally miss, with a renewed sense of awe and understanding.

Together we developed skills to interpret the natural world, such as tracking, understanding bird language and the body language of trees. We played games to help increase our sphere of awareness and reduce our sphere of disturbance to see and understand more of our wild cousins, and explored the theories of deep ecology and radical ecology. And we spent lots of time outdoors in the beautiful surroundings of CAT – we were a pretty feral bunch by the end!

More feral less fearful
I’m glad to say that the participants have been putting their experience and learning into practise in their daily lives, enjoying more time out in nature cultivating meaningful connections. One participant said a week after the course: “I’m listening to the birds with a new sense of understanding and joy.”

Some have made even bigger life changes: “I spoke about wanting to make a healthier more sustainable life and career change. It’s always a nerve wracking thing to leap from what you know into what you don’t, but the course inspired me to take this step and run nature connection walks myself. It’s great to connect with people over a subject that is intrinsically meaningful. More feral less fearful!”

After the success of this course, we’re offering more weekends in November 2016 and in April and July 2017 at affordable rates from £35/day. The last one sold out so book here soon if you too want to rewild your self and become more feral!

Kara Moses leads nature connection courses at CAT and independently. She also takes care of CAT’s natural water treatment systems and is a freelance journalist, Forest School leader and grassroots trainer.


If you go down to the woods today….

Get out into the woods this October with some great weekend and day courses at CAT. Forage for mushrooms or herbal remedies, learn about woodland management, or get to grips with wood fires as we settle into autumn.

5345533951_b1bcd01ff8_oEnjoy some seasonal foraging on 1st-2nd October with a mushroom and fungi identification course, where you can discover what’s good to eat – and what’s not. Go on a woodland ramble with our fungi forager then come back and cook up what you’ve found. You’ll also learn how to grow your own mushrooms using different cultivation techniques, so you can enjoy home-grown fungi feasts all year round!

As the days start to get shorter, get prepared for those cold winter nights by learning how to make the most of your wood burner with our Wood Fire Guru course on 1st October. Learn about choosing, storing and even growing your own wood, plus stove maintenance and safety to help you stay cosy right through to spring.

On 22nd October, learn how to make your own balms and tinctures with an Introduction to Herbal Medicine, including plant identification and collecting, gathering and storing as well as preparation for therapeutic use.

If you want to spend even more time in the woods, check out our courses on sustainable woodland management and horse logging.

CAT Short Courses Coordinator Steph Robinson said: “We’re so lucky to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful woodlands in Britain. We created these courses to help people learn new skills that will allow them to make the most of what’s on their doorstep.”

And don’t forget to join us for our Quarry Trail launch party on 24th October – see visit.cat.org.uk for details.

For more info and to book visit courses.cat.org.uk or call us on 01654 704966.

World Wetland Day 2016

The Centre for Alternative Technology sits in the Dyfi Biosphere, a UNESCO world heritage site. We were give the status largely due to our proximity to Cors Dyfi, a unique peat bogland site.

map bach_0

Wetlands host a huge variety of life, protect our coastlines, provide natural sponges against river flooding, and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.

Unfortunately, wetlands are often viewed as wasteland, and more than 64% of our wetlands have disappeared since 1900.

Many of the short courses developed at CAT are done with the protection of the local ecology as a driving factor. We offer courses in Pond and Stream Invertebrate Life, Understanding Amphibians, Rainwater Harvesting, Greywater and Water Purification, Reedbeds and Waste Water Management and Ecosystem services:- Land use, water and waste management.


Join us on a short course and help us spread awareness about the importance of wetlands.

Losing yourself in Woodland Management

Last week a small group of enthusiastic woodland women and men learnt many of the skills needed for managing and sustaining woodlands. The week-long course involves some classroom time, but predominantly takes place outside in the woods, here on site and in other nearby woodland projects. The course will run again this year from the 27th – 31st Oct 2014, so don’t miss it.

