Sustainable Building Courses at CAT

One of the great things about the Centre for Alternative Technology is the sheer quantity of architectural and design features around the site.

View from the Wigloo
The funicular Cliff Railway
Eco cabins

Indeed, it’s a rare treat to see modern design juxtaposed with the rugged Welsh landscape.

All of our buildings, old and young, demostrate how ecological design pays attention to both form and function.

These buildings serve as practical exhibits which show ways that ecological architecture and design take care of both the environment and wellbeing.

We run a number of courses which are connected to design and architecture,  varying from short courses on timber frame construction to a Professional Diploma in Architecture.

For more information about our short courses:

and graduate level courses:

The EU and the environment

What would UK environmental policy and practice look like if we voted to leave the EU? With the referendum fast approaching, we explore the possibilities.

Once known as ‘the Dirty Man of Europe’, the UK has cleaned up its act in recent years thanks, in large part, to the influence of the European Union. If the UK votes to leave the EU, how might this impact environmental policy and legislation in the UK? And how would the UK’s exit affect environmental protection in the remaining EU countries?

leavesEU countries have worked together over decades to build one of the most comprehensive packages of environmental legislation in the world, including habitat protection, pollution control and climate change mitigation. Much of the UK’s environmental law has been developed through its membership of the EU, so it’s important to explore the potential impacts of a Brexit scenario.

A large number of EU directives have helped to enforce standards in areas as diverse as water quality, air quality, fish stocks, waste disposal, hazardous substances, radioactive waste, recycling, construction, habitat and wildlife protection, GMOs, animal welfare and climate change.

Whilst some aspects of EU policy (such as the Common Agricultural Policy), have been damaging to the environment, most EU environmental policies have resulted in a raising of standards across EU member states. The EU-wide nature of these policies makes them more effective as many of the issues are trans-boundary (water, air and wildlife all move across boundaries). Single nations are also less likely to raise standards unilaterally due to fear of competitive disadvantage. EU-wide legislation creates a level playing field that countries are more willing to sign up to.

In the event of a ‘leave’ vote, there’s no clear consensus over which exit scenario the UK would follow but, irrespective of what the final arrangement might be, Brexit would result in some important changes:

  • Loss of the UK’s voice in EU decisions affecting the environment.
  • In international negotiations, such as the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change, the UK would contribute independently. This would allow us to steer our own path, but we would lose influence over the EU position, which holds more sway at a global level owing to its size and economic importance.
  • The Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy would cease to apply and we would need to find alternatives. The consequences of this change for land and marine management could be significant.


Options for the UK and Europe

Other impacts would be dependent on the type of relationship negotiated between the UK and the remaining EU Member States. There are a number of options, but it’s uncertain which option would be pursued by the UK government.

One option in the event of an ‘out’ vote is that the UK joins countries such as Norway and Iceland as part of the European Economic Area (EEA). In this scenario, most EU environmental legislation would continue to apply, with notable exceptions being the Bathing Water Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives (see box). If the UK stayed within the EEA, we would retain some routes into EU policy debates, but could no longer vote on decisions affecting EU legislation.

In relation to industry, EU environmental law covers two broad areas: ensuring industrial processes don’t cause undue environmental damage and ensuring products entering the EEA meet agreed standards. Examples of the former include limiting emissions and setting broad standards for air and water quality; the latter includes restriction of hazardous substances in products and ensuring suitability for recycling. Most of this legislation would continue to apply if the UK left the EU but remained in the EEA.


Bathing water and habitats

The Bathing Water Directive was the main reason that the UK introduced improved water treatment from the 1970s onwards. Prior to this, the seas around the UK were some of the dirtiest in Europe, thanks to the government policy of ‘dilute and disperse’. In the event of the UK leaving the EU, this directive would cease to apply. Although it is unlikely that the UK government would take the unpopular step of weakening standards in this area, there would no longer be pressure from Europe to keep our seas clean.

Similarly, the Habitats Directive would no longer be in force under any of the likely Brexit scenarios. Enacted in 1992, this protects habitats and important species of animals and plants. The UK government has made clear its frustration with some aspects of the Habitats Directive, particularly where infrastructure developments have been affected. There is therefore real concern that UK habitats and wildlife could receive less protection outside of the EU.


Other options include a negotiated bilateral agreement with the EU, with some access to the Single Market, or the UK could withdraw completely from the Single Market.  In both of these scenarios, different types of legislation would be affected in different ways.

treeEU regulations are applied directly in member countries so would no longer be applicable in the UK if we chose to leave the EU and not join the EEA. It would then be up to the UK government to decide on UK legislation in these areas.

