7 April

The bluetits are well into their courtship rituals at present and will soon be sorting out their nesting sites. The courtship follows a set sort of pattern and is easily observed as there are so many of them around. The initial ‘chat up’ will take place on a branch or hedge when the male will tentatively proffer an offering of food, usually a tasty grub or caterpillar to a likely looking female. If she fancies him, she will respond by crouching low and opening her beak, and sometimes fluttering her wings coquettishly. ( the avian equivalent of fluttering eyelashes perhaps?) If she accepts the present then the male has pulled and he will cockily continue to bring her other delicacies while they search for a suitable nest site. When they find somewhere and start to think about building a nest, the behaviour subtly changes and the male can be a little hesitant in entering the nest area with food until he is sure the female is happy with him.


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CAT launches new book and info service to help people claim feed-in tariff incentives

PV solar roof at CATSince the 1st of April householders and communities installing electricity-generating technologies such as small wind turbines and solar panels have been entitled to claim payments for the low carbon power they produce. This is thanks to the governments’ new feed-in tariff incentive scheme (FiTs) – which guarantees owners of renewable energy systems a fixed price for every unit of electricity they produce for the next twenty-five years.

To coincide with the launch of FiTs – CAT publishes its new book – Choosing Solar Electricity: A guide to photovoltaic systems – and launches a free information service designed to help people make the most of the new incentives.

Continue reading “CAT launches new book and info service to help people claim feed-in tariff incentives”

We’re asking the climate question. Maybe you should too.

climateq1So the election has been called and we’d like you to make climate change a key election issue. Ask the Climate Question have got an action plan that makes it easy for you to find your local candidates and ask them a climate question. CAT has supporters, members and friends all over the country – and if we all get involved we can help make climate change a key election issue.

CAT will be asking climate questions to our local candidates (and in fact and election candidates we come across local or not) and we’d like you to do the same.

Here’s how to get involved and ask a climate question:
Go along to your nearest Climate Question time. Here’s a map of all the climate question time events happening across the country.

When the candidates knock on your door or stop you in the street make sure you ask them a climate question. How about:

  • Will you commit to putting the UK on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, through strong domestic action?
  • Will you commit to ensuring at least 15% of all energy comes from renewables by 2020?
  • Will you commit to providing the UK’s fair share of finance to the developing world in addition to existing commitments on overseas development aid?

… or make up something of your own.

Email your MP with a question. Fill in your name and post code at the Climate Question website and there’s a ready made email ready to go off to your MP. You can go with the standard questions or make up something of your own.

How to Ask the Climate Question with twitter

Check out who is standing for election in your area by entering your name and postcode at Ask the Climate Question.

See if your candidates are on twitter – just search for their names.

Then tweet them a question. Like this:

@YourCandidateName Will you commit to ensuring at least 15% of all energy comes from renewables by 2020? #climateQ @centre_alt_tech

Make sure you @ your candiate so they see your tweet. @centre_alt_tech too – we love to know what you lot up too. And make sure you #climateQ

It you get any good answers make sure you RT them

Naycher Korner- Update

Rennie ( and Ovy) write….

1st April

Morning Everyone
Today let’s draw attention to the waters of our lake where migrating European Pool Flies have taken up temporary residence and have been mating for the past 48 hours.This rare species has become a worrying addition to our shorlord-howe-island-stick-insectes this year, normally confined to the continent. They are easily identifiable by their reddish wings and large jagged proboscises with which they deliver a vicious bite, by way of injecting their eggs into a warm blooded host. These eggs incubate within 12 hours after which the Pool larfi (up to 100 at a time!)break through the host’s skin — not a pretty sight.They then transform to adult state after a further 24 hours of gorging themselves on their host of choice.

Preventative tactics then—- Should you wish to avoid being a banquet for the voracious Pool larfi!!! The adult fly is highly adverse to Theobromine ( A mild natural stimulant and molecular “cousin” of caffene).Luckily for us Chocolate is one of nature’s or should i say Naycher’s most concentrated sources of Theobromine,so would highly recommend topping up frequently with chocolate and a smear of melted chocolate to exposed areas (face,hands,arms etc)is essential.There was also a chocolate based deterant spray on sale in the C.A.T.shop so would suggest enquiring there also.

