A Wonderful Day in the Woods!

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Ailsa Mair Hughes playing the cello on the Quarry Trail

Winding up through the trees along CAT’s brand new Quarry Trail on this special Monday in autumn you would have heard the purest notes of a harp being played. Wandering up further to the reservoir a solo cellist could be heard, the sound drifting across Llwyngwern Quarry where it would eventually intertwine with the atmospheric voices of Welsh folk song projected into the Snowdonia National Park.

Two years ago the idea of opening up never-before-seen areas of CAT woodland was born. The three trails – all equally uneven, steep in places and absolutely spectacular – wind up through broadleaf woodland and skim the steep slope and beautiful views of the Old Quarry.

From here the two longer trails take you to a moorland heath area and tranquil reservoir before trailing through a canopy of trees to reach a panoramic view of the Snowdonia National Park. With CAT in sight below, you make your way down through managed dormouse woodland, a wildflower meadow and willow and hazel coppice until you’re back in CAT once again.

 

On this special opening day, as you explored the trails, you would have discovered musicians, singers and a storyteller who brought the trails to life, while experts in wildlife and history of the quarry helped visitors to gain a better understanding of their surroundings. A micro-landscapes tour provided a glimpse into the tiny world of mosses and lichens, a local ornithologist was on hand with tips and tricks for recognising bird song and an expert from Corris Mine Explorers talked through the geology and history of the Old Quarry.

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Adrian and Rob cutting the Quarry Trail ribbon

The day began with a packed out celebration and ribbon cutting on the platform over-looking the Old Quarry. CAT’s CEO Adrian Ramsay said:

“The new trail will bring people closer to nature and local heritage, illustrating the impact that humans have had on biodiversity, and helping visitors understand how we create landscapes that actively benefit nature. I’m really looking forward to seeing people exploring and enjoying the trails.”

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A walk in the woods

Special thanks must go to Natural Resources Wales who supported the project, CAT’s woodland team Rob, Joe, Eleri, Alison and volunteers Dan, Sion, Max, Jade and Hamish who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to build the trails. Thank you also to all of the enthusiastic and talented people that brought the trails to life during the opening day and all the visitors who filled the trails with fun.

All three trails are now open to CAT visitors but don’t forget to wear practical shoes and keep children close as the trails have steep, uneven sections and are absolutely breath-taking.

In search of a life change…

Joe Wogden started his 6 months woodland volunteering at CAT in March 2015. In search of a change of life, he gave up a job in Yorkshire in favour of gaining practical experience in the environmental sector. He gained a degree in Ecology some years ago and wanted to reconnect with the natural world, and for Joe CAT’s long-term volunteer placement fit the bill. After completing his long-term volunteering, Joe was offered a job within CAT’s woodland team which has meant he has been working on the creation of the Quarry Trail since its beginning.

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Joe collecting seeds in collaboration with Kew Gardens

When Rob Goodsell, CAT’s woodland manager, told me early last summer that by October the following year there would be a new 1.5km circular woodland walk open to the public I found it hard to believe.“The new walk will take in a view of the quarry”, he said, “as well as going up to the reservoir and linking to the other side of site”. Hmmm…I thought, gazing down from the top of a steep and slippery slope, thick with out-of-control rhododendron and brambles. I knew straight away that we would have our work cut out for us.

My first week on the project involved my fellow ‘woodies’ and I cutting all the rhododendron on the bank, winching out the roots, dragging everything to the other side and getting a good bonfire going. It was exhausting work but the more we cleared, the easier it was to imagine a footpath in its place. Well, that seems like a long time ago now and since then it has really taken shape, thanks to the hard work of project coordinator Eleri and long-term woodland volunteer Dan, as well as the other short-term volunteers who have helped make it happen.

It’s not just the satisfaction of seeing the path develop over weeks and months that is so pleasing – it’s also the opportunities it has given me to learn new skills. Before I came to CAT my practical skills were very limited, but thanks to the footpath project I can make fences and build gabions with the best of them! We’re in the final stages now, installing the last section of handrail near the reservoir so that the route will be safe and ready to open in the last week of October.

Every time I’m on the new path it makes me think of how far it has come in a relatively short time, and with so few people. The woodland walk is a fantastic addition to all the great things CAT has to offer. I’m proud to have been a part of it and I hope that you get the chance to experience some of its history, biodiversity and the fantastic views!