Bob Shaw shows the students how to measure a standing tree
Bob Shaw shows the students how to measure a standing tree

This course covers both practical and theoretical aspects of managing a small wood, using as an example the Coed Gwern woods, managed by CAT. By the end of the course, participants will have the foundations to confidently approach issues around managing their own woodland and will have gained knowledge of woodland craft such as pole lathe turning. One smiling student on the course said that the course is ‘full-on, with a great mixture of practical and lecturing throughout the day – usually ending up tired and dirty but full of questions’.

A student learns the art of pole lathe turning

The course includes charcoal making, which can be used to add nutrition to the soil by slowly releasing its embodied energy back into the earth instead of being burnt off rapidly as usually occurs when burning wood. All types of organic matter such as kitchen waste can be placed inside an old oil drum and set alight, producing the aromatic biochar. Participants also get a chance to learn a low carbon, efficient and flexible approach to timber extraction using cob horses. The course is taught by expert woodsman Bob Shaw, who has over 10 years experience of Welsh woods, assisted by CAT’s woodland manager Rob Goodsell, with a special appearance from horse-logging professional  Barbara Haddrill

Students pose in the mid afternoon sun
Students pose in the mid afternoon sun


There is also the opportunity for those interested to be tested on what they’ve learnt and to be awarded a certificate level 3 accreditation from the Open College Network. Katherine, a full-time CAT volunteer who attended the course said, ‘The certificate gives me the chance to make a personal handbook on woodland crafts and techniques to use after CAT – it can also act as a kind of portfolio for future jobs’.

Please donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign

In light of this week’s conference in Turkey we urge supporters to donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign at CAT.  Hosted by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecological Services), the talks focus on the value of soil and the revival of less intensive, ancient farming techniques which have been proven much more sustainable – many of which are taught here on site.

Students at CAT learning about garden diversity
Students at CAT learning about garden diversity

At CAT we know all too well the devastating effects that climate change and peak oil pose to our current food supply and prices. The addiction to and damage caused by petrochemicals currently used to transport and fertilise our food and control pests, make it absolutely essential that we develop and share alternative methods of farming.

Volunteers at CAT in the gardens
Volunteers at CAT in the gardens

We aim to teach, train and inspire people to use more sustainable methods of farming and gardening by demonstrating our more natural growing techniques. We are researching better composting methods, the use of green fertilisers, forest garden techniques, organic pest control and much more. We urgently need to raise £23,300 to keep this vital work happening. This will allow us to provide students, volunteers and visitors with the training and tools to become a new generation of green growers, helping to create a greener tomorrow.

Please follow the link to donate; we appreciate all your support.

Woody Wednesdays at CAT

If you live locally and fancy getting out in to the great outdoors then come and join our woody wednesdays at CAT’s Coed Gwern Woodland.

Meeting Point – Just outside Pantperthog hall at 9:30am every Wednesday

Join the CAT woodland team for a day of working in the beautiful Coed Gwern Woodland.
A great opportunity to:
· Learn traditional woodland skills and management techniques
· Meet new and interesting people
· Get back to nature – enjoy working with the sound of birdsong in your ears and sun (or rain!) on your face
· Learn about our local wildlife and habits and the simple measure we can do to protect it
· Get invaluable skills and experience to help with future employment
· Tone up after Christmas whilst avoiding the Gym!
· Have Fun!

Tea, Coffee and biscuits will be provided. Please bring packed lunch.
If you are interested in coming along please drop us an email or give us a call.
Email: adam.thorogood@cat.org.uk
Phone: 01654 705 970

Volunteers get a taste of CAT

Josh on Volunteer Taster Session


This week CAT welcomed some volunteers for a taster session to show them what it’s like to volunteer at the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth.

Josh from Liverpool studied business management at university, and after travelling in Australia fancied a change of direction. “I wanted to try something different and unusual, so I’ve come to CAT to learn about gardening.”

The taster session gives volunteers an insight into life at CAT before they decide to stay for a longer period of time. Long-term volunteers can stay from two to six months, and there are several different areas in which volunteers can work:

•Natural Building Materials Research

Zero Carbon Britain

• Site Maintenance

• Water and Natural Resources

• Eco-cabins Maintenance

• Gardens

• Marketing/Media

The centre also works with local volunteers on a flexible and part-time basis. Click here for more information on volunteering.

