In the UK, gardens cover more land than nature reserves, so what we do in them matters. Alex Chadwick shares some tips on creating your own little wildlife haven.
We are extremely proud of our biodiversity here at CAT and are very lucky to be surrounded by such rich habitats every day. We caught up with Alex Chadwick, a Conservation Development Assistant and part of the woodland team here at CAT, to learn a little bit more about how the site is managed for nature and to find out what wildlife to look out for at this time of year.
Half-term highlights with an autumn theme
Throughout the October half term CAT will be running seasonally themed kids activities in the straw bale theatre ( 11am-3pm Monday to Friday). From celebrating the harvest and the coming winter to story telling, crazy inventing and our specially designed educational tours for children. For adults we will be running zero carbon Britain workshops and specialised tours of CAT. Check out the visit.cat.org.uk website for specific timings.
With over 7 acres of hands-on displays and gardens and with 40 years of experience in sustainability practice, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) inspires thousands of visitors every year. Based in beautiful Mid Wales, the Centre overlooks the Snowdonia National Park, renowned for its stunning scenery and outdoor activities. Join us with your family, friends or come alone and explore what you can do!
This summer there are loads of special activities going on throughout the half term school holidays. There is bound to be something you love, perhaps you want to:
- Ride on our water powered cliff railway
- Explore our 7 acre exhibition site (map)
- Enjoy the scenic beauty and nature of Mid-Wales
- Play our Eco games
- Become a Crazy Inventor
- Learn about CAT on a Guided Tour
- Participate in Specialist Tours about renewable energy systems
- Take part in a workshop and learn something new
- Get to Zero on our Zero Carbon Discovery trail
- Be part of our Living Laboratory and woodland crafts and sustainable building in action
- Get answers to your questions with our free information service
- Nourish yourself with mouthwateringly good food from our renowned restaurant
- Take something home from our onsite Eco store
If you buy your ticket in advance online and choose to gift aid your donation. £8.50 at the gate.
- Free to local residents (SY20/SY19), CAT members, carers and children under 3
- Reductions for concessions and children
- Reductions for groups of 10+
Open 10am to 5pm 7 days a week.
In light of this week’s conference in Turkey we urge supporters to donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign at CAT. Hosted by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecological Services), the talks focus on the value of soil and the revival of less intensive, ancient farming techniques which have been proven much more sustainable – many of which are taught here on site.
At CAT we know all too well the devastating effects that climate change and peak oil pose to our current food supply and prices. The addiction to and damage caused by petrochemicals currently used to transport and fertilise our food and control pests, make it absolutely essential that we develop and share alternative methods of farming.
We aim to teach, train and inspire people to use more sustainable methods of farming and gardening by demonstrating our more natural growing techniques. We are researching better composting methods, the use of green fertilisers, forest garden techniques, organic pest control and much more. We urgently need to raise £23,300 to keep this vital work happening. This will allow us to provide students, volunteers and visitors with the training and tools to become a new generation of green growers, helping to create a greener tomorrow.
Please follow the link to donate; we appreciate all your support.
A report from our wonderful water and natural resources volunteers on the work they have been doing.
Managing the woodland: Coed Gwern is 15 acre woodland managed in a sustainable way by CAT, ensuring and enhancing biodiversity. The spring season is a very important time because many of the migrant birds are coming back to our woodland and life increases after the long stopped of the winter season –bird nesting, trees blossom, etc-.
Throughout the spring we have been making bird boxes and cleaning coppice areas, a special work related with two different protected species: Willow tits and Dormice. A number of areas of the woodland have been prone to flooding and we have been managing this by building dams and ponds, to retain the rainfall. This should help the different bird species (migrants and residents) to nest and find food supply for their chicks and themselves.
However, we don’t just build ponds and dams to slow water down or retain it. Recently we built a small pond in front of the bird hide at Coed Gwern so birds can drink out of it and even maybe bath.
Needless to say that these watery places will just be heaven for species who like getting wet. Pond skaters (these large mosquitoes look alike insects skating over the surface of the water) are usually the first ones to appear, then will come other invertebrates like dragonflies, spiders and frogs.
Monitoring changes: In January 2013 the Water and Natural resource department started an exciting new project involving the local community. The woodland is divided in 24 monitoring points which have been adopted by different people and groups. Through this project we are able to follow changes in the plant and animal life.
We have also been improving the network of paths and walks, placing signs to facilitate a good use of the woodland by visitors.To get involved in the woodland monitoring project contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Spring’s also the time to find out bird nesting sites. So two monitoring routes were chosen and measured (100 meters long each) to survey bird species on a map once a week. This work, carried out over 5 weeks requires bird call and song listening skills as well as identifying birds. This work will enable us to draw up a map of the different nesting sites across Coed Gwern
Art in the woodlands: We have been involved in a biodiversity and arts project, developed by Jony Easterby, to build an artificial pond in the woodland. The pond is designed to be both a natural space for people to enjoy and promote water conservation.
Greenwood crafts: As one of the main activities in the winter and spring months is clearing, it makes perfect sense to use the cleared wood for building gates, fences and splitting logs for firewood next year.
Building Bird hides: In the last two months CAT volunteers have been working in a project to build a bird hide in the slate quarries, old dynamite hut. Wall stones were removed shifted, added, levelled and rubble was taken out of the ground to even it out. Once the walls were at the right height, the wood work came along (timber frame for the roof and planks above the walls and under the roof with openings to make it a proper bird hide). Last but not least it has got a proper metal roof, which provides good shelter for bird-watching and listening, rain and sun. So the bird hide is now up and roofed. We are now working on displays to help visitors identify woodland and field bird species, and benches to just sit and enjoy the different sounds of nature!
