What’s on at CAT this summer?

Every day during the school holidays…

Enjoy special activities every day during the school holidays (18th July to 29th August). Get the kids out exploring nature and let them get creative with eco-crafts and solar boat-building. Take a guided tour or explore our brand new Quarry Trail. Just relax in our organic gardens or stop for lunch in the CAT cafe. See you soon!

Fun for kids!





Get crafty with natural jewellery making









Put your inventing cap on and build a solar-powered boat









Get up close to some amazing beasties on a slug & bug hunt




And adults too!





Take a guided tour to learn more about renewable energy and greener buildings










Explore our brand new Quarry Trail for amazing views across the old quarry on which CAT is built









Release your inner bodger with green woodcraft demonstrations every Wednesday





*School holiday activites run from 18th July to 29th August, with kids’ activities and guided tours on every day

To find out what’s on when, take a look at our events calendar at http://visit.cat.org.uk/whats-on


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.

Reduce your business water bills with FREE TRAINING – Wales

Ideal for building facilities managers, hotel managers, caretakers, housing associations, holiday site owners and anyone responsible for reducing the cost of water bills. This one-day course on Designing and Delivering a Water Efficiency Strategy focuses on cost effective solutions for reducing your busines’ water bills and environmental impact.

To book onto this training please call one 01654 704 952.

Click here for more information on eligability and course details.

CAT also offers a range of other courses in renewable energy, sustainable building, woodland management, ecology and sustainable living.

Click here for a full list of courses offered this year.

Download the PDF file .



cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Steven Depolo

Machynlleth: Sustainable Capital of the UK

CAT is based in the buzzing Dyfi Valley awash with active environmental and sustainability  projects- according to a Guardian article:  “if any place in Britain could be called its sustainable capital, it’s Mach.” We have counted up the projects and gathered them here under relevant subheadings below – although many themes are interlinked.  We don’t have everything so if you think you should be on the list, write to us and tell us 



Ecodyfi is a regeneration organisation that supports local projects including; Mentro Allan (Venture Out); Dyfi Footprint Project; Dyfi Biosphere; Communities First and Lifelong learning amongst others about Sustainability; Transport; Tourism; Energy; Waste and Fair Trade:

The Dyfi Footprint Project aims to estimate, monitor and reduce the carbon impact of the Dyfi Valley.

Communities First (Welsh Assembly Government programme) provides local people with opportunities to play an active role in their community.

Community Action Machynlleth and District Local Volunteer Bureau, (CAMAD) is a scheme to connect people wanting to volunteer with sustainable organisations in the Dyfi Valley.


Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (SARPA) is a local rail users group campaigning for enhanced and improved rail services in Mid Wales.

Sustrans, is a sustainable transport charity developing the National Cycle Network, Safe Routes to Schools and other projects to encourage walking and cycling in the UK. It also includes trails in the local area.


Swap Shop, Machynlleth is an online community that enables you to swap unwanted items for items that you need for free.

CRAFT (Ceredigion Recycling And Furniture Team) collects and accepts donations of unwanted goods and furniture to sell or recycle in Aberystwyth.


Dyfi Vally Seed Savers is a not-for-profit organisation based in Machynlleth that promotes saving and swapping seeds with the aim of preserving old or unusual vegetables; nurturing local knowledge and plant heritage; and promoting sustainable gardening. Current Seed Saver Projects Include; The Welsh vegetable Project; The Powys Orchard project; and The Apple Mach Register.

The Mid Wales Food & Land Trust
has recently launched an associated website for all local food and drink producers, retailers and restaurateurs in providing online promotion and exposure, whilst also acting as a comprehensive business database available to the public and the media.

Cwm Harry Land Trust are a social enterprise picking up food waste around Newtown, Llani and now Welshpool, and processing it into compost. They also work with socially disadvantaged and children’s groups on their allotment, and are working with local small-scale growers with a veggie bag scheme.

This is Rubbish is a food waste campaign that set up in Machynlleth to raise awareness and tackle concerns about food waste within the UK supply chain.

