… and this week I’m taking over CAT’s blog. Here is a quick video about me, the Information Department at CAT and what I’ll be doing this week. I’ll be available for online chat this Firday at 4pm – so put that in your diary now.
CAT aims to inform, inspire and enable positive solutions for sustainable living, the media department communicates CAT’s message to the wider world via the mainstream and social media. Visibility and relevance is crucial engaging with people in the sustainability debate and attracting new people to the organisation. CAT’s media strategy focuses on building support and positive representation across all media platforms and to a wide range of audiences.
From left to right
Nick has come to join us for a couple of weeks in the media department, he is a fantastic photographer and has been working with lots of different departments to get some new shots of the work going on here at CAT. “I arrived on Monday and I have taken over 500 photo’s so far, I have been made to feel that I am part of the CAT family.”
Alex ( middle)
Alex is part of the furniture in top office, the longest serving media department member- he had been here for over 6 years. He joined CAT as a volunteer after studying a philosophy degree at Durham Uni. “The best thing about working at CAT is the co-operative and the second best thing- hot chocolate from the restaurant.”
Kim joined the CAT media department last year and has been loving the job ever since. ” CAT is a brilliant place to work, the people are lovely and the site is fantastic. ” She studied Media at John Moores University in Liverpool and has worked for a number of publications and organisations since then developing media communications and popular education projects.
by Rennie Telford
Now that all our summer migrants have long gone to avoid the British winter and spend the time in much warmer and sunnier climes (and very sensible of them to), it is time to keep an eye out for the yearly influx of winter visitors. These are the birds who consider our much maligned winter months to be a balmy haven compared with the conditions they would have to endure if they stayed put. It’s really worth taking a trip down to the coastal estuaries at this time of year, where particularly around the Dyfi estuary you will see Wigeon, Redshank, Greenshank, Shelduck, Geese and loads more in their hundreds but we also get our share of visitors around CAT. Two regular arrivals to watch out for are the Fieldfare and the Redwing both members of the rather unfortunately named Turdidae family (Turdus pilaris and Turdus iliacus respectively).
They are superficially similar to our more familiar resident Thrushes, the Mistle and Song, but with a bit of practice are easily identified, although it can be confusing at times as in the winter you will often see mixed flocks of Fieldfares, Redwings and Song Thrushes which have formed large feeding parties both for protection and to improve the chances of discovering food sources (berries, windfall fruit and the like). Anyway, what does it matter if you can’t distinguish one from the other at first?– just enjoy watching them –it’s never worried me too much if I’ve failed to positively identify a bird, although the more you observe them the easier it gets–well until your eyesight gets as bad as mine– I haven’t quite got to the ‘What’s that bird in that tree?–What tree?’ stage yet, but I do like to have my binoculars with me at all times now!
The CAT engineers have just installed an Air Source Heat Pump. Dave Hood answers some questions about what it is and what we’re hoping to find out.
What does an Air Source Heat Pump actually do?
It is a device for converting low grade heat in the air into usable heat for heating buildings and service hot water. It uses the same vapour-compression cycle that is used in fridges and air conditioning units, but in this application to bring heat into, rather reject heat from, somewhere, in this case a building. It has been kindly donated by Sanyo and Oceanair for use on the CAT visitors circuit and for our MSc and Installers courses.
Why is it interesting?
Heat pumps have been around for a long while, but the technology has been evolving to make them more energy efficient. This system uses an inverter driven compressor as part of its operation, and these are more responsive and more energy efficient than previous versions. This means that the system uses less electricity to generate the usable heat for the building. The system also utilises Carbon Dioxide (CO2) as the refrigerant. All vapour compression systems need a refrigerant, but most are potentially very harmful to the environment if they leak or are disposed of incorrectly. Those refrigerants that damage the ozone layer have mostly been banned, but the ones still used are potent greenhouse gasses, which are up to 1500 times worse than CO2. By using CO2 the potential damage is much less. Also, CO2 has the potential to operate at higher temperatures, which may fit better with the way we use heat in our homes. There are currently very few heat pumps of this type installed in the UK, and we are excited to have the opportunity to investigate it at CAT.
What are we hoping to find out from this experiment?
CAT have installed the ASHP unit to heat one of our buildings and we will be monitoring the system to see how well it performs under a range of climatic and occupational conditions.
