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.
This half term, come and join the fun at CAT
Ride the water powered funicular railway up to the site, before beginning your adventure.
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!
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.
This blog is by Dan, on of the volunteers in the CAT gardens this summer.
Spring has come, the sun has arrived and it is an exciting time for a CAT volunteer gardener! The short daylight and relentless rain has not deterred us from our spring time preparations and the hard work is now paying off.
With a combination of our own well balanced soil mixes and Roger’s home built ‘hotbeds’ (alternating layers of straw and decomposing food waste in special mice proof cages) we successfully germinated thousands of flower, herb and vegetable seeds. In the past months these have rigorously grown into mighty seedlings meaning we have had to keep on top of transplanting and finding space to put them all!
Despite all this excitement, we have not forgotten to provide our on-site vegetarian restaurant with crate after crate of organic salads, roots and brassicas! We usually provide between 1 and 8 crates daily for the restaurant and Anna and I work hard hand picking the best variety and combinations. For the salads we pick Winter Purslane (Miner’s Lettuce) with a mix of greens such as rocket, tatsoi, mizuna, red giant mustard and red Russian kale. We then enhance its beauty with a combination of edible flowers, our favourite being viola tricolor, a highly nutritious and medicinal plant which has a long history of use in herbalism and even love potions!
The 4 Crop Rotation display and the ‘Suburban Garden’ have been clawed and sown with this seasons spuds, roots, legumes and brassicas and our flower seedlings are big enough for planting out for display. The more we plant out the more we sow, so be sure to expect baby 5 Colour Chard, Calabrese and Cucumbers to name but a few very soon!
We have a position available to join CAT’s vibrant media and marketing department. It is a chance to develop a broad range of skills including writing, film making, photography, social media, interviewing, research and marketing skills. Robyn is just coming to the end of her placement, so what has her experience been like? Scroll down for more details and to apply.
I’ve been working in the media and marketing department for 5 months and the time has unfortunately come to pass the baton and invite someone new to the team.I started working here around the first of November and its been non-stop go!
I’m from a planning background interested in urban communities and sustainable retrofits with little knowledge of the marketing world, its acronyms and online databases. But after a couple of weeks, there’s no question about it, you become quite addicted into finding out the ‘click-throughs’ and the analytics of the work you’ve posted. At CAT theres never a dull moment, ”a TV crew tomorrow”, ”a conference today”, ”a crazy big storm on the way”, the opportunities are endless and you can work in any medium you like, be it videos, blogs, interviews or photography. Once a week volunteers can help out in another department or work on a personal project (although this isnt strictly monitored). During this time I either jumped in the gardens learning organic gardening from ‘gardening guru’ Roger, or ventured into the woods sawing, carving and weaving with woodland manager Rob.
With Spring pushing through (fingers crossed last year wont repeat) and the smell of summer on its way, CAT is bursting into life, the daffodils are blooming and the visitors centre will soon be reopening. The summer position to work in this department will no doubt be demanding but the pay offs with the in depth knowledge and skills you’ll learn are truly unimaginable.
The biggest benefit to volunteering at CAT is the opportunity get experience working somewhere with 40 years experience at the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Volunteers can also get a free lunch in the CAT restaurant, can claim for travel expenses, can attend two CAT courses (subject to availability) and get a year’s CAT membership for free.
Start Date: April 2014 (Exact start date is flexible)
Deadline for applications: 28th March 2014
Send completed applications to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Building on the land-use and diets part of Zero Carbon Britain, Laura Blake, a food and diets researcher at CAT, has embarked upon an exciting new project, tentatively titled ‘Laura’s Larder’. In the first of a new series of blog posts, she explains the importance of thinking holistically about our food.
“Whilst working here at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), I have been doing some research into the environmental and health implications of our diets. This work was primarily conducted as part of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project, but more recently I have been developing something new (more details to follow!)