The Dyfi Valley was also awarded with Fair Trade Valley status in 2004 by achieving over one thousand signatures during the Fair Trade Fortnight that year.

Dyfi Land Share is working to match up people who want to grow food with available land in the Dyfi Valley, they work to promote local food production and better enable people to grow food in the Dyfi Valley.

Woodlands and Biodiversity:

Dyfi Biosphere is a global network where knowledge and experience of local heritage, culture and economy can co-exist in the natural environment.

Aberystwyth Forest Education Initiative
educate School groups in Mid Wales about woodlands and woodland crafts.

Coed Lleol provides information and contacts in Wales whether a woodland manager, forest school tutors or individual nature enthusiast.

Coed Cymru, based in Newtown, is an all Wales initiative to promote the management of broadleaf woodlands and the use of locally grown hardwood timber.

Wales Wild Land Foundation (WWLF) is a group that has just set up to create an area of native woodland near Machynlleth. As part of the same group: The Cambrian Wild Woods Project, are planning for a beaver enclosure near the Artists Valley.


Bro Dyfi Community Renewables is a community energy co-operative for community-owned renewable energy projects including two community wind turbines near Machynlleth.

Mid Wales Car Share  is an online networking site and has a function to allow you to search by specific journeys in Mid Wales.

Anemos Renewables a Machynellth based wind energy company offering consultancy, design and installation services for small to medium sized wind energy schemes.

Dulas Engineering are a renewable energy company based in Machynlleth that provide expertise and consultancy in biomass, wind, solar, and hydro power.

clock tower

John Cantor Heat Pumps is a website of useful basic information about heating-only applications with heat pumps. It covers environmental issues, and supports the appropriate use of this technology in high-efficiency eco-friendly applications.

Mid Wales Community Energy Trust links income from renewable energy with rural regeneration through sustainable energy projects in Mid Wales.

Llanidloes Energy Solutions, a voluntary community group based in Llanidloes.

Open Energy Monitor  is a project to develop open-source energy monitoring tools to help us relate to our use of energy, our energy systems and the challenge of sustainable energy.

Clear Solar solar PV and heat pump systems


Dyfi Architecture  is a registered, award winning architectural practice based in the Dyfi Valley, they aim to bring added value to the built environment through designs that can be constructed and operated sustainably and have the potential to be adapted to suit future needs.


Free range designs uses recycled and sustainable sourced wood to create bespoke pieces of outstanding furniture, from story telling chairs to enchanted beds.

Green Holidays

Green Holidays Wales  Comprehensive website with links to green accommodation providers and activities in Mid-Wales


PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre), based in Machynlleth, is an independent charity that integrates technical research on climate change, energy and economics, and translates this into a range of social mediums and materials.

Eco Centre Wales provides sustainable energy education for West Wales run mainly by volunteers.

Cyberium is a design and content company that specialises in working with ethical, socially constructive and environmentally positive clients or projects.


Mach housing co-op

If you are involved in a local project related to Sustainability and the Environment, or know about something we should include here, please send a web link or brief description to the CAT Media department; kim.bryan@cat.org.uk , or include in the blog comments.

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.

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 


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’.

New Skills in 2014 – Hedgelaying and Restoration

We have a host of exciting new short courses taking place at CAT in the new year, so if you fancy learning something new in 2014 then what about the traditional art of hedgelaying? Our weekend course on Hedgelaying and Restoration will run between the 31st January and the 2nd of February 2014. Why is this skill so important?

The course involves both theoretical and practical learning onsite at CAT with Rob Goodsell. Students will learn about different types of hedges, the ecosystems found in them and the traditional tools used to create them. Rob is an experienced woodsman with a hands-on approach to learning. He is been a long-time member of the CAT staff, working in water resources and woodland management. His teachings emphasise the importance of sustaining vibrant landscapes by using sustainable methods and techniques.

