Recording the seasonal events that show the impact of climate change on wildlife….

… is the purpose of the Woodland Trust’s new Nature’s Calendar website. We’ve been exploring it since it’s suprising finding that British blackberries seem to be declining. The purpose of the website is to get volunteers recording seasonal changes that will show the affect climate change is having on British wildlife.

As they say

Nature’s Calendar is the home For thousands of volunteers who record the signs of the seasons where they live. It could mean noting the first ladybird or swallow seen in your garden in spring, or the first blackberry in your local wood in autumn.

If you have the time and the inclination this sounds like a very interesting crowd sourcing project to get involved in.

British Wildlife Centre

Where have all the blackberries gone? (we mean the fruit not the phones)

Yesterday the Guardian reported research from the Woodland Trust showing that…

… 2011 has been one of the worst years for blackberries in a decade. Across England and Wales, brambles have produced a pathetic number of fruit, researchers say. And the berries themselves are smaller and less juicy than normal.

The cause remains a mystery

The south of England had an average year, but yields in the north and Midlands were well below normal. “We have looked at temperature, rainfall and sunshine records but we really can’t explain the regional difference,” he said. “It remains a mystery.”

Can anyone hear shed some light on the matter? Post a comment.

VIDEO: My job at CAT in less than a minute. Grace Crabb – tutor on CAT’s woodland courses

Coppicing the trees in the reed beds at CAT

Sustainable Woodland Management (5 days) Mon 24 Oct – Fri 28 Oct, 2011

This course is aimed at those currently managing or planning to manage woodland. It covers both practical and theoretical aspects of managing a small wood and will lead to accreditation at Level 3 with the Open College Network.

Coppicing the trees in the reed beds at CAT

Practical Woodland Management (5 days) Mon 28 Nov – Fri 02 Dec, 2011

This course is an introduction to practical coppicing in small woodlands. Learn the ancient skills of growing and harvesting using traditional coppice methods. Including sessions on horselogging and biodiversity surveying, this course can be claimed as part of a CPD (Continued Professional Development) programme for those wishing to start out in woodland management or progress in the field.

Managing CAT’s woodland: maximising this valuable resource for our environmental, social and economic benefit.

by Lou Smith Biology Department

Since starting in the Biology Department at CAT five months ago I have been helping manage the natural resources around site, concentrating mainly on CAT’s woodland. Part of my job so far has been looking at how we can best use the wood that we extract from on site and Coed Gwern and in what different ways we can maximise this valuable resource for our environmental, social and economic benefit.

One method I’ve explored is making items using our traditional pole lathes – a practice called green wood turning. Crafts such as this and rustic furniture making don’t require very large diameter wood and are therefore a good way of making use of medium and smaller sized material that we cut. I’ve experimented with a small range of items including rounders bats, garden dibbers and I am perfecting a design for honey spoons – quite a test of patience I’ve discovered.

The bats have been turned out of cleft ash – a tough pale wood that is perfect for things like tool handles and sport rackets or generally anything which might receive a wallop or two. I tried various woods for making the garden dibbers including birch and ash. Birch is lovely to turn on the lathe and has a pretty grain too. I’m hoping to make some dibbers out of oak soon as well. My favourite piece is the honey spoon. These are made from Sycamore which is the wood traditionally used for kitchen utensils and Welsh love spoons. They are quite fiddly to make but it’s worth it for the end result which makes me want to find a jar of honey to swizzle it in.

Slide show of images from the Coppice Products course we run at CAT

Want to know more about our biology department?

For the next couple of weeks, the biology department will take over our blog, facebook and twitter pages. They will talk to you about their day to day jobs as well as their research projects.

The biology department deals with the water and sewage treatment of the whole site. At CAT we are not on the mains but have our own water supply. Rainfall (of which we get more than our fair share) from a couple of small upland catchments is collected in our reservoir. From here it can flow one of two ways; either through hydro turbines to generate some electricity, or down to the site for drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation. The domestic water is treated to drinking standards by a three stage process involving, storage, slow sand filtration, and disinfection by UV filters.

CAT has no connection to mains sewage either and our wastewater needs to be treated independently. Because of our function as an education centre we employ a mixture of treatment systems to demonstrate alternatives. Most sewage is treated using reedbeds. The system uses no electricity or chemicals but is powered by gravity and utilises natural micro-biological processes to break down the sewage materials into minerals, gasses, and water.

The biology department also manages 15 acres of woodlands, as well as testing the capacity of charcoal, made on site, to act as a soil improver. They are also working on other projects like mushrooms propagation.

Stay connected to learn more about the different aspects of working in the biology department.

Meet the team
Meet the team

Lichen by the Lakes

The hills around the beautiful Cregenna Lakes seem to harbour a hidden selection of lichens, only noticable to those with their eyes to the ground, making them able to experience all the different textures and colours and the sheer variety of sorts that there are. As lichens are so slow growing they need a stable substratum to grow on, which is why they are mainly found on rocks and tree trunks and branches. They are also excellent indicators of clean air as they are extremely sensitive to air pollution. Now here’s a thing —in woodlands they nearly always grow in the greatest profusion on the side of the tree facing west or south west to catch the sun and moisture from the prevailing winds– it’s so reliable you could almost use it as a sort of natural compass–check it out. Most lichens don’t seem to have common names but one that is very familiar is the Map lichen which is that one you see on rocks and boulders looking for all the world like an atlas even down to the black edges corresponding to national borders. Map Lichen clinging to a rockThen there is the beard lichen which sprouts out of moss covered damp branches, hanging limply like the hair it is so aptly named after.
These tiny, slow growing organisms are fascinating and it is well worth taking the time to get closer to nature to witness it.

More about the woodland at CAT and how we manage it

Our 15 acre woodland, Coed Gwern, is a working example of an ex-plantation woodland that is being given a rest. In fact most of our firewood and coppice products come from our on-site woodland and garden trees. Coed Gwern has very good natural regeneration, and has required very little replanting. I named the woodland Coed Gwern because I believe, before it was drained, it was a wet woodland with alder (gwern in Welsh). It is my hope that we can help this patch of woodland become a rich and diverse ecosystem. Because of its young age, the woodland is always evolving. It is a pleasure to watch it and encourage greater complexity within its ecosystems. Coed Gwern aims to be a social, economical and environmentally sustainable woodland. We teach this philosophy through a range of courses and educational day visits, and also through local “knowledge shares”. Our next course is actually this coming weekend: Practical Woodland Management . Bob Shaw, a woodsman from Aberystwyth and a great inspiration to me, will be the lead tutor. Also, we are lucky to have a local horse-logger and CAT employee, Babara Hadrill, to do a demonstration of low carbon timber extraction. If you haven’t managed to book on there are plenty more courses, but to give you a helping hand you can refer to the Small Woods Association or Coed Lleol. The Small Woods Association have provided an excellent resource for preparing a management plan for small woodland sites.