EU directives are not directly applicable in UK law. Many of them have been transposed into UK law so would continue to apply until changed by the UK parliament even if we left the EEA. Other directives have been implemented under the 1972 European Communities Act, so new legislation would have to be enacted if this act was repealed.

New UK legislation could of course increase, maintain or reduce the level of environmental protection. However, the current government’s actions and promises to ‘cut the green crap’ do not bode well. It’s worth noting that EU states are currently allowed to adopt ‘more stringent protection measures’ than EU legislation requires (albeit with some limitations), yet the UK government has chosen to adopt a ‘no gold plating’ approach – sticking with the minimum standards – while complaining that many of those standards are unnecessary ‘red tape’ for industry.

Even where the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental legislation, companies exporting to the EU would have to comply with EU industry standards. The EU is unlikely to allow equal access to the market for products developed under lower environmental standards where this might have implications for competitiveness.

In or out?

Overall, there’s still much uncertainty over what impact an ‘out’ vote might have. Before its involvement in Europe, the UK did not have a strong record on environmental protections, but in some areas it’s unlikely that we would move backwards. If we remain in the EEA then many protections remain.

However, evidence of the government’s dislike of ‘red tape’ and ‘green crap’, particularly when it comes to protecting the environment against the interests of big business, does give cause for concern. Environmental protection is a long-term investment, often overshadowed by headline-grabbing short-term issues, and in the age of austerity it’s easy to see how certain environmental considerations could become neglected without the safeguards offered by the EU.

In the next few weeks, the voices for ‘in’ and ‘out’ will clamour ever more loudly for your vote – you can use this chance to ask questions about their vision for the environment, putting the issues you care about at the heart of the debate.


Climate change

Both the EU collectively and individual members states sign up to new treaties on climate change.
Climate targets are implemented through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), covering emissions from power plants and aviation, and the Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), covering emissions from elsewhere. Together, these policies govern overall totals for emissions, and EU legislation determines how allowances are allocated.

Other policies that help reduce emissions within the EU include legislation on transport and energy, including rules on energy efficiency and renewables, and emissions targets for car manufacturers. Energy efficiency rules include the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive. Targets are set for the percentage of energy that should come from renewable sources, plus targets and regulations on biomass.

EU commitments agreed at the Paris climate change talks are currently being developed into a package of new measures, including revisions to ETS, new renewables targets, changes to energy efficiency legislation, and the possibility of the inclusion of legislation on carbon stored in land and forestry.

So what would be the impact of Brexit on EU climate policy? The UK, along with other North-West Member States, has pushed for an ambitious approach to targets, whilst states in the South and East of the EU have been more reluctant. The UK has been particularly influential in determining targets for 2020 and 2030. UK support has been for market-based mechanisms such as ETS over targets for particular technologies. Under a Brexit scenario, EU policy may therefore become less ambitious and more technology-focused in its targets.


Read more

There are a few useful reports that cover these issues in more depth:

The EU Referendum and the UK Environment

The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure from the European Union

Brexit – the Implications for UK Environmental Policy and Regulation



This is an extract from Clean Slate Summer 2016. To receive Clean Slate once a quarter and stay up to date with news and veiws from CAT, sign up for membership today.

Visit CAT’s Gardens

CAT volunteer tending to slad plants
CAT volunteer tending to slad plants
CAT volunteer Catherine tends to the spring salad crop

Visit CAT’s Gardens during the Festival of Gardens North Wales

We are fortunate enough to live in a most spectacularly beautiful part of Wales – mountains, hills, lakes, waterfalls, the estuary and the coast. Every day looks different, and even the rain brings out a moody beauty.

Less than four hours on the train from London, why not see for yourself? The seven acres of CATs sustainable and organic gardens are looking gorgeous right now.

On Thursday 2nd June, we will be hosting two special events.

At 12 noon, there will be a comprehensive gardens tour; followed at 2pm by a Meet the Head Gardener event. Roger McLennan has been gardening at CAT for over 30 years, and appeared on numerous gardening programmes, and has a wealth of knowledge under his belt. This event is held in conjunction with The Festival of Gardens – the brainchild of broadcaster and gardener Tony Russell; and celebrates the scenery of Snowdonia and North Wales.

Running over half term, from Saturday May 28th until Sunday June 5th, the Festival follows the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and covers the Spring Bank Holiday.