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View of the old quarry from the new Quarry Trail

After the Quarry Trail has been opened to the public on the 24th of October Joe will be working with the current volunteers on the core woodland management activities that take place in the winter months: felling trees, thinning, vegetation clearance (bramble bashing!) and firewood processing.

He is not sure what 2017 will bring but having gained experience as both a volunteer and an employee at CAT he is keen to pursue a job in the environmental sector, something he would not have considered applying for before.

Minister for Natural Resources visits new Quarry Walk at CAT

Welsh Government Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant AM and local Assembly Member William Powell AM visited CAT this week to see the beginnings of a new woodland trail.

William Powell and Carl Sargeant meet with CAT CEO Adrian Ramsay, External Relations Officer Paul Allen and the team of staff and volunteers who are creating the new Quarry Walk.

Opening later this summer, the Quarry Walk will allow visitors to explore changing land-use patterns and human impact on the environment, taking in agricultural, industrial and woodland areas. The new trail will offer spectacular views across the old slate quarry on which CAT is built, and will allow access to never-before-seen areas of the CAT woodlands and gardens.

Built with support from Natural Resources Wales, the Quarry Walk will also allow visitors to get a better understanding of the plants and animals that share the site, including rare species such as dormice and lesser horseshoe bats.

Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant AM said: ‘One of the priorities of Natural Resources Wales is to provide opportunities for people to learn about and enjoy nature and the environment. CAT’s Quarry Walk is a great example of a place where people can get closer to nature and learn more about what we can do to manage landscapes in ways that work for both people and nature.’

William Powell AM said: ‘CAT’s work in highlighting environmental issues and solutions over the past 40 years has inspired thousands of people to care more about and to do more to help the natural world. The development of this trail adds a new dimension to this work, bringing to life the history and biodiversity of the site itself.’

CAT CEO Adrian Ramsay said: ‘The new trail will allow visitors to CAT to gain a better understanding of the impact that people have on the environment, and how we can create landscapes that actively benefit nature. It also opens up views across the Dulas Valley into the Snowdonia National Park, providing a stunning backdrop to a visit to CAT.’

The Quarry Walk officially opens in late summer, but CAT’s woodlands team will be offering tours of sections of the trail during the Easter holidays as part of a programme of activities for visitors, which includes tours, talks, demonstrations and a range of eco-activities for kids. Activities run from Monday 21 March to Saturday 9 April inclusive. See visit.cat.org.uk or call 01654 705950 for details.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

The sun shines on Mynydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.
A REBE trip to Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm.

 

Yesterday the REBE (Renewable Energy and the Built Environment) students were taken to visit Mynydd Gorddu Wind Farm located near Tal-y-bont, Ceredigion, West Wales and given a tour by the site manager. As a media volunteer I get to document all the interesting excursions students make, and so I thanked the weather gods for a sunny day, pulled on my long johns and packed my camera. After bumpy ride down narrow roads on the local coach, we arrived and were greeted by the sites operational manager, a sharp man in his forties. With the sun on our backs, we huddled round like penguins as he explain how this wind farm, which has been successfully running for nearly 20 years was started.

 

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Developed initially by Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig in 1997 – a company owned by a local family, Dr Dafydd Huws and Mrs Rhian Huws, npower renewables was involved in the early stages but in 1993 ceased to be involved with the project. Beaufort wind Limited are listed as the owner now, RWE Innogy as the operator. Dr Dafydd Huws had been inspired by the turbines at CAT and later through visits to Denmark where the technology has been developed further. In 1997 however, npower renewables agreed to assume responsibility for the financing and construction of the wind farm. Trydan Gwynt Cyfyngedig became a co-operative venture between npower renewables, now called RWE Innogy and the Huws family company, Amgen, the welsh for “positive change”. Dr Huws and his company Amgen continue to have, a leading role in the development of the wind farm and its operation.

 

By all accounts this wind farm was remarkably successful, with a good track record of fulfilling its potential, but like all machines they do need maintenance.It was interesting to hear direct from the horses mouth what its like to manage a site such as this, what kind of decisions you have to make when lightening strikes and melts the conductors. Calling crane companies and having to pay them double so they can come lift off the hub and propellers the next day, and get the turbine back in action as quick as possible. These kind of quick financial calculations, mixed in with practical monitoring and maintenance are all part of a days work for a wind farm operational site manager.

