Where are the major festivals located and what are the impacts they create?
2007 was a record year for UK music festivals, with over 20 large-scale events staged between May and September, in addition to hundreds of smaller local events.
This article asks: where are the major festivals located and what are the consequences of their recent rise in popularity, both for societies and environments? Are enough festivals being run sustainably, in order to minimise their impact on the physical environment?
Where are the major music festivals found? (site and situation)
Festival Futures (sustainability)
Temporary towns (changing population distribution)
Around 20 major music events take place each year, including T in the Park, Download and the Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury festivals.
The largest of these three-day concerts cater for more than one hundred thousand paying guests, with an amazing 177,500 attending the Glastonbury festival in 2007 (The Guardian, 06 June 2007).
Hundreds of musical acts perform over the 72-hour duration of a typical large festival. Scores of catering stalls, running on mobile generator power, provide festival guests with all of the services they need to live on-site during this time.
In addition to the major festivals, around fifty smaller weekend events (with a capacity of around 10,000 people) are staged each year. Examples include the Green Man festival (near Cardiff) and Strawberry Fayre (Cambridge). There are also several hundred additional one-day and small-scale musical outdoor events.
All festivals, like permanent settlements, tend to be sensibly located. Site and situation factors explain (i) where individual festivals are found and (ii) the overall distribution pattern of UK music festivals.
Agricultural grazing land Most festivals take place on pasture normally reserved for cattle grazing. Extensive forms of agricultural require large areas of land for sheep or cows to graze on – and these sites are also perfect for festival crowds! Grass grows back quickly after trampling by the summer festival guests, allowing land to be returned to cattle in time for the autumn. Other land uses that can be turned over to festivals temporarily include public parks (such as London’s Hyde Park) and tourist beaches (e.g. Brighton, Broadstairs and Camber Sands).
Flat land Gentle relief is essential because the performers’ stages need to be perfectly horizontal. Guests prefer flat sites for camping on and it is also much easier to move machinery and vehicles around. However, some gentle slopes – especially when they help form a natural amphitheatre – allow more people to get a good view of the stage. This can be seen at both the Chelmsford V-festival site and Download’s Donington Park.
Low flood risk Flat land is often found on river floodplains close to major towns. Although such sites are very attractive for concert promoters, they will avoid using sites where there is a major flood risk or where land is likely to regularly be waterlogged. However, some well-established sites do have a residual flood risk and can become wet during very rainy years. During the stormy summer of 2007, 30% of the Reading Festival site was left waist-deep in water or severely waterlogged after the Thames burst its banks in late July. Luckily, conditions had dried out by August and the start of the festival, although some of the site could not be used dues to water logging. In 2005, unusually heavy rainfall generated high levels of run-off that flowed straight across the Glastonbury site, washing away hundreds of tents (video clip of the flooded site).
Landscape A good landscape setting can help bring visitors. Busy city workers looking forward to a weekend of music might also want to relax around the camp fire in a scenic setting. The Glastonbury festival is especially scenic, sited next to Glastonbury Tor. All Tomorrow’s Parties often takes place on the cuspate foreland at Dungeness, The Secret Garden Party is held on land around an ornamental lake in the Cambridgeshire countryside, while the Big Chill festival is held in the grounds of Eastnor Castle Deer park in the Malvern Hills. The new Latitude festival is sited on picturesque East Anglian fenland, close to Lowestoft.
Climate Good weather is highly desirable from a festival-goer’s point of view! Festivals in the south and east of England generally enjoy drier conditions. However, this was not the case in 2007 when changes in the position of the jet stream led to a string of depressions passing over southern England, bringing rain to Glastonbury, Reading, Latitude and a host of London-based festivals.
Situation Some festivals are deliberately situated near major urban areas to help attract more customers. For instance, back in 1999, the Mean Fiddler organisation took the decision to establish a ‘twin’ for the Reading Festival (established in 1971). They chose a site outside Leeds, knowing that the city has a population of nearly one hundred students. The new Leeds festival is also easily accessible from other major cities such as Manchester.
UK distribution pattern
The overall distribution pattern of UK music festivals reflects the varied geography – both physical and human - of the UK. Lower summer rainfall and warmer temperatures are found in southern regions. So too is the majority of the national population. As a result, only two major music festivals (and around ten smaller ones) are found north of Leeds.
The music industry and concert promotion agencies belong to the tertiary sector of the economy.
Rising affluence amongst the UK’s population explains the growing importance of tertiary activities in recent decades – including the phenomenal growth in festival-going culture seen in the last decade.
More and more people have high disposable incomes that allow them to enjoy long weekends away from home listening to music.
Major promoters such as Mean Fiddler (now MAMA) and Live Nation have been quick to provide audiences with a greater range of festivals to choose from.