Plantsman, gardener, author and broadcaster Roy Lancaster CBE, will officially open the 2016 Festival at the beautifully-restored gardens of Plas Cadnant on Saturday May 28th. (Entry by pre-booked ticket: 01248 717174).

To find out more about the gardens of Snowdonia and North Wales and to receive a free Festival brochure, which includes a map of all of the gardens and a timetable of all of the events, visit

Half Term Fun at CAT

This half term, come and join the fun at CAT

Ride the water powered funicular railway up to the site, before beginning your adventure.

Half Term Whitsun 2016

With free children’s activities, you could be learning about sustainable living while the kids build a solar boat, make natural jewellery, or plant their own beanstalks. There are free guided walks every day throughout the half term week, too.

The Visitor Centre is looking great at the moment, with new signage being developed and new displays being worked on. The gardens are a joy to behold, and you’ll get a chance to have a peek at Carwyn Lloyd Jones’ tiny caravan, as featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

Finally, after all that exploring, visit the CAT restaurant for a filling lunch or a delicious cake. It’s all veggie, with lots of vegan options, and we cater for specialist diets too.

Book here to get 10% off your ticket price.

Looking forward to meeting you!



Sara is helping people gain access to land, with Agroecology


Sara Tommerup is a graduate from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). Here she writes about the work she has been getting up to since graduating, including setting up the Agroecology Land Initiative.

Since 2006 I have apprenticed and learned about natural building in different parts of Europe and also in the US. In 2010 I decided to do the AEES course at CAT (now replaced with MSc Sustainability and Adaptation in the Built Environment) which complimented my hands-on training well. The course gave me the analytical tools to go deeper into the theory and engineering of sustainable building and the wider environmental issues. Due to my convictions I really appreciated to be able to study seriously in an environment removed from conventional campus life and I think this was one of the main reasons I chose CAT. Today there are many more study options when it comes to sustainable studies – but not at such a peaceful, environmental friendly and exemplary place as CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment.

Sara’s son Johannes in the meadow. “Access to land should be a basic human right.”

I am now working as self-employed but continue to train to expand my skills and their applicability. I am originally from Denmark and now being in the UK I have picked up quite a few new natural building techniques which are traditional to this area, such as roundwood timber framing and stone walling. This year, I will be doing a stand-alone module on settlements and shelters in disaster areas which I hope to work with in the future, both as a trainer and a field worker. Having both practical as well as academic skills is something I can’t recommend enough!

Working with round wood. Sara placing rafters on a little project in the Forest of Dean

Although building appropriately is important, I have realised that without land we can’t build anything nor choose the lifestyle we want. In 2014 I co-founded the Agroecology Land Initiative, an organisation with the aim to help people from all walks of life gain access to land. The ALI has so far set up its first land project in Carmarthenshire. Do have a look at if you want to hear more about what we are up to. We also offer both short and long term volunteer opportunities.

My MSc thesis was not about building but rather on adaptive co-management in regards to social ecological systems. What I learnt from my thesis has served me well as it enabled me to understand how complex our world is and how we are better off creating societies that are adaptable instead of rigid and attempting control. I am therefore really pleased to see that the AEES course has adapted into its new form, namely the Sustainability and Adaptation MSc, a course that seems ready to take us further still.

An opportunity awaits – students as drivers for change


Chris Woodfield is a student on the MSc Sustainability and Adaptation at CAT. Having now completed the majority of his taught modules, he reflects on what he has learned so far.

The taught part of my MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation is drawing to a close, with only the May and June modules left to complete on-site at CAT. So, has it lived up to expectation, what have I learnt, and what next?

As I highlighted in my previous blog post back in October “Is this the start of something big?” it is an exciting time to be a student, and this is definitely still the case.

Chris on Aberystwyth sea front

CAT’s unique immersive on-site learning experience has definitely been a highlight as I have taken all of my modules on-site and this is something which will be missed.

I would wholeheartedly recommend choosing the on-site options rather than undertaking modules via distance-learning. This is predominantly because of the engagement and creative discussion that flows with fellow students on the course as well as with the other Graduate School of the Environment courses. Furthermore, the chance to enjoy and explore CAT’s beautiful site and lovely vegetarian/vegan food is a bonus.

The wide variety and broad nature of the modules has allowed me to expand upon and develop a holistic understanding of sustainability and adaptation, whilst also exploring specific areas of interest in more detail.