Worm research: We have continued with research that started last year into the use of tiger worms and compost toilets for developing countries
For more information on volunteering and working at CAT please check our webiste, we currently have a number of positions open for volunteers.
CAT’s resident naturalist Rennie on nest-building wrens.
This is a great time of year to observe bird behaviour without too much effort, as lots of them a busy courting and nest building, tending to be so preoccupied with these activities that they don’t take too much notice of us and lose some of their wariness. Also, the trees are not yet in leaf so all the hectic avian comings and goings are easier to watch.
A couple of days ago Roger (CAT’s gardener) and myself noticed a wren outside the staff lunch room. He was busily collecting moss from one of the tree stumps and flying off to the back of the solar display building and disappearing under the eaves where it was obviously constructing a nest.
Wrens’ nests are beautiful structures made out of twigs, grass and mosses in a complete ball shape with just a tiny hole at the front for access. They blend into the background so well they can be extremely difficult to spot. The wren (dryw in Welsh) is unusual in that it is the male bird who builds the nest – in fact, he will often build several nests -and then proudly shows them off to his chosen female who selects the best one in which to set up home. She will then sometimes tweak it up a bit with a few blades of grass or some twigs before concentrating on egg laying and rearing her brood.
The male helps with feeding the young but also will do the rounds of his other nests keeping them in good condition, and often installing a second or even third female in them. Wrens often raise a second brood and will usually move to another nest to do this as the nests for some reason seem to get heavily infested with parasites to the extent where it can be a severe health hazard to the young. Obviously, the more nests the male can build the more successful he will be in passing on his genes in the form of lots of healthy offspring.
Those of you who regularly feed birds – especially if you put out peanuts – must have sometimes wondered if the Avian population is in danger of being completely over-run with Blue Tits. As far as bird tables go they definitely seem to far out number most other species. In fact there are probably more of them visiting your feeders than you realise – if you multiply the number you see at any one time on or around the feeders by five that is the likely number in total that are visiting in rotation. So if there are half a dozen or so, then you have about 25 – 30 regularly visiting through the day.
I sometimes wonder how they arrive so quickly as soon as you put out some food – the Cabin’s feeders had been empty for a few days and the birds were notable by their absence – but within seconds of refilling them, the first couple of Tits had appeared as if they had been hiding nearby in waiting.
They actually come around fifth or sixth in the list of Britain’s commonest birds (depending on which survey you look at) first place being taken, I always find rather surprisingly, by the Wren, but then Wrens can be very unobtrusive little birds often heard more than seen. You can hear their jaunty, warbling and trilling song most mornings in the undergrowth down by the recycling bins in the car park at CAT. Incidentally, any nest boxes you may have around the place really should have been emptied of old nesting materials and cleaned out by now, but there is still time to do it before the early breeders start home hunting in earnest.
From a wildlife perspective, I sometimes think that you would be hard pushed to find a much better working environment than we have here at CAT. Over the eleven years I have been here the amazing diversity of bird, amphibian, mammal, reptile and insect life concentrated into such a relatively small, and when you think about it, quite built up area never ceases to fascinate me. If you keep your eyes open there is almost always something to see – and occasionally something just that little bit special that gives a little boost to the day.
A few days ago my attention was attracted by the cawing of some crows coming from the huge trees bordering the south drive and when I looked up, there circling gracefully high above the top most branches were two magnificent Red Kites, which seemed to be totally absorbed in each other and were ignoring the group of unruly crows which were half-heartedly mobbing them. The two Kites gradually soared higher and higher on out spread, slightly angled wings, occasionally giving a leisurely flap and twitch of their forked tails to alter course marginally, until finally the crows (whose hearts didn’t seem to be in it) gave up and flew off noisily. As the Kites disappeared over the hills, I thought not for the first time, how wonderful it is to be able to see these beautiful birds so regularly, when only about thirty or so years ago they were on the verge of extinction in this country – and also how many other work places could you just lift your head and see such a wonderful sight?
Morning Everyone, welcome to the first Naycher Korner of 2012 on a bright, crisp January morning. I’m the eternal optimist and even though it’s a bit on the parky side there are lots of signs of the approaching spring all around us at present. The quarrelsome and noisy rooks down by the station in town are already busy repairing and patching up their nests in the rookery in the trees near the bridge. In mild winters they are one of our earliest breeding birds and sometimes lay eggs as early as February although a sudden cold snap can cause them problems. Aside from the ubiquitous Robin which sings all year round, I heard the lovely rich song of a Blackbird this morning and they have been very noticeable of late as they charge around the place setting up their territories. Quite a few spring flowers are beginning to make a rather earlier than normal appearance as well –I noticed what I think were Butterburrs this morning on the way to work. In my book winter officially ends at midnight on February the 28th- and yes I know it’s a leap year this year but let’s have an extra day of spring rather than an extra day of winter – although having said that it’s been a really mild one so far.
The middle of March and love has been in the air recently at CAT, with the resident chaffinches seeking out their mating partners, and creating some serious collisions in the process.
This year seems no different to any other, with several unfortunate head-on collisions with the windows resulting in slightly dazed and confused chaffinches. It is amazing what such dainty creatures can withstand, with their hollow (but reinforced) bones; Just imagine how much we would suffer if we went running straight into a brick wall!
Hopefully there will be some happy endings to accompany the bumps, and plenty of young chaffinches flying around in the Summer.
For the time being, though, it looks like we will all be practising miniature first aid, making sure these courting sweethearts recover as quickly as possible.