Not for the faint hearted….

By Rennie Telford

Morning Everyone,
Yesterday Caz and Roger were fortunate emough to experience a close encounter of the mammalian kind ( stop it ! ). They surprised a stoat or a weasel in the cold store outside T chest. These two carnivores are superficially similar and move so rapidly that they can easily be confused. The stoat is larger and always has a black tip to its tail and the weasel is more likely to be seen in its characteristic upright position.
The stoat is a relentless and bloodthirsty hunter and once it pursues its prey rarely gives up until it has caught it. A couple of years ago, down on the Mawddach estuary where I live, I watched, enthralled, as a stoat fed on a rabbit it had just killed. It bored its way into the rabbit’s skull by way of the eye socket, its head disappearing inside at times and at intervals lifted up its face to look around with blood and bits of brain dripping from its mouth. Probably quite good that it is a relatively small creature!
Size for size I rate the weasel as the third most voracious carnivorous mammal in Britain with the stoat as the second.

However there is another mammal in this country- fill in the blank of this nature competition with a chance to win. In my humble opinion, without a doubt the most belligerent, bloodthirsty, voracious and unceasingly angry mammalian carnivore in this country is the – – –

There will be prizes

A job with a difference at CAT

Are you looking for job which makes a difference? This is it – no £million salary, but an opportunity that money can’t buyThis is a unique opportunity to join the foremost eco-centre in Europe, the Centre for Alternative Technology, in mid-Wales. With 35 years of expertise in the environmental sector, we have developed a wide and diverse range of activities. We are growing fast and we need two experienced managers to complete our newly created Operations Team.

  • Business and development manager
  • Core and Services development manager

The Posts:

In this challenging and new position, you will be reporting to the Directions Team, our elected strategy board, and:

  • Provide leadership to a number of departments.
  • Oversee their day to day activities.
  • Compile budget and other reports.
  • Help staff to develop their skills.

The Person:

  • An experienced manager with excellent communication and influencing skills.
  • Proactive, collaborative and creative approach with the ability to lead organisation-wide cultural change.
  • A team leader with knowledge and experience to meet challenging objectives, contributing and advising on strategy and policy at the highest levels.
  • A strong interest in environmental matters


For further information and to apply please visit or contact Joni Pickering on 01654 705955

Nature Update

by Rennie Telford

As you arrive shivering and cold for work, spare a thought for some of our wildlife in this cold weather. The wren, in particular can suffer dramatic decline in bad winters and I think the recent cold snap has had a marked effect on the numbers at CAT. I saw my first one this year ,yesterday and normally , although they are unobtrusive , there are lots on site. Luckily as a species they are astonishingly resilient and by producing several broods and large clutches numbers usually recover.
They are one of our most big hearted birds and sing all year round and although the song can’t be called beautiful, it is so enthusiastic and irripressable that it is a joy to hear.
Wrens in their nest The male wren is a nest builder par excellence, and builds several nests that it then shows to its prospective lady-love, who chooses the one she likes best. They always seem rather fussy little birds to me and you can imagine the female commenting on the nests –” It’s quite nice, but rather a rough neighbour hood ‘—- ‘Are you sure that roof won’t leak?’

As a survival strategy in the cold weather they will abandon their usually solitary habits and roost communally in old nestboxes and crevices, huddled together in large numbers to keep warm — this may have given rise to their Latin name of cave dweller –Troglodytes troglodytes.

If you see any wrens around the place please let me or Grace know –it would be good to know that we have a healthy population again.

Bird Watch

Every day when we arrive at CAT,  a new email lies waiting for us telling us about birds,  plants and flowers  slowly creeping out of their winter slumber. Rennie Telford is one of CAT’s expert bird watchers and as Spring fast approaches we want to share with you some of Rennies insights into the wonderful world of nature.

Last week Rennie spotted around 10 or 12 crossbills in the topmost branches of some conifers.  When there is a shortage of pine cones in certain areas there occurs what is known as an irruption as large flocks of crossbills  fly great distances and invade localities which are heavily forested with conifers, so they might be around again. It is an unusual enough sighting as crossbills have never been seen at CAT.

Rennie writes……..

Alright , I know it’s freezing cold and frosty, but spring is on the way – trust me.  The early morning bird song around site is increasing daily, with more and more different species starting up. This morning we had both the Mistle Thrush and the Song Thrush blasting away from the trees. For those non-naturalists amongst you, a good rule of thumb to differentiate between the two is that the Mistle tends to sing from an elevated and exposed position at the top of the tree whilst the Song generally favours singing lower down and somewhat more concealed. Also the Song is smaller and more round shaped and of course the song is completely different— or it was – my earsight’s not what it used to be!