This should deter the fly from landing upon you and starting the whole grizzly process.
The “laying” season should commence today for a 24 hour period and would strongly recommend that afore mentioned precautions are taken to minimise cases.

Enough said—– so all that’s left is to wish a Happy Easter to one and all!

2nd April

Keep your eyes open for a bright splash of red on the ground amongst the bits of twig and rotting wood in the surrounding woodland — it will be a small fungus that is relatively common in this area during the winter and early spring— the Scarlet Elf Cup. It grows directly out of sticks and small logs and looks like a small goblet ( hence its name) up to 3cm across with a brilliant scarlet interior and a pinkish white outside. They like damp and soggy conditions and there seem to be quite a few around this year.scarlet-elf-cup-sew-6-4-9-08
Fungi have some really imaginative and descriptive common names ( although serious mycologists only use the dry Latin names)– just wrap your tongues round these: Dog Stinkhorn,Death Cap, Fly Agaric, The Blusher, False Chanterelle, Spindle Shank, The Sickener, Red Staining Inocybe and best of all The Destroying Angel !
In fact , it’s a fungi thing, but since I’ve discovered toadstools there is not mushroom in my life for anything else.  Sorry!

6th April

In Charlie’s Orchard ( that’s the little area of woodland by the river ,on the right as you turn off the main road ) the ground in the centre is covered with two small blankets of one of our earliest spring flowers — the Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa ). These lovely little woodland plants flower early before the leaf canopy shuts out the light. Another name for them is Windflower because of the way they  turn away from any breeze. They respond quite actively to light, opening out when the sun appears and closing up when it clouds over and at dusk. They do not seem to produce viable seeds and spread very slowly through their root structure, so they are fairly localised and are usually a fairly accurate indicator of ancient woodland if found in large quantities. I suspect that our flowers may have been introduced but I’ll throw that open to any much more knowledgeable botanists out there. Whatever, they are very pretty little flowers with a lovely musky smell.  There is a beautiful bluish form of Wood anemone found in North Wales and I once came across some when exploring woodland near Portmadoc I think , but it was after a few pints at a local pub with some friends so the details are a bit hazy. In fact they were probably bluebells!

CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment Considers the ‘eco’ in Eco Build 2010

ecobuildGiven the sheer size of this years Eco Build; “the world’s biggest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment” held earlier this month in London, Distant Learning Tutor Sam Saville, reports on a wide range of perspectives by students of CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment.

The main thread running through many of the comments indicate that although ‘Eco Build’ is certainly not 100% ‘Eco’; our students and graduates are out there asking the awkward questions, refusing to bathe in the abundant greenwash and finding the hidden gems worth talking about- thanks for everyone’s contributions!

Continue reading “CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment Considers the ‘eco’ in Eco Build 2010”

Urgent WISE Appeal: You can help us complete this landmark building by June

4332868578_183f304308The Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE) is CAT’s most important project to date and is due to open to the public in June. Conferences are booked, the launch event planned and important keynote speakers – such as Sir John Houghton, formerly of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Lord Elis Thomas – are confirmed.

Originally a £5 million project, the building costs for WISE have risen because of a legal dispute between CAT and the main contractor, Frank Galliers Ltd. They were formerly a family-run company with whom we formed a friendly and innovative partnership that sadly deteriorated after the company was bought by a venture capital firm.

4330062410_fa26e64a31Following the dismissal of Galliers, after numerous difficulties, several defects were discovered in the building, some structural. Last month, in the High Court, CAT was awarded over £530,000 in costs and our actions in terminating Galliers’ contract were exonerated. Unfortunately, within a week of CAT obtaining judgment, Galliers went into administration and a short time later, liquidation. Given the magnitude of Galliers’ debts (almost £10m), it is unlikely that we will see a penny. This has left CAT as a company in an incredibly difficult position. As a busy educational charity, our committed staff, volunteers and other resources have been stretched to breaking because of this financial predicament. Whilst we are amply able to deal with long-term financial issues through careful planning and sophisticated management systems, the immediate impact on our present cashflow threatens to mar an otherwise amazing year in CAT’s unique history.

4332717650_8cf80a0087Thankfully, our new building firm, C. Sneade Construction, has a good track record in environmental building and is doing a fantastic job of repairing the damage. Unfortunately for us, we now have to meet the cost of this repair bill through no fault of our own.  The amount we need to raise is £530,000 and we have a short and challenging timescale in which to achieve this target. Please could you help us at this critical time.