Tutor Rob Goodsell

Nowadays, hedges are often ‘flailed’; the tops are cut off using large automated machinery. This technique is not very sustainable. Rob explains that “flailing breaks down the hedgerows and will not promote new growth of the plants and will negatively impact on species, such as bats, that use these corridors to navigate. Flailing looks neat but it is not good for the countryside.”

Most hedges in the UK have been maltreated for over 30 years, so bringing them back to life is vital. Learning how to construct hedges in a more traditional way promotes habitat corridors, while allowing the local flora and fauna to flourish.

Find out more about this course on our website. Until 31/01/2014 we are offering 10% off this short course. 


Biomass in Zero Carbon Britain: Breaking the Chain of Destruction?


Biofuelwatch, a campaign organisation against large-scale bioenergy (using biomass to produce energy) have launched a new report – Biomass: the Chain of Destruction – focusing on the human and environmental costs of biomass-focused UK renewable energy policy.

The report states that:

“Large ­scale electricity generation from biomass is a key element of the UK Government’s renewable energy policy. Their 2012 UK Bioenergy Strategy states that bioenergy could provide between 8 and 11% of the UK’s primary energy demand in 2020 […] Although bioenergy includes biofuels for transport, the bulk of it would come from burning wood.

Biomass electricity is supported by generous subsidies and energy companies have announced plans to burn […] more than eight times the UK’s [current] total annual wood production.”

In conjunction with their report released last year – Sustainable Biomass: A Modern Myth – the organisation highlight the pitfalls of trying to meet greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets by converting to baseload biomass electricity generation plants. That is, burning large quantities of biomass (usually wood pellets) around the clock to produce electricity, similar to how we currently generate electricity from coal.

Burning biomass instead of, for example, coal, is seen as ‘carbon-neutral’ because the carbon dioxide (CO2) released in its burning has been taken in already as the wood has grown – there are no net greenhouse gas emissions over the life cycle of the biomass. Coal, in comparison, emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

CC. Andy Polaine, Flickr.


Most of the issues surrounding biomass use for energy derive from concerns about whether or not policies surrounding biomass growing and use will, or do work. For example, do they:

  1. Count all the carbon in the biomass life cycle properly, and take into account the ‘carbon-payback’ time. For example, if an older, carbon-rich forest is cut down and replaced by a short-rotation (comparatively carbon-poor) stock of biomass, then the energy produced using that biomass would not be carbon-neutral in absolute terms.

  2. Stop deforestation and the ruining of natural landscapes, communities and cultures in the process of growing biomass or establishing new plantations.

  3. Keep biomass usage to a sustainable and non-exploitative level. Is it right to use precious land (often not in the UK) to cater for our high energy demands, when it could be used for food production or supporting biodiversity? Catering for all UK electricity demand would require tens of millions of hectares of land for growing biomass according to the report (the area of the UK is about 24 million hectares in total, as a comparison).

Encompassing all of these things, key questions are: ‘is biomass sustainable?’, and ‘is it really carbon-neutral’? And even if it is both of these things, is it actually a good option for low carbon energy provision in the UK?

The argument goes that if policy does not work, then energy from biomass is no good from many different, not just climate-related, perspectives. This means biomass use hinges on good policy mechanisms, their strong implementation, and objective and impartial verification. Are we capable of this?

It would appear that currently we are not. The new report includes the first ever study of a land-grab in Brazil for eucalyptus plantations directly linked to UK demand for wood pellets, and documents the impacts of a UK power station’s pellet demand, sourced from the destruction of ancient forests in the southern US and Canada.

Biofuelwatch member Oliver Munnion said: “This is just the tip of the iceberg, and what we’re seeing is the impacts of a rapidly growing industry and the speculative investments of irresponsible companies, spurred on by generous subsidies and non-existent sustainability standards.”

However, whilst biomass is not, and cannot be the solution to all our energy needs, it is useful in some cases, though its use should be kept to a minimum, as a ‘last-resort’. Baseload biomass (for example replacing coal with biomass in large power stations) is not sensible when biomass resources are limited, can have detrimental impacts globally, and especially when we have so many other ways of generating electricity.