However, with such an increase in concert numbers, the ecological footprint and carbon footprint of the UK festival scene has also sky-rocketed.
What is being done to reduce the environmental impacts?
Festival organisers now recycle tents that are left behind at the end of the three days, as long as they are relatively clean.
The festival made a big push to use renewable energy in 2007, mainly from solar and wind power.
There are solar-heated showers provided, while generators in several areas use biodiesel sourced from recycled cooking fat.
50% of all rubbish is designated for recycling - including 230 tonnes of compostable food and biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery - with the other half going into landfill.
All food packaging, including plates, bowls, cups, containers and cutlery are biodegradable. Guests are asked to leave all food packaging items and left-over food in special compost bins.
In 2007, the Latitude Festival and Workers Beer Company introduced a way of drastically reducing festival waste by providing reusable beer cups. Guests paid a £2 deposit, refundable when each cup was returned to the bar. The scheme significantly reduced the amount of rubbish generated at the festival.
Tips were offered to green campers such as ‘minimize the amount of over-packaged goods and individual portion packs you bring to the festival’.
The official festival motto is “leave no trace – take only photos, leave only footprints”.
In 2007, organisers introduced “Download Dirtbag rubbish and recycling collection points”.
Incentives were introduced to encourage guests to re-use and recycle drink cups.
Can festivals and audiences do more?
The only music festival in the world currently claiming to be fully-carbon neutral is Norway’s Hovefestivalen, where Arcade Fire played in 2007. Using biofuels and recycling everything on site, the organisers also invest their profits into carbon capture and storage research. Somerset’s Big Green Gathering has the best green track record yet of any UK festival, thanks to its use of renewable energy, including a pedal-powered stage (The Guardian, 06 June 2007). However, there is still much to be done if most other music festivals are to reduce the size of their footprints further. Clear areas for future improvement include:
Reducing light pollution and generator use on sites at night-time.
Encouraging more people to arrive by public transport (although this is difficult for people bringing tents, especially to Glastonbury, which is more remote) or encourage festival goers to car share.
Reducing litter and refuse – far more can be done to reduce current levels of waste, especially cans and bottles at camp sites. More care needs to be taken separating recyclable and non-recyclable wastes so that the former do not become contaminated and end up as landfill instead.
More festivals need to introduce deposits on all cups from the bars to encourage people to ‘reduce and recycle’, therefore lessening the waste produced.
Encouraging people not to dispose of their tents and camping equipment at the end of festivals due to the mud or water on them.
Providing additional sources of power generation on sites
Significant changes in population distribution are brought to places by cultural events such as festivals and carnivals.
For instance, London’s massive Notting Hill carnival attracts an extra two million people to the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for three days every August.
Such short-term temporary migration transforms the population map of a region, resulting in significant increases in population density wherever events are taking place.
Major music events like the V-festival and Reading festival attract around one hundred thousand people, including all of the performers and camp-site staff.
Glastonbury guests numbered 177,500 in 2007. This means that music festivals camp-sites are comparable in size with many small towns!
BBC News (22 June 2007) reported that, like any settlement, the Glastonbury festival required the following services to be delivered:
Sewage There are 3,220 toilets in total - or one for every 55 people. They are emptied and cleaned throughout the weekend, using vacuum tankers pulled by tractors. The waste is then transferred to 5,500-gallon tankers, which make 40 trips a day, day and night, to local sewage works. Most ends up 30 miles away at Avonmouth, on the Bristol Channel.
Water Glastonbury uses about 1.5 million gallons of water, far more than the normal local supply could provide. A new water main was installed 10 years ago, supplying two-thirds of the festival's needs, with the other third being brought in by tanker from a reservoir seven miles away. More than 10 miles of pipes have been built beneath the fields over the years, bringing permanent infrastructure to the site.
Rubbish Fans and workers produced around 2,000 tonnes of rubbish (more than a town of a comparable size, because people often produce more rubbish when they are on holiday and enjoying themselves). Two-thousand old oil drums are used as litter bins, while 1,200 people work picking and sorting the rubbish.
Power Glastonbury uses 30 megawatts of electricity over the weekend - about as much as the city of Bath. The vast majority comes from 200 generators dotted around the site, which use 100km of cabling to supply most of the stages and markets.
Emergency services Glastonbury Festival is the biggest policing operation in the south-west, requiring 25,000 police hours. There were 304 reported offences in 2000 in 2005. On-site medical services include an emergency department, midwives and a dentist. Ambulance personnel are also on hand to take seriously injured people to hospital.
Source: Building a city in festival field BBC 22 June 2007
This article is written by Dr Simon Oakes, a Principal Examiner in A-level geography.
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