All donations will be greatly appreciated. To donate please fill in the donation form or send a cheque made payable to CAT Charity Ltd, and addressed to Centre for Alternative Technology, Freepost AE 24, Machynlleth, Powys, SY20 1BR.

CAT and Whitmuir Organic Farm Swap Food Teaching Tips

CAT’s Education Officer Julie Bromilow, shares her holiday on Whitmuir Organic Farm, swapping the latest food education tips for good company and lavender bags.

whitmoreI don’t know much about permaculture, but apparently it includes the theory that all the important things happen around the edges. When I met Pete Ritchie at the Carnegie Rural Convention in November, we were both very excited. Me, because he was involved in the One Planet Food project, and managed an organic farm, and he because I am an education officer at C.A.T.

Globally, food accounts for a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, so therefore plays an important role in our education programme. At C.A.T. we have expert organic gardeners and biodiversity specialists, and an incredible research team who are currently pulling together the very exciting land use chapter of the current edition of Zero Carbon Britain. What we do not have, is on the ground agricultural experience. Pete runs Whitmuir Organic Farm near Edinburgh, and is involved in a host of food, farm and energy projects. His latest venture is a community education project, to connect people with food and farming. We planned to get together to talk about food education during the convention, but as it was an action packed programme, we didn’t get the time.


So having accrued a sizeable chunk of time off in lieu, I decided to take my holiday in Scotland, visiting Whitmuir en route to the West Highlands. For me, the visit was invaluable. To actually walk around the farm was gold dust in itself, to see the animals, the crops, the farm shop, restaurant and gallery with renewable energy installations made a strong impression. In one evening I learned so much about winter wheat, organic yields, and agricultural policy, I’ll be lucky to remember just a fraction. Pete and his wife Heather are an incredibly hard working and highly motivated couple, and their enthusiasm and warm hospitality is inspirational. I was showered with good food and wine, and the speed with which they whipped up a delicious roast dinner without actually stopping work was phenomenal. At the end of a long and cosy evening, I was put to bed in a beautiful room with a lavender bag.

smallpigletsBut the thing that really struck me was the community of people that radiated around the farm. The staff that worked there seemed incredibly happy, and the way Pete and Heather regaled affectionate anecdotes about them late into the night, showed how much they were valued. I was there to give a talk to share my experience with food education working for CAT education department. On a sleety cold Monday night, I was amazed that they had managed to gather a small but incredibly committed, friendly, and intelligent audience who were for the most part on their way home from work. Among the group was a renewable energy installer, a school governor, an acoustician, a mental health worker, a secondary biology teacher, a primary school teacher, and a lecturer in renewable energy at Edinburgh University, plus many more. It was supposed to be a forty minute talk, but two hours later we were still going strong so passionate were the audience, so keen to debate and discuss the issues and ask questions. Even when I was packing away my resources, they were still talking to each other and coming to ask me even more questions, and I wondered if they actually had homes to go to. If these are the people who will begin the new education project, then it’s hard to imagine anything less than success.

I had to leave early the next morning and am an early riser, but not as early as my hosts – Heather had already been working on their environmental health report and Pete had written an article for a local website, and they still managed to make me a delicious breakfast before taking me to the bus stop. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my holiday.

Poems in a Changing Climate: To Celebrate World Poetry Day 2010

poetWorld Poetry Day was declared by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1999 “to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world”  identified as “the unrestricted pursuit of truth”.

Whilst poetry has been used as a tool for social change throughout history, it is important to remember the one in five adults that are illiterate in the world today. As Leif Utne from Worldchanging states: “access to education, or rather the lack of it, is one of the greatest barriers to sustainability”.

Below are a selection of modern day poems, slams and haiku’s that have been recommended by CAT staff and facebook fans that address our changing climate.

