The nature of CAT – an interview with the woodland team

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.

Continue reading “The nature of CAT – an interview with the woodland team”

Podcast: What has nature ever done for us?

As more and more rainforests are chopped down, peat lands drained and species wiped out, we ask ourselves: ‘What has nature ever done for us?’ We live in an economically run world, where the immediate returns and profits are the most important outcome, so how can we turn this around?

Tony Junipers Book, 'What has nature ever done for us?'
Tony Junipers Book, ‘What has nature ever done for us?’

Tony Juniper was a guest lecturer last week talking about his new book, What has nature ever done for us? He explains that ‘we need to protect nature from people, not the other way around’, and that we need to convince people to think differently, change, and see that nature has the highest value of all. Instead of believing we must sacrifice ecology in order to grow the economy, which is the current paradigm, we must realise that the economy cannot exist without ecology. Tony is a well-known British environmentalist, writer, campaigner and sustainability advisor. He also ran as a candidate for the Green Party in Cambridge in the 2010 General Campaign. The solution he puts forward is to see nature for what it really is: a controller of disease, a recycler of waste, and a mighty carbon capture and storage system; ‘If we get that message, we might yet save ourselves’.

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Please donate to our ‘Gardening for the Future’ campaign

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.

Students at CAT learning about garden diversity
Students at CAT learning about garden diversity

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.

Volunteers at CAT in the gardens
Volunteers at CAT in the gardens

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.

Growing in the Gardens

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. We’re taking a closer look at the different roles over the next few days. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

Yesterday we looked at the Water and Natural Resources Volunteers. Today:

Gardens Volunteer

Tending to the flowers planted to help support the bees and butterflies

Why volunteer in CAT’s gardens? Well first and foremost, because they’re one of the most important aspects of CAT. According to Roger, CAT’s main gardener, it’s the best place to be for a volunteer! By coming just before the harvesting season the new volunteer will be in time to reap the benefits of the spring and summer plantings.

Former gardens volunteer Drew had this to say about his time at CAT:

I came to CAT with very little knowledge of gardening, but with an enthusiasm to learn as much as possible. Some would say that’s a great attitude to have, but ask Roger, our Head Gardener, after a whole day of being barraged by questions from his wide-eyed, hungry for knowledge volunteers on all things horticultural and you may get a different response. He is a dedicated and passionate gardener and has been a joy to learn all things green fingered from.

As a long term volunteer you get the opportunity to immerse yourself in a way of living that is quite alien to many. The feeling of community within the surroundings of CAT and the local areas we find ourselves living in is a joy to be a part of. From sowing seeds to swing dancing, weeding in wellies to learning Welsh, pruning grapevines to preparing pot-luck dinners, it has been an incredible journey that has left me wanting more of the same. So much so that I have actually decided to lay some roots (excuse the terrible gardening pun) in Machynlleth and find work locally so that I can keep helping and learning from Roger on my days off. I also hope to get involved in a local Community Garden Project, something I would never have thought about before coming to CAT.

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.

Working in the Woods

CAT is currently recruiting for some lovely long-term volunteers to join us here in mid-Wales. Are you looking to gain experience in woodland management, horticulture or marketing? CAT has five or six-month placements in these areas and we are recruiting in a rolling basis. Over the next three days we’re going to take a closer look at the different roles. If you are interested in applying then check out our volunteering website.

First up:

Water and Natural Resources Volunteers

Using a draw knife to make a traditional Welsh gate.

We’re looking for two people to work in CAT’s Water and Natural Resources department. This is a brilliant opportunity to learn about traditional coppice skills, correct tool use and care, sustainable woodland management, biodiversity survey work, land and estate management, wetlands and eco-sanitation. CAT’s woodland website has loads of further information about each of these areas.

The people we’re looking for may not necessarily have experience in this area, but they will:

  • have a genuine interest in woodland and natural resources
  • have practical skills
  • be happy to get a bit grubby
  • be flexible with an enthusiastic and positive disposition
  • be keen to learn
  • willing to complete physical work outside in all weathers

 

Iñigo, a previous volunteer had this to say about his experience: “I like being involved in the woodland and working outside, being in contact with nature through the work that we are doing and trying to preserve biodiversity. I think it’s a great experience to have and to take some skills and to develop a different view of what you can do with them, and to improve sustainability and to be a change maker in some way.”

Visit the volunteering website for more information about this placement.

The Dyfi Valley

Here at CAT we’re part of the Dyfi Biosphere – an area recognised by UNESCO as being particularly environmentally conscious, whilst also encouraging sustainable economic development.

As we slowly move into spring, complete with April showers in May, it’s easy to see why this part of Wales has been recognised as being rather special. CAT is privileged to both play a part in, and be part of, the Dyfi Biosphere.

You can find out more about the Dyfi Biosphere here.

The Dyfi Valley - photo by Burhan Saeed

 

Compost Toilets: a Grand Design or a Space of Waste?

Last week CAT headed to London for Grand Designs Live. We had been asked to provide live demonstrations as part of the ‘Natural Building Methods’ section – an area CAT has some experience in! After much discussion, we decided on glue laminating demonstrations for making arches for a Timber Arc construction. The Timber Arc is a beautiful example of timber frame building, using local and low-carbon materials. It’s also a dual-chamber compost toilet.