I have taken the modules Ecosystem Services, Environmental Politics and Economics, Cities and Communities, Energy Flows in Buildings Part A and B, and will finish with the Sustainable Materials and Applied Project modules in May and June.

My two most recent modules, Energy Flows in Buildings A and B, have explored energy efficiency in buildings, heat, moisture and air flows, building physics, and eco-refurbishment. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that what is more important is energy flows in humans, and the way we, as citizens, experience and interact with the environment and make decisions to influence the World around us.

Sustainability, environmental and social issues are often portrayed as negative “problems” or “issues” that we need to solve to make the world a better place.

However, my time at CAT has reinforced and strengthened the view that to enhance and facilitate positive change sustainability needs to be viewed as an opportunity; an exciting, rewarding, fulfilling and challenging opportunity.

One opportunity that many of us in a similar position to me are currently embarking upon is to carry out a major dissertation project. However, what will, and can we do?

The possibilities are endless and it is a difficult decision to narrow down ideas into a concrete research project. For me, I still have a variety of ideas and passions I would like to pursue, for example, food waste, marine plastic pollution, heathy, happy communities, environmental education and how people view and relate to nature.

With this being said, one thing is clear, we all have the unique opportunity of a lifetime to make a real, meaningful, creative and thought-provoking contribution to scientific research, community engagement and/or expanding and delving deep into the issues we care about.

Another important aspect I have developed whilst studying at CAT, is the appreciation of the scale and urgency of the change that is needed. Again, this may reinforce negativity and leave a sense of hopelessness. However, I know that in our own small way, students can be catalysts for change and rise to the challenge of not just a more sustainable world, but a healthier, happier, more socially-connected, benevolent global society that is thriving in every sense of the word.

One recent innovative example of students exploring the barriers to change in terms of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project was an open space ideas sharing and discussion two-day event entitled “Where’s the carrot?”, organised by GSE students and the ZCB team.

Some people say change has to start somewhere, but I truly believe, positive change is already underway, we just to need harness the creative energy and ambition and turn it into action. Who and where better to do this, than students on their major dissertation project? Only time will tell….

Film from the Zero Carbon Britain – Where’s the Carrot? event.



Building your own home? Come and see our free live demos and loads more self-build info at Build It Live Bicester

Find out all you need to know about building your dream home with a visit to Build It Live Bicester self-build show and see live demonstrations from CAT. 11-12th June.

The Centre for Alternative Technology, in association with Build It Live, are offering pairs of FREE tickets (worth £24) – just by following this link.

Build It Live self-build show will take place on 11 & 12 June in Bicester, on the borders of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. The latest addition to the Build It show calendar, Build It Live Bicester is brand new and is being run in association with Graven Hill – the UK’s first large-scale self-build project. Graven Hill has outline planning for 1,900 new homes, along with a primary school, local pub and shops and lies just 5 minutes’ drive from the exhibition.

watching a seminar
Main Stage at Build It Live

Many of us dream of creating our own little eco home, somewhere where we can live a greener life in a space that we’ve designed and built ourselves. But finding the perfect spot and gaining planning permission isn’t always easy. It’s with this in mind that the Graven Hill project has been developed in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

Spearheaded by Cherwell District Council, the project has outline planning permission for 1,900 new homes, and offers opportunities for a range of different sized projects, including detached, semi-detached and bungalow designs, using a mix of kit homes and self-build projects. There’s the potential for groups of people to work collaboratively, for example by creating a terrace of eco homes, and a primary school, local pub and shops are also planned.

All properties will be built to high environmental standards, complying with Passivhaus principals for energy efficiency, and there’s the flexibility for individual designs to incorporate higher environmental standards, so this could be a useful route in for anyone wanting to create an eco home of their own.

Join CAT at Build It Live

Whether you’re interested in a plot at Graven Hill, thinking of building a home elsewhere, or if you’d like to retrofit an existing property, come to Build It Live Bicester on 11 and 12 June to meet experts in a range of building materials and methods.

Taking place just a few miles away from the Graven Hill site, the show is an opportunity to discover thousands of cutting-edge and traditional products and meet over 150 of the UK’s most innovative suppliers. There are around 30 free seminars and workshops, developed to address specific problems and inspire confidence when taking on a building or renovation project.Here’s a flavour of what’s on offer:

At the Build It Manchester show earlier this year, CAT’s carpenter Carwyn Jones demonstrated eco-friendly building techniques and upcycling with pallets.