Danny Chivers; climate activist, poet and writer performs Lifestyle Choice at Climate Camp In The City 2009:

Less is More, was written by Matt Harvey; poet, writer, broadcaster and Wondermentalist, inspired by the Schumacher conference of the same title:

Can less be more, can more be less?
Well, yes and no, and no and yes
Well, more or less…

More bikes, fewer cars
Less haze, more stars

Less haste, more time
Less reason, more rhyme

More time, less stress
Fewer miles, more fresh (vegetables)

Fewer car parks, more acres of available urban soil
More farmers’ markets, less produce effectively marinated in crude oil

Less colouring, more taste
More mashing, less waste

Fewer couch potatoes, more spring greens
Fewer tired tomatoes, more runner beans

More stillness, less inertia
Less illness, more Echinacea

More community, less isolation
Less just sitting there, more participation!

More wells (not oil ones, obviously), fewer ills
Fewer clean fingernails, more skills

More co-operation, less compliancy
Less complacency, more self-reliancy

Less competition, more collaboration
Less passive listening, more participation!

Less attention defic…, more concentration
Less passive listening, more participation!

(Less repetition)

Less of a warm globe, more a chilly’un
More of a wise world, at least 34 fewer parts of C02 per million

Less stress-related cardio-vascular and pulmonary failure
More nurturing quality time in the company of a favourite clematis or dahlia

More craftsmanship, less built-in obsolescence
More political maturity, less apparently-consequence-free extended adolescence

More believed-to-be-beautiful, known-to-be-useful things
Less cheap, pointless, petroleum-steeped stuff

So Yes, less is more – and enough’s enough…

the-lorax2Marcus Brigstocke (Radio 4’s The Now Show) recites his somewhat humorous take on The events at Cop 15 in Dr Seuss style:

Change For Dinner was written by our facebook fan John J Macdonald:

Canopy’s were constructed from timber
Allowing entrees of coal, oil and gas
Leading to mammoth heaps of cooked cinders
From every kind of conceivable mass.

The result of this main course is desert
Which appears when we clear the plates
Having licked them so clean they are inert
We advance to new portions which await.

Yet the yeast offers proof in the kitchen
That our bread will not rise when its cooked.
Raw materials frozen in fiction
Seldom ever taste as good as they looked…

On and on, baking ‘sustainable growth’?
How many cooks? and who’s using their loaf?

Untitled is from another facebook fan John McCreesh:

Gordon is red
David is blue
The climate is changing
But can they change too?

Sea Inside was written by CAT’s very own Bruce Heagerty:

“Nature for us lies more in depth than on the surface” – Paul Cézanne

Excuse me but..

Your feet pace on a fireball
That your roots are pushing through;
Your heart beats to a rhythm
That the moon distracts in you;

Remember You
Are Nature through and through.

The water in that river
Is the stuff that pumps round you;
You imbibe it and return it
To the blue-reflecting Blue,

You know it’s true,
You’re Nature through and through.

Your skin anoints the air
That blesses every blade with dew;
Your breath is synthesised by trees
And then returned to breath in you,

You twig that You
Are Nature through and through.

You feed on farmer’s harvests,
– you defecate them, too –
Expend the juice on just one lifetime
And so everything you do

Is down to you,
As Nature through and through.

Your senses sense each atom of the world
And they feel you;
Energy flows outwards
From the sun and flows through you

And glistering You
Are Nature through and through.

Your fingers zing with zephyrs
That butterflies flit through
And birds perch on your branches, singing
“Are you singing, too?”

Sing out that You
Are Nature through and through.

You smile at potent partners,
Feel the lava rise in you
And later sleepily you touch
Them in your silent moments, too,

You know you do:
You’re Nature through and through.

Divine your journey with the care
That Nature took in making you;
When you die you’ll touch the sky
And your remains will pay their due,

Ensuring You
Abide with Nature, as we do.

Now Nature packs a punch
That Nagasaki never knew
Let he who wakens up the krakens
Be no friend to yours or you,

Recalling You
Are linked with Nature through and through.

Your children and their children
Are all captive in this zoo;
Will you leave them playing with krakens
Or is there something you can do?


Accept that You
Are tangled in this Blue.

And finally on World Water Day no selection is complete without a line from the epic Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge:

…Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink…

Post your favourite climate change poems in the blog comments.