My interest in food has been ongoing for many years now. I became vegetarian at a young age and, with the help of my Mum, learnt how to get all the nutrients I require from non-meat sources. This was the beginning of my interest in nutrition, which I eventually went on to study for my undergraduate degree. I then went on to do a Masters in Food Nutrition, which, combined with membership of a fair-trade society, meant I became more aware of the inequalities of our current supply system.
There are many different issues surrounding the foods we choose to eat – from the effects of the greenhouse gases (GHG) released in their production, processing and transport; to the inequality in the profits of large companies who benefit from paying producers (often overseas) next to nothing. Recently commissioned research into shoppers’ buying habits noted that sales of Fairtrade products increased by 18% last year, despite people generally spending less on their shopping. It appears that we care about issues relating to the food we eat, and when we are provided with trusted information we can make good choices that have benefits on a global level – choosing to buy fair-trade, for example, really does make a difference to people’s lives.
As I continued my work in food issues I began to realise that the effects of climate change (droughts and soaring temperatures, floods and other extreme weather events) have already begun to affect our ability to grow food. My Masters helped me understand that farmers who are already lacking access to clean water, medical supplies and facilities – as well as struggling to make enough money to buy food for themselves – may find it even harder in the future to grow their crops, making life even more difficult. But climate change will not just be a problem in other parts of the world: the effects may hit poorer farmers hardest but they will also affect our growing abilities here in the UK.
As climate change results from high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this makes reducing our food-related greenhouse gas emissions another important consideration when buying sustainable products – the story goes full circle.
Through my work on the Zero Carbon Britain project I was able to carry out some in-depth research into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different types of foods that we commonly consume in the UK today. This was one of the two main focuses of research that went towards the recent publication of Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future here at CAT. It turns out that the best way we have currently of cutting emissions related to our food and agriculture is simply to choose to buy and eat different things that are lower in carbon. By looking at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different types of foods that we commonly consume in the UK, I could come up with a diet that both met all of our nutritional requirements and significantly lowered our greenhouse gas emissions.
Throughout my time working on the ZCB project I was often asked questions such as “how much cheese could I eat if I didn’t eat beef?” or “how much chicken could I eat if I gave up lamb”. These questions reflect the fact that we clearly care very much about making good choices with respect to our food, but we don’t currently have enough information. We all have different tastes, and foods that we would potentially prefer to swap over others in order to reduce our emissions. All of these thoughts have formed the backbone of my new project, something I will tell you about in more detail in my next post!”
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:
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.
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.
Water and Natural Resources Volunteers
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.
A few months ago we posted an update on the new green roof at CAT, made possible thanks to a donation from the People’s Postcode Trust. So far the roof has been rather more slate-grey than green. Today, however, the planting of the roof began!
We chose to colonise the roof with sedums – hardy alpine succulents – that are also known as stonecrops due to their ability to adapt to extreme growing mediums. Up at CAT we have sedums growing naturally in the disused quarry on slate waste.
The plants chosen for the roof, however, came from the walls and roof of Jony’s – CAT’s Artist in Residence – house. They are, he explains, “a completely homegrown tray of sedum from mid-Wales […] We’re pit planting these in organic potting compost. The roof is like a scree slope of shale that’s falling down the mountain. The plants root themselves in this medium, and the slate also acts like a mulch to stop weeds growing. You need something completely inert that weeds won’t grow in.”
Over the next few years these small plants will slowly grow and spread across the roof until they cover it entirely.
A Green Roof (or Living Roof) is like a shallow box garden. The bottom and sides are lined with a waterproof covering, then with a special membrane with small pockets to collect water to allow for slower drainage. A growing medium (in this case slate chipping) is laid down and then the sedums are planted.
Green Roofs are an important example of the kind of technology that can help us adapt to climate change. They help reduce surface water flooding in cities by absorbing storm water quickly, but releasing it slowly. They also help reduce hotspots of overheating in cities, provide important habitats for biodiversity in urban areas and offer potential spaces to be used for growing food. In general, they don’t give much in the way of insulation, so a roof still needs to be properly insulated.
Although Green Roofs are not a modern invention, it is the recent advances in water-proofing technologies that have led to Green Roofs becoming more widely used in sustainable construction over the last decade.