Josh on Volunteer Taster Session

Photo: autumn leaves


Autumn seems to be rapidly making way for winter here in Mid Wales. All the same, however, we’ve been enjoying the golden hues while they last – captured beautifully in this image by Tanya Stiles.

You can contact Tanya at tanya@fizzypopmail.co.uk. Do you have any images of CAT you’d like to share? Email them through to us at media@cat.org.uk.

5 tips to find and identify tasty Hedgehog mushrooms


Now I am hardly Ray Mears or Bear Grylls. For a start I cannot stand mud in my tent, whereas I am sure neither Bear or Ray lose any sleep over a squelchy ground sheet. But in the interests of sustainable living and maintaining the pretext of an alpha male who is at home in the great outdoors, I’m keen to start foraging more of my food. And with the winter turning out more mild than usual, it’s a great time to harvest one of the most abundant of natural foods: the wild mushroom!

Now – I hear you saying – aren’t mushrooms stupidly dangerous to pick if you’re a novice like me; Let alone a completely deluded city-living softie that can’t even light a fire without matches or petrol. Well, yes they are. Make no mistake about it, if you don’t know your Chanterelles from your Death Caps (the clue is in the title) then foraging for mushrooms can be like playing with fire – once you’ve managed to light it that is. But don’t stop reading quite yet…

Still there? Good. Because Hedgehog mushrooms are a god-send for the novice forager. They are common and very easy to identify. The perfect time of the year to find this yummy mushroom is between September and December. Just make sure you get out to forage before the first heavy frost settles. Because mushrooms don’t like frost and neither do forager’s fingers. Unfortunately, the weather this year seems to have been even worse for the mushrooms than it was for us. Long wet spells followed by equally long dry spells means the quantity has not matched the bountiful harvest of previous years.

But there are still a few healthy patches out there. Here’s my five tips for picking a non-toxic mushroom that will make a tasty treat in any meal:

1. Don’t pick any mushrooms unless you’re completely certain they are safe. The best way to learn (and avoid a toxic dinner) is to go foraging with someone experienced that knows mushrooms really well and I find that if they’re still breathing, they probably know their stuff!

2. Much like the Death Cap, the name of this mushroom is a big clue. Unlike other mushrooms, Hedgehogs have spines underneath their caps rather than gills, pores or ‘spongy stuff’. The spines should be soft to the touch and a pale colour that closely resembles the stalk and cap colour.

3. There’s no point looking for actual Hedgehogs during the day is there? So don’t waste your time in the fields. If you want to find Hedgehog Mushrooms, then head for the trees. Grassy or mossy areas are best. You can find them in deciduous or coniferous woodland. The caps become harder to spot once the leaves have fallen in later months but Hedgehogs are paler than most autumn foliage.

4. The colour is also the final safety precaution. Other ‘tooth fungi’ are less common than the Hedgehog variety and most are still edible (though I am told not as tasty). But only pick pale mushrooms with caps that are white, beige or a caramel leather texture. The stalk should resemble the colour of the irregular shaped cap. If there’s any sign of green or burnt hues, best give the mushroom a miss. Better to be safe than sorry.

5. And last but not least… Definitely do not pick that mushroom unless you are completely certain it’s not toxic.

If you follow all these tips and have the patience to find a good spot then you will soon fill your pockets with this fantastic wild mushroom. Now all that’s left, is to cook your meal. Where’s Ray Mears when you need him…

Photo: in the woods


This week we’ve had the assistance of some wonderful volunteers in our woodland, Coed Gwern.

CAT currently manages twenty acres of woodland spread across the main site and at Coed Gwern, an idyllic sustainably-managed deciduous woodland. The woodlands are a range of different ages and include coppice, mature broadleaf and conifer, with a mosaic of diverse microclimates and ecosystems.

Rob, our natural resources co-ordinator, says

The volunteers are fundamental to the success of our work and help preserve and enhance the extraordinary range of biodiversity that is part of west Wales’ unique ecosystem.

Thanks to the volunteers for their help!