How will this experiment benefit the public?
The system is on the CAT visitors circuit so that people can see and understand it’s operation. We will be using it for training both our Heat Pump Installers programme and on the MSc Renewable Energy in the Built Environment course. The students from this programme will be monitoring the long term data to assess its performance, and they will be in communication with both Sanyo and Oceanair to feed back our results to aid ongoing understanding and development of this technology.
CAT pioneers Bob and Liz Todd took part in the BBC 4 Documentary ‘The Secret History of the National Grid’. The programme looked at the history of the grid and how it has shaped the politics of the UK. CAT was featured because of the pioneering role we play in demonstrating alternatives to conventional fossil fuel and nuclear electricity generation. You can watch the programme on iPlayer (below) and it will be on again on BBC2 on the 17th of November at 11.20pm
A lot of our native wildlife, especially mammalian, is rarely seen during daylight hours, but in the wee, small hours of the night there is a mass of activity with dramas being played out all over the place. Most of us are tucked up in bed at night and it takes a fair bit of enthusiasm and effort to venture outside on a cold wet autumn night, but it can be well worth it as Tony, our engineering head honcho discovered recently. While wandering round the back lanes late at night (I didn’t like to ask) he came across a Polecat (Mustela putorius) out on a nocturnal hunting expedition.
Despite Wales being a stronghold for this member of the Mustiladae family, Polecats are rarely seen due to their nocturnal and rather solitary habits, although sadly they are often to be found dead at the roadside as they regularly fall victim to night-time traffic. An old name for the polecat was Foulmart or Foulmarten, which refers to the pungent smell they produce from scent glands which is used to mark out territories and also to deter larger predators which might prey on them. Probably other polecats find it very attractive as well — a sort of eau’de polecat. If you do spot one they are pretty much unmistakeable, with their dark face mask which always reminds me irresistibly of a typical, cartoon burglar (which fits in with their nocturnal prowlings). At one time they were pretty much wiped out in England due to relentless persecution by man, but they are now making a comeback although there has always been a healthy population in Wales, particularly around this area of mid- Wales. The main reason for man’s typically irrational dislike of the Polecat is that ‘it is a bloodthirsty animal which kills for the sake of killing’, which is of course our usual woolly headed, anthropomorphic, thinking. It is after all a predator and has to kill to live and if it finds itself in a chicken run with lots of plump easy to kill prey it will of course do just that, and if it had the time would drag them all off one at a time and store them up– rather like us doing a monthly shop for our groceries. Incidentally Grace discovered an injured Polecat on site a couple of years ago, which unfortunately expired overnight – so all you midnight ramblers keep your eyes open
Christine was fortunate enough, a few days ago, to see close up outside her house in Corris one of the most iconic birds of the British countryside –the wonderful Barn Owl (Tyto alba). Also known as the Screech Owl due to its blood curdling shriek, (which can be enough to necessitate a change of underwear if encountered unexpectedly on a dark night) this is arguably one of the most beautiful of all British birds. Barn owls are essentially birds of the open countryside where they quarter the fields and meadows on silent wings hunting their main prey of voles, mice, rats and shrews.
They have specially adapted soft-toothed feather edges which makes their flight practically inaudible and their unsuspecting victims are taken completely unawares and usually killed outright by the strong razor sharp talons. Although Barn owls have excellent night time vision, they are also able to home in and catch their prey using only their phenomenal hearing — they have sort of lop-sided or off-set ears and the fractional difference in picking up the faint noise of a vole scurrying through the grass enables them to pinpoint its position with incredible accuracy. Their name is pretty apt as they really do like to nest in old barns, derelict houses and church towers, but they are becoming increasingly uncommon now due to intensive farming methods and the lack of suitable nesting sites. That said I have seen quite a few since I have been in Wales –usually as a ghostly white shape in car headlights late at night. If you ever get a chance to visit a bird of prey rescue centre you will often have the chance to see one of these beautiful birds close up (they are often injured if not killed by cars due to their habit of hunting on roadside verges) — I well remember holding one on my arm down in Somerset and being blown away by the experience. The lovely heart shaped white face has a black edging and the expressive round eyes look for all the world as if the bird has carefully applied mascara before setting out for a night on the voles.