Eco friendly building techniques: Come along to see CAT doing talks and live demonstrations covering a range of topics including environmentally-friendly building techniques, renewable energy, eco-sanitation and woodland management. There will be a daily demo programme and experts on hand to answer your questions. Also see the free seminar on Building a Sustainable Home, at 3.30pm daily.
Graven Hill zone: Find out about opportunities to build your own home on Graven Hill and join the live Q&A to discover how to reserve a plot.  Speak to the Graven Hill team and listen to their keynote session in the main seminar theatre at 11.10am each day. See the various homes that can be built and learn about the Design Code.
The Naked House: See a section of a new build as it comes together – a fascinating insight into how things are installed, from underfloor heating to roof trusses and floor joists.
Find a builder: Talk to the Federation of Master Builders who can guide you through the process of finding the right contractor for your project. Access their database of trusted builders in your area.

Self builders’ stories live: Gain inspiration and confidence from people who have realised their self build dreams. Hear their stories in the live theatre, on the show floor.

Graven Hill

The brown-field site was previously used as an ordnance depot by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and acted as the main supply base for the British Army’s operations during the Second World War. Materials from the demolished MOD buildings will be recycled for use in the construction works.

The project team have worked with ecologists to ensure their plans protect and encourage biodiversity, and more than half the site will be set aside as community woodland and open space. Allotments, cycle paths and sports pitches are also planned.

Later this year sees construction of the first ten ‘pioneer’ homes, one of which has been designed by Ed Green, joint programme leader on CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture, who is keen to develop self-build designs that can be delivered at a lower cost than more mainstream building projects.

For more info on Graven Hill, see

FREE Tickets

To find out more about the show, and to book free tickets saving £24 simply follow this link.

Two Architecture Events at CAT 5th – 18th May

Two Architecture Events are taking place at CAT in May as part of the Wales Festival of Architecture. An exhibition will take place 5th – 18th May whilst Architect Ceri Davies will speak about her work on Tuesday 10th May.

The WISE building at CAT where the events will take place Photo: Tim Soar

Exhibition: Added Dimension

5th – 18th May | Visitor Centre open daily 10am – 5pm
WISE Foyer, Centre for Alternative Technology
Click for visitor centre prices and further information

Exhibition showing the work of local architects’ practices, highlighting the special contributions that Chartered Architects make to this community and to civic life.

Talk: Ceri Davies, AHMM Architects

Tuesday 10th May | 7pm
WISE Lecture Theatre, Centre for Alternative Technology
Includes an evening opportunity to view the Added Dimension exhibition

Ceri Davies Photo: AHMM

Holyhead-born Architect at Stirling Prize-winning firm AHMM Ceri Davies will discuss her work. Ceri’s wide-ranging project experience includes the successful competition bids for Walsall Bus Station, Kentish Town Health Centre, the refurbishment of Grade II listed Royal Court Theatre Liverpool and a mixed-use student accommodation scheme along Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross for Urbanest. Her strengths lie in formulating ideas grounded in place and purpose at concept stage and ensuring these are built upon during the life of a project. Recent and current projects include the White Collar Factory at Old St Yard and the fit-out proposals for Google HQ.

Environmental hustings at CAT

On 7 April, in the run up to the Welsh Assembly Elections, CAT hosted an environmental hustings in association with the Dyfi Biosphere. All six major parties in Wales were invited to come and share their views and policies on some of the today’s most pressing issues.

Questions ranged from the impacts of agriculture and land-use patterns to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and from scallop dredging in Cardigan Bay to community renewables. Spokespeople joined us from Welsh Labour, Welsh Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Wales Green Party.

What role do they think Wales could play in helping fulfil the commitments made at December’s Paris climate talks? Watch the video to find out.



Renewable energy teaching at CAT

In response to feedback and demand from potential students, CAT is starting a process of reviewing how we deliver renewable energy teaching in our Graduate School of the Environment. As a result we will not be taking new intakes of students onto the MSc Renewable Energy and the Built Environment (REBE) course as it is currently structured.

Over the next year we will be developing a new Masters course in renewable energy which will build on the success of our Masters courses in Sustainability and Adaptation and which we expect to start in September 2017. Existing REBE students will be able to complete the rest of their course.

Application numbers for CAT’s other Graduate School courses in Sustainability and Adaptation and the Professional Diploma in Architecture continue to grow and these courses are unaffected by these changes.

In addition to delivering the REBE course for existing students, CAT continues to deliver education on renewable energy as part of our Sustainability and Adaptation Masters courses, in our successful short courses programme and as a central theme in engagement with school groups and visitors.