 

 

The site was awarded European grant of £1.3m to trial four different types of turbine but today there stands 19 turbines, with two different diameters, as the planning authorities weren’t so happy with the idea of too many different machines scattered across the hills. The planners also ensured that the sub-station, where the electricity is sent into the grid and where the turbines are monitored (with P.C’s STILL running from 1995, a little fact to amaze the techo- heads) is built in a true vernacular style, with stone walls, wooden doors and iron detailing.

 

Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm
Myn ydd Gorddu Windfarm

 

If you are interested in the performance of these medium sized wind turbines then you may be interested in the following; 7 of the turbines are each rated at 600 kilo Watts with a hub height of 34 metres  and a rotor diameter of 43m. The other 12 are rated at 500kW each with a hub height of 35m and rotor diameter of 41m. The rotors on both turbine sizes turn at an approximate speed of 30 revolutions per minute (rpm), driving a gearbox within the nacelle which is in turn connected to a generator. The turbines start to generate electricity automatically when the wind speed reaches around 11 miles per hour (mph), and achieve maximum output at around 33 mph. They shut down when the wind speed exceeds 56 mph, which is rare. The farm has a combined maximum output of 10.2 megawatts.

 

IMG_9818IMG_9834REBE Students taken notes about the Mynydd Gorddu windfarm.

I have no pretentions of being an engineer, and so many of these technical details the REBE students were avidly scribbling down passed me by and I tuned into the gentle sound of the blades swooshing above me in the cold winter wind and their majestic white silhouettes cutting into the crisp blue sky, a symbol to me of beauty and hope. I was also noticing the red kites sailing high in the sky, the fresh strong blast of cold wind whipping around my ears and noticed a suprising birds nest above one of the windmills doors at the base.

I am interested in the politics and people behind these endeavours and was intrigued to hear how carefully Dr Dafydd Huws tried to maximize the returns to the community by ensuring the windfarm infrastructure spread across more than one owners land. There is a fund, “Cronfa Eleri” that’s administered by Amgen, who have set up the Cronfra Eleri Advisory Committee, ensuring that people who understand the needs of the community decide how the money is spent to provide the widest community benefit. The fund yields about £10,00 a year and in 2011 the fund helped buy a new heating system for a community centre in Ysgoldy Bethlehem, Llandre, a new shed for the local Talybont nursery,  the re-wiring and renovation of the local church in Bontgoch, and towards a new tennis court in conjunction with the Playingfield Society Rhydypennau.

 

the wind blows us back to

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As we wandered back to the coach, we waved good-bye to the beautiful bullocks, (the wind farm was fully integrated with the traditional farming practices of the area, with sheep and cows grazing beneath the turbines) and all looked forward to a delicious lunch awaiting us at CAT. The electricity from the farm traced our steps, passing along a cables supported by wooden poles from Bow street to Machynlleth, carrying clean electricity to the local electricity grid network for use in local homes, schools and businesses.  All in all it had been a very successful trip, but lets see what Alexandra King, a REBE student who came too had to say;

 

An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.
An interview with REBE student Alexandra King.

 

Who are you and what do you do when your not studying at CAT?

 

“I’m Alexandra King. I live and work in Bath. My husband is a consulting engineer, I work with him, mainly as a support at the moment, but hope that after finishing this course, I will be more involved in the engineering design.”

 

Why did you decide to study at CAT?

 

“CAT is the obvious choice – to my knowledge it is the best place in the country to study renewables. Why? For a long time now I was a mecologist by choice. I believe in sustainable lifestyle. We’ve installed PVs on our roof as soon as we had a chance. Renewable energy is clean and available everywhere, even in the most remote locations. It will not run out anytime soon, unlike fossil fuels. And if we start making changes now, by the time we do run out of coal and gas, we should have good enough infrastructure to keep us going. I don’t know if we could slow down the climate change, but there is always hope.”

 

What did you learn from the trip to the windfarm?

“I’ve always liked wind turbines, and this visit just reinforced this affection. They are so elegant and not at all noisy. The footprint of a turbine is very small. I love the possibility of the double use of land (cattle or crops), turbines scale easily, the construction time is relatively short, unfortunately so is the lifespan of a wind farm. But I am sure we can overcome this in the future.

One more thing, I’ve visited several wind farms and yet to see a single dead bird, yet, driving home a few days ago, saw 8 corpses on the motorway…  one of them was a badger, I think, but still.”