Biomass in ZCB

Throughout the Zero Carbon Britain project we ask, what resources do we have for energy provision in the UK? In other words, where are our strengths? We end up with a good mix of renewables in our scenario, but we are dependent on wind (both onshore and offshore) for about half of our energy on an annual basis because we are fortunate enough to be one of the windiest countries in the world. With relatively small per-capita land area, building up our capacity to produce electricity from wind resources, rather than biomass, makes much more sense.

Furthermore, Zero Carbon Britain hourly modelling of our electricity supply and demand shows that baseload power (i.e. burning biomass instead of coal, or nuclear power) does not help cater for shortfall in electricity demand in a system that has a high degree of renewables in it. When our supply and demand for electricity go up and down at different times, what we need is a flexible back-up energy supply, not one that runs constantly – we only need to fill the gaps, not produce more energy all of the time.

And this is where careful use of biomass comes in handy. In Zero Carbon Britain, there are some energy demands that can’t currently be met with electricity (the type of energy produced by renewables) – some transport and industrial demands. Furthermore, we need to be able to store some energy over long periods of time (weeks or months). Electricity isn’t very storable on the scale necessary to cater for even the much reduced UK energy demand in our scenario. Converting biomass and hydrogen into synthetic liquid and gaseous fuels helps with these issues. In Zero Carbon Britain, we keep biomass use to a minimum. We use hydrogen produced using excess electricity (when supply from renewables exceeds demand) in chemical processes to get more out of our biomass, so that we need less of it.

But how do we ensure the biomass we require is sustainable, and actually carbon neutral? In Zero Carbon Britain:

  • We grow all the biomass we require for energy in the UK. In total, we use about 4 million hectares of land to produce grasses, short rotation forest and coppice. We think that providing our own biomass for energy offers us the best chance of being able to be in control of good policy implementation surrounding its growing and use, and verification schemes that keep the production sustainable and carbon neutral.

  • We mostly grow this biomass on ex-grazing land meaning no old forests are cut down. In fact, at the same time we plant an additional 4 million hectares of forest, providing more wood products for the UK, and leaving more space for biodiverse woodlands. There are no knock on effects for the food industry either.

  • Changes in diet in the Zero Carbon Britain scenario mean we can do all this, and still provide a healthy, balanced diet for the UK that needs to import less food.

  • The impact the UK has on land overseas in our scenario would be less than it is today.

There can be (and are currently) many serious and dangerous issues with the growing and using of biomass for energy. However, with a sensible (and limited) approach to its use, strong policy backing, and independent verification, we can make sure the biomass we use is sustainable and carbon neutral.

One of the things Biofuelwatch calls for is “a major policy shift away from large ­scale energy generation through combustion, towards our energy needs being satisfied through a combination of genuinely climate ­friendly renewable energy and a substantial reduction in both energy generation and use.” And providing that there is still some room for use of truly sustainable and carbon-neutral biomass in appropriate places, then we’d agree.

Working in the Woods

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. Over the next three days we’re going to take a closer look at the different roles. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

First up:

Water and Natural Resources Volunteers

Using a draw knife to make a traditional Welsh gate.

We’re looking for two people to work in CAT’s Water and Natural Resources department. This is a brilliant opportunity to learn about traditional coppice skills, correct tool use and care, sustainable woodland management, biodiversity survey work, land and estate management, wetlands and eco-sanitation. CAT’s woodland website has loads of further information about each of these areas.

The people we’re looking for may not necessarily have experience in this area, but they will:

  • have a genuine interest in woodland and natural resources
  • have practical skills
  • be happy to get a bit grubby
  • be flexible with an enthusiastic and positive disposition
  • be keen to learn
  • willing to complete physical work outside in all weathers


Iñigo, a previous volunteer had this to say about his experience: “I like being involved in the woodland and working outside, being in contact with nature through the work that we are doing and trying to preserve biodiversity. I think it’s a great experience to have and to take some skills and to develop a different view of what you can do with them, and to improve sustainability and to be a change maker in some way.”

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.