Glastonbury Festival fined after human waste leak

The organisers of Glastonbury Festival have been ordered to pay £31,000 in fines and costs after untreated human waste escaped from a temporary storage tank and polluted a nearby river.

The Environment Agency (EA) says that more than four kilometres of the Whitelake River were polluted after approximately 20,000 gallons of the untreated sewage escaped on 29 June 2014. At least 42 fish, including 29 bullheads