 

 

How do you find the teaching on the course, and is there anything you would change about your student experience with CAT?

 

“I love CAT, wouldn’t change a thing. Except I wish I’d started earlier, like several years ago, but never mind now. I think this course is well balanced; it will give me a broad understanding of principles and technologies that will be very useful in my future work.”

 

Many thanks Alexandra !

 

 

Woodland volunteering placement opportunity

Woodland Volunteer
Woodland Volunteer
Woodland Volunteer Gareth

Six month volunteer placement

This is Gareth. He has just finished six months as volunteer in our woodland. He learned a lot about social forestry, green woodworking and woodland management. We have a position available for a new volunteer, starting in October. We would love you to join us to help manage our woodland through the winter season.

Gareth said:

‘volunteering in the woodland department was an incredibly rewarding experience… Hard physical work, but in beautiful surroundings, learning practical skills and developing creatively alongside knowledgeable and supportive folk’

We are also looking for volunteers in the media department and the gardens

Click here to find out more about our volunteer opportunities. Placement dates are flexible but ideally starting in October.

CAT gardens: from spring into summer

This blog is by Dan, on of the volunteers in the CAT gardens this summer.

Spring has come, the sun has arrived and it is an exciting time for a CAT volunteer gardener! The short daylight and relentless rain has not deterred us from our spring time preparations and the hard work is now paying off.

Roger with the hotbeds last month

With a combination of our own well balanced soil mixes and Roger’s home built ‘hotbeds’ (alternating layers of straw and decomposing food waste in special mice proof cages) we successfully germinated thousands of flower, herb and vegetable seeds. In the past months these have rigorously grown into mighty seedlings meaning we have had to keep on top of transplanting and finding space to put them all!

Seedlings a few weeks ago, waiting to be planted out
Planting seedlings out in April

Despite all this excitement, we have not forgotten to provide our on-site vegetarian restaurant with crate after crate of organic salads, roots and brassicas! We usually provide between 1 and 8 crates daily for the restaurant and Anna and I work hard hand picking the best variety and combinations. For the salads we pick Winter Purslane (Miner’s Lettuce) with a mix of greens such as rocket, tatsoi, mizuna, red giant mustard and red Russian kale. We then enhance its beauty with a combination of edible flowers, our favourite being viola tricolor, a highly nutritious and medicinal plant which has a long history of use in herbalism and even love potions!

Dan and Anna with produce for the restaurant

The 4 Crop Rotation display and the ‘Suburban Garden’ have been clawed and sown with this seasons spuds, roots, legumes and brassicas and our flower seedlings are big enough for planting out for display. The more we plant out the more we sow, so be sure to expect baby 5 Colour Chard, Calabrese and Cucumbers to name but a few very soon!

See more about the CAT gardens or attend a course in gardening or ecology.

Anna planting out in April, WISE in the background

 

The same view today

Could you be our next Media and Marketing Volunteer?

We have a position available to join CAT’s vibrant media and marketing department. It is a chance to develop a broad range of skills including writing, film making, photography, social media, interviewing, research and marketing skills. Robyn is just coming to the end of her placement, so what has her experience been like?  Scroll down for more details and to apply. 

I’ve been working in the media and marketing department for 5 months and the time has unfortunately come to pass the baton and invite someone new to the team.I started working here around the first of November and its been non-stop go!

View from the hill in January

I’m from a planning background interested in urban communities and sustainable retrofits with little knowledge of the marketing world, its acronyms and online databases. But after a couple of weeks, there’s no question about it, you become quite addicted into finding out the ‘click-throughs’ and the analytics of the work you’ve posted. At CAT theres never a dull moment, ”a TV crew tomorrow”, ”a conference today”, ”a crazy big storm on the way”, the opportunities are endless and you can work in any medium you like, be it videos, blogs, interviews or photography. Once a week volunteers can help out in another department or work on a personal project (although this isnt strictly monitored). During this time I either jumped in the gardens learning organic gardening from ‘gardening guru’ Roger, or ventured into the woods sawing, carving and weaving with woodland manager Rob.

Me out and about
Me out and about

With Spring pushing through (fingers crossed last year wont repeat) and the smell of summer on its way, CAT is bursting into life, the daffodils are blooming and the visitors centre will soon be reopening. The summer position to work in this department will no doubt be demanding but the pay offs with the in depth knowledge and skills you’ll learn are truly unimaginable.