Naycher Korner

Rennie Telford continues to keep us enthralled with his spring updates- every day more green shoots push out from the soil, buds uncurl a little bit more and the primroses and daffodils add vibrant splashes of yellow across the CAT site.  Here is a selection of this weeks Naycher Korner

19th March

Hope you have all had your breakfast and you are not eating anything at the moment because I thought we might consider the dietry habits of the Magpie ( Pioden in Welsh ). I walked in this morning along the back lane and came across a couple of  magpies feeding happily on some unidentifyable animal remains. These striking looking birds will eat just about anything — carrion, grain, insects, worms and ( brace yourselves ) dog faeces. In bygone years they would join ravens in picking over the corpses on battlefields, but probably their most distressing ( to us ) activity is their relentless raids on other birds’ nests to collect eggs and nestlings. In the breeding season a pair of magpies will systematically work a hedgerow, flushing out nesting birds and emptying the nests of eggs and fledglings often ignoring the frantic parent birds valiant attempts to protect their young. I would love to know if anyone has ever seen a successful defence of a nest by  targeted birds.

Mind you they are only doing what magpies do and as a species they are great survivors. Listen out for their machine gun like chattering from the fields bordering the south drive most days.

18th March

There is a welcome splash of colour after a long grey winter, as you come up the garden steps.  One of the first of the spring flowers has appeared, a little later than usual, –the coltsfoot or as it is sometimes called ‘ son before father ‘ — so called because the flowers come out before the leaves. In the morning they are closed up quite tightly but later in the day the bright yellow flowers really catch your eye. Nerdy type fact — the leaves used to be collected and dried to make a form of herbal tobacco.

Carrying on the theme of yellow I spotted a lovely male yellowhammer by the lake yesterday feeding on the grain put down for the ducks. It is really good that we have these birds at CAT as they have been in a steady decline for some years now. The males start to sing in March and the usual mnemonic for their song in bird books is ‘ little bit of bread and no cheese ‘ — although it never sounds anything like that to me. I used to hear the song throughout the summer as a boy in Somerset but  it is now sadly not heard so frequently.  One of the Welsh names for the yellowhammer is Melyn yr Eithin which I think translates as yellow bird of the gorse — a beautifully apt name as so many of the Welsh names are.

17th March

Listen out for the gentle croaking of frogs as you come up the garden steps — mating is in full swing now the weather is a bit milder. There are two ponds near the steps, one in Roger’s garden and another deeper one at the end of the Cabins, both of which frogs return to regularly for spawning.
The males are the first to arrive and they wait  around  the edges of the pond for the arrival of the females — a bit like the lads at a Saturday night dance. They don’t have much finesse though, because as soon as they see a female, they leap onto her and grasp her in a tenacious hug called ‘ amplexus ‘ and resist all attempts by other males to dislodge them. Their grip is helped by knobbly ‘ nuptial pads ‘ which develop on the males’ front feet during the breeding season, and there is something rather endearing about the sight of two frogs locked together in an embrace with what appear to be beatific smiles on their faces. But then as mating can carry on continuously, night and day for up to a week, I suppose they are entitled to look a bit pleased with themselves. Of course the prosaic scientific reason for the male’s vice like grip is to ensure that it is he alone who fertilizes the eggs, but my preferred interpretation is that they like a bit of a cuddle ( or an amplexus if you like ).

15th March

A bit more about buzzards. March is the time when, if you are really fortunate, you might see buzzards shake off their customary lethargy and perform their  amazing sky dancing routines. Several birds ( I have seen up to 12 ) circle high in the sky, uttering their plaintive mewling cries and demonstrating their complete mastery of the air with some truly breathtaking aerial gymnastics. If you ever come across this event, just stop whatever  you’re doing and watch — it really is one of the top wildlife sights of this country in my opinion.  One bird will climb vertically, then stall and go into a long downward free- fall, then flip onto its back in a corkscrew action, perform a couple of rolls and sometimes finish off with a steep controlled dive. Each buzzard may perform, apparently trying to outdo the others and then one by one they disperse.  Just as spectacular are the courtship consolidation displays — on one occasion I watched as the slightly smaller male swooped down on its mate in a sort of mock attack and just when a collision seemed certain, the female flipped upside down, their talons touched briefly and they flew apart.  There are probably learned scientific reasons for this behaviour, but i prefer to believe that they do it out of sheer enjoyment and just because they can.  Incidentally, bird books often portray the buzzard in flight with out stretched wings as seen from below and above. Now, below I can understand, but  I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many times when you’re likely to be viewing it from above, unless you’re falling off a mountain or something, in which case you are unlikely to be too worried about bird identification— so it seems a bit pointless!