CAT's stand at Grand Designs Live

Our goal at Grand Designs Live was twofold: provide the public with an interesting demonstration of glue laminating, whilst also raising awareness of different methods of dealing with human waste. Compost toilets are not for everybody, if you are connected to a local sewage system then chances are you will not need to deal with your own waste. However, some off-grid locations mean that people have to be a little more creative in the sewage solutions.

Glue laminating at Grand Designs Live

During our time at Grand Designs Live, one thing that kept cropping up again and again was bafflement. People often asked us why we were making a compost toilet, especially one so beautiful. Well, compost toilets can be efficient and practical, resulting in nutrient-rich soil to be used in the garden. They don’t use any water or chemicals, although most types of toilet need a fair bit of room to allow composting to occur at a steady pace. We have several composting toilets up at CAT, working alongside our reedbed sewage system and providing us with fertiliser for our gardens. Furthermore, why not make a beautiful building to house your compost toilet? It’s a place you visit each day after all! We also liked how the idea of it fitted in with the ‘grand design’ aspect of Grand Designs Live.

Work on the arches for the compost toilet

People certainly seemed to agree with us, judging by the level of interest we received each day. Engaging with people on environmental issues whilst also showing how we go about dealing with these problems was wonderful. Moving people’s thoughts away from bafflement and towards more environmental ways of thinking is key. Hopefully in the future CAT will be able to visit even more shows to keep spreading the word.

For more information on alternative sewage systems check out CAT’s information page on the subject. We also run short courses on sewage and waste water management. Further info here.

To see more of the Timber Arc, head to Jules’ website.

Cwrdd yn y Canol/Meet in the Middle

 

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Lleoliad cynadledda cynaliadwy yng nghalon Canolbarth Cymru

Mae WISE yn ganolfan sydd wedi ennill gwobrau lawer, ac mae yma gyfleusterau modern, trawiadol, a chynaliadwy ar gyfer cynnal cynadleddau, cyfarfodydd, sesiynau hyfforddi a digwyddiadau unigol. Mae’r lleoliad yn nyffryn hardd Dulas yng nghanolbarth Cymru ac yn hawdd cyrraedd ato ar hyd y ffordd fawr ynghyd â gwasanaethau trên rheolaidd i Fachynlleth gerllaw.

Mae WISE yn cynnig profiad cynadledda unigryw, lleoliad gyda theatr ddarlithio o 200 sedd wedi’i wneud o ddaear gywasgedig. Mae nifer o stafelloedd llai ar gyfer grwpiau o wahanol faint a digwyddiadau llai. Mae WISE hefyd yn cynnig llety en suite ar gyfer hyd at 48 o bobl a gwasanaeth arlwyo hyd at 200 o bobl.

Mae WISE wedi’i leoli ar safle canolfan eco fwya blaenllaw Ewrop, sef y Ganolfan Dechnoleg Amgen sy’n defnyddio pŵer trydan adnewyddol. Mae WISE yn rhoi naws gwahanol i ddigwyddiadau.Rydyn ni ar hyn o bryd yn cynnig gostyngiad o 20% ar bob archeb tan ddiwedd Ebrill. Os gwelwch yn dda, a wnewch chi gyfeirio at yr hysbyseb hwn wrth ymateb?The WISE building

Cysylltwch â Sarah ar 01654  704973 neu e-bostiwch venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Meet in the Middle
Sustainable conference venue in the heart of Mid- Wales

WISE is an award winning venue, with impressive, modern and sustainable facilities for successful conferences, meetings, training sessions and one-off events. Nestled in the stunning Dulas valley in mid-Wales and easily accessible by road, with regular rail services to nearby Machynlleth, WISE offers a unique conference experience. The venue features a 200 seat rammed earth lecture theatre and a number of smaller rooms that can cater for different size groups and smaller events. WISE also offers en suite accommodation  for up to 48 delegates  and catering facilities for up to  200  delegates.

Situtated at the site of Europe’s leading eco centre, the Centre for Alternative Technology and powered by renewable electricity,  WISE inspires events with a difference.

We are now offering a 20% discount on all bookings until the end of April. Please mention this email when responding.

Please contact Sarah on 01654  704973 or email venue.hire@cat.org.uk
www.cat.org.uk/venuehire

Nature Blog: what to look out for this summer

 

I was inordinately pleased to be greeted by the sight of a pair of Grey Wagtails as I drove into CAT this morning, down by Bottom station. People have kept telling me they are always to be seen there, but it’s the first time I’ve spotted them here – it is particularly pleasing because although they are reasonably widespread in Wales, numbers countrywide have dropped in recent years and they are now on the Amber list of endangered birds. You can always tell a Grey Wagtail by its bright yellow and grey plumage – not to be confused of course with the Yellow Wagtail with its bright yellow and grey plumage.

I’ve never got round to making a list of all the species of birds that have been seen in and around CAT but it must be pretty lengthy by now. Something else to look out for over the next month is the annual appearance of the spectacularly clumsy Cockchafer (or Maybug as it is also called) – you know those weird and wonderful looking flying beetles with mini TV aerials on their heads which spend most of their time crashing headfirst into windows and walls, ending up lying upside down on the ground, before groggily righting themselves, shaking their heads and setting off again only to repeat the whole process. And of course the swallows are back from their holidays in Africa – the swifts will be here soon – so much to look out for over the summer. Enjoy it all while you can – winter comes round fast enough!

Nature Blog: nesting Wrens

 

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.