The biggest benefit to volunteering at CAT is the opportunity get experience working somewhere with 40 years experience at the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Volunteers can also get a free lunch in the CAT restaurant, can claim for travel expenses, can attend two CAT courses (subject to availability) and get a year’s CAT membership for free.

Start Date: April 2014 (Exact start date is flexible)

Deadline for applications: 28th March 2014

To download the Media and Marketing Volunteer job description please click here

To download the application form click here

Send completed applications to: vacancy@cat.org.uk 

 

1974 Diary: Week One

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Alternative Technology. When the first volunteers arrived on-site they faced a huge challenge – turning an abandoned slate quarry into a renewable-energy-powered sustainable community. From their arrival on 2nd February 1974 through to December 22nd 1974 they kept a diary of their work. We’ll be publishing extracts from the diary on our Facebook Timeline daily throughout 2014. We will be posting weekly updates on the blog each week. You can read all the diary entries here

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2nd February

Weather: South West gale, rain.

Arrived at Machynlleth with Pat Keiller. Found the Centre very much as we had left it. A Douglas Fir had fallen across the top of the road, but all the structures are intact.

The evening at Lady White’s cottage, Pantperthog. Most comfortable.

3rd February

Weather: Warm, sunny and calm.

We installed a window frame into the East cottage, using existing timber, and ran guttering along the back. Pat took some photographs. bAt dusk we travelled to Aberystwyth to give an interview for “Good Morning Wales” (BBC Radio 4).

4th February

Weather: Rain early, then broken cloud with sunny intervals.

We cleared the debris from the upper rooms of the cottage, noting that much of the structure is very damp, due to holes in the roof. Repairs to the roof have begun, hopefully to be completed tomorrow. Most of the existing window frames will be retained, which will speed up the installation of windows, which has not been progressing as rapidly as I had hoped

The old quarrymens’ cottages in 1973.

5th February

Weather: Misty during the morning, then heavy rain.

Pat has repaired the largest leaks in the cottage roof. The upstairs narrow window has been framed. Our work was interrupted during the afternoon by the arrival of the two local press-men. The bathroom has been cleaned up, and it has been decided to run the drainage out of the back, having first excavated along the back of all three cottages. My car was overhauled by Jones the Garage, and seems to run much better.

6th February

Weather: Gale with sleet and rain early, abating as the day progressed.

We have completed the window framing and Pat has been working on the roof all day, in spite of the weather. The GPO telephone man arrived, saying it would be some weeks before the phone would be installed. We met Cliff Collins at the station, who is most impressed with the centre and its possibilities. I attempted to follow up Steve Boulter’s lead re digester tanks, but came to a full stop. Humphrey’s the iron-monger has neither glass nor beading in stock so it looks like a trip to Aberystwyth.

7th February

Weather: Clear, sunny and calm.

Pat spent the morning taking photographs and the afternoon on the roof. Cliff has commenced taking wind readings with his anemometer, a record of which will be kept separately. We now have glass and beading, and hope to start tomorrow. Tony and Viv arrived from London, have dined with us and are spending the weekend in the cells at Corris.* Tomorrow we join them. We have started to cut wood and stack it in the nearest shed. Pat saw what he believes is a peregrine falcon.

[*In the 1970s the old police station at Corris had been converted into a hostel.]

8th February

Weather: Heavy rain all day.

The rain has done some damage to the road, requiring two of us to ditch and fill. The front of the cottage has been glazed by Pat. It is not possible to floor the front room yet as no polystyrene is available in Machynlleth. Another 7 people have arrived, so we are now twelve, housed in the Corris Cells. John Beaumont seems worried about the question of tourism and I hastened to reassure him of how I feel. Audrey has 3 beds and mattresses for us. Cliff recorded a gust of 70kph today.

9th February

Weather: Rain early, clearing later.

Diana talked with John Beaumont this morning, to reassure him that we are not interested in making money from tourism. A busy day, logging and ditching. Pat has directed the spring at the back of the cottages into a slate tank at the west corner. The glazing has been completed. Cliff has made a slate culvert at the bottom of the road, but we are unable to discover where the water should ultimately come. John Sandiland called with the Asst. Head of Forest Hill School, and has promised 6 pupils tomorrow for path building. Diana kindly cleaned the cottage interior, separating the tools for the catering, which makes life much more tolerable.