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When the back end of a festival becomes headline news

We music festival goers don’t normally give a second thought to waste disposal arrangements, as we nip to the toilet between sets, hoping not to miss too much of the next act.

In fact, most of us are probably more concerned with how long we have to queue, and in what state we will find the facilities. 

A recent conviction and fine for the organisers of one of the world’s biggest international music festivals is a timely reminder to anyone organising a festival or a large public event, that they must pay very close attention to environmental and waste arrangements when they plan the event.

During the 2014 Glastonbury Festival, approximately 20,000 gallons of untreated sewage escaped from a storage tank on the Somerset farm, and found its way into the Whitelake River.  Bacteria needs oxygen as it breaks down the sewage, and this demand for dissolved oxygen means that fish suffocate due to a lack of oxygen in the water.  In this case, the pollution killed the local trout population in a four kilometre stretch of the river.

The organiser of the Glastonbury Festival accepted that they had caused the pollution incident, and was ordered by the Bristol Magistrates Court on 24 May 2016 to pay fines and costs amounting to £31,000.  There were systems and monitoring arrangements in place, but the Court considered that a delay in informing the Environment Agency had caused quite an impact to water quality. 

If you are planning any event with large numbers of people attending you will need to make sure that you have sufficient steps in place to minimise the impacts on the environment.  This normally means that along with equipment and systems in place, you will need to monitor these systems to make sure they are operating as they should be.  The type of event, the number of people attending, and the venue will all be relevant to the measures that you need to put in place.

You may also need an environmental permit for some of the activities you wish to carry out. 

Despite the best plans, incidents do happen, and you should have incident management plans and equipment on hand to manage any foreseeable situation.  Contact Craig Burman or Sharon Makinson for more advice on how to manage the environmental risks surrounding events and festivals.

About the Author

Craig Burman


Craig advises on contentious and non-contentious environmental, health and safety and regulatory matters. …

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