Valerie Hall describes the Good Life as experienced in an eco-cabin in Wales.
If your pupils come back from an Eco-Cabins Experience with a tendency to flush the toilets only when absolutely necessary, you will know they have taken its lessons to heart.
Nowadays children are more aware than many adults of how humanity has left its polluting mark on the planet and endangered the balance of nature. They have grown up more conscientious about conservation and are likely to enjoy emulating The Good Life's Richard Briers during a week in an eco-cabin at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. In the two self-contained units, which sleep 18 people in four bedrooms and have hot and cold running water in fully-equipped kitchens, shower rooms and toilets, they learn in a fun way about "renewable energy technology by managing it, studying it and, most importantly, living with it," says Paul Allen, CAT's press officer.
Electrical energy is generated from hydro, wind and solar sources and each group is supplied with a full battery. Careful use is necessary since, at around 60 per cent of discharge, the main lighting and power circuits cut out, leaving emergency lighting only. Wood is burned to heat rooms and hot water.
Groups are supplied with a full 1,500-litre header tank of water which, once consumed, is measured in by bucket from a stand pipe, and participants become aware of just how wasteful flush toilets are when they are forced to resort to the backup compost toilet. Effluent is converted in a nearby reed bed sewage system to a water rich enough to nourish the organic garden and pure enough to return to the environment.
Cabin classroom facilities include dri-marker boards, a small library and a graphical display board which monitors energy inputs and outputs, wind speed, insolation (Sun's power), outside and inside temperatures and elapsed time.
There are plenty of jobs to do. Trees felled by a farmer neighbour have to be stripped of branches, removed, stacked, sawn and split, all supervised by a warden. Gardens must be tended, produce harvested and consumed, paths built and the visual environment improved.
Participants can visit the Centre's working displays of wind, water and solar power, low energy buildings and organic growing methods and join forest walks. The education team runs more than 120 courses a year for people with special needs, school, college and university students, and trainee and practising teachers.
"There is nothing quite like a stay in an eco-cabin," says Paul Allen. "You are amazed to find you can do more than you thought. You become aware of the link between today and tomorrow. You learn what living lightly on the earth can mean."
o A night in an eco-cabin costs around Pounds 9 per person (provided all 18 berths are occupied). Details: Education office, CAT, Machynlleth, Powys, Wales SY20 9AZ. Tel: 01654 703743