The nature of CAT – an interview with the woodland team

We are extremely proud of our biodiversity here at CAT and are very lucky to be surrounded by such rich habitats every day. We caught up with Alex Chadwick, a Conservation Development Assistant and part of the woodland team here at CAT, to learn a little bit more about how the site is managed for nature and to find out what wildlife to look out for at this time of year.

Continue reading “The nature of CAT – an interview with the woodland team”

Welsh nature and beyond – nature discovery talks at CAT

This April a series of talks at CAT will take you on a journey from ancient Welsh woodland to the Amazon rainforest and beyond. 

On Wednesday 5th April we start our programme of evening talks with Adam Thorogood from the Woodland Trust. It takes many centuries to develop the rich, complex and irreplaceable ecosystems found within our ancient woodland but now this precious habitat covers just 2% of the UK. Continue reading “Welsh nature and beyond – nature discovery talks at CAT”

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.

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.

www.KaraMoses.com

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.