Sometimes we tend to overlook the more common birds because they are always there, but they can be just as, if not more, interesting than the unusual ones. Take the ubiquitous robin – there are several pairs on site and although they can be endearingly tame and confident around humans, they are aggressive little buggers to each other. They are extremely territorial and each pair has their own area which they defend robustly against other robins. The edges of these areas tend to overlap and this is where fairly evenly matched skirmishes occur – but when, say, T chest area birds penetrate deep into Cabins area birds’ territory (for a prime food source perhaps) – then the Cabins birds will attack quite viciously and generally dominate the invaders. When the situation is reversed, the T chest birds wiil usually come out on top. So the next time you pause to listen to the melodic outpourings of a cute little red breasted robin perched on a branch in the weak spring sunshine — remember the song translated is probably ” F*** off out of my manor innit, or I’ll have you”
Back to Robins. If you want to try and identify birds from their song ( which opens up a whole new world ) , the robin , at this time of the year is an ideal bird to start with. As the trees are bare of foliage it is easy to see a robin perched on a branch singing its lovely , liquid, warbling song. Once you have seen it, close your eyes for a couple of minutes and concentrate hard on the song — get it firmly in your head and then listen out for it over the next few days. After a while you will find that you recognise this particular song, even when there is a veritable cacophony  of other bird song around. Then progress to other easily recognisable birds – blackbirds, chaffinchs, blue tits etc. and repeat the process –locate, identify, close your eyes, remember it and listen out for just that song for a few days. You will soon build up a mental library of bird song that will last you a lifetime.
Thinking about it , it is probably best to do this when there are no visitors around — the sight of CAT staff standing around with their eyes shut, listening dreamily to bird song doesn’t really tie in with the image we wish to present of  a dynamic, highly motivated, perfectly honed, all action and totally professional workforce.  Which of course we are (??)
It is a really good skill to master — I am not particularly good at it (exposure to AC/DC and Seasick Steve at maximum decibels has not helped matters either ) but if you are interested, sign up for the woodland birds thingy this Saturday  ( see Grace ) and the dawn chorus walk which Grace is organising with a really brilliant lady from the RSPB is unmissable.

22nd February

If you are walking or cycling up the south drive listen out for a sharp, staccato drumming sound in the distance. This is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker talking to other woodpeckers by performing its drumming routine. It finds a suitable tree and proceeds to bash it repeatedly with its beak producing a far carrying and resonant sound which has a peculiar sort of vetriloquism to it and is very difficult to locate accurately. There are at least two pairs of these strikingly exotic looking birds in or around the quarry, they regularly visit the Cabins’ bird feeders and they were also regulars on the feeders at the back of the shop outside the Courses office.
There is something really manic about these birds — after all any bird that decides to repeatedly head butt a tree has got to be a bit loopy –they even have a sort of built in shock asorber at the base of the beak to avoid brain damage. This head banging analogy was re inforced to me a couple of years ago when I was listening to a slowed down recording of the drumming while trying to count the rate at which it struck the tree ( I know— I really should get out more ) and it sounded for all the world like the riff from Smoke on the Water!

These heavy metal head bangers of the avian world , also have a rather gruesome side to them and will enlarge the holes in nest boxes, of other species to get at the eggs and  nestlings inside , to provide a high protein supplement for their own brood  — which is why it is a good idea to reinforce the area around the entrance with metal or thicker wood and of course never put a perch below the hole.

Video round up: the videos that got us talking this week

If you want suggest more videos for next week’s round up post a comment on the blog or the Facebook page

Our Zero Carbon Britain research team pointed out this video. Useful for anyone who needs some info on counteract the current climate skeptic stuff that’s going on in the media.

The Robin Hood Tax is a project launched on the 10th of February 2010 calling for a tiny tax on bankers that would raise billions to tackle poverty and climate change, at home and abroad. By taking an average of 0.05% from speculative banking transactions, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised every year. That’s easily enough to stop cuts in crucial public services in the UK, and to help fight global poverty and climate change. Over 50 organisations have signed up in support of the project, including CAT- find out more here Robinhood Tax

The Story of Cap and Trade Cap and trade is made simple in this film from US sustainability activist Annie Leonard. Find out why the ‘carbon market’ solution to reducing emissions, may not be such a quick fix after all

CAT’s Graduate School Bridges Gap to a Sustainable Society

by Kate Blair

This week the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) plays host to seventy students on the MSc in Renewable Energy and the Built Environment (REBE). Students eat communally and stay in onsite accommodation during five days of lectures, seminars, tutorials and practicals as part of monthly residential modules at CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment (GSE).

There is increasing public concern over the problem of climate change resulting from the use of depleting fossil fuels- one of the best solutions to this is the deployment of renewable energy technologies. The UK has tremendous renewable resources including 40% of Europe’s offshore wind capacity, yet as REBE course leader Mike Thompson states

“The escalating nature of climate change makes need for renewable energy urgent but expertise in this area is not able to meet this need.  This programme is being developed to meet the specific demands of the industry in its quest to provide much needed expertise in this important area.”


Furthermore Bryce Scott a lecturer on the REBE course says “The technologies and economics of renewable energy are maturing but there is an enormous gap to bridge to shift society to a sustainable basis, so there is a lot of work to be done.”

The course is validated for full MSc status by the University of East London (UEL) and has recently been accredited by the Energy Institute that provides REBE students one route to becoming a chartered engineer. The programme offers a unique combination of design, evaluation and practical experience by lecturers who all work within the field, some with 30 years of experience, and each technology is utilised and taught on site.

David Hood is one of the lecturers on the REBE course  “Renewable energy is one of the fastest developing areas of engineering in the UK. The REBE course at CAT offers practical based learning in each of the main renewable energy systems, taught by professionals in the field.”

Continue reading “CAT’s Graduate School Bridges Gap to a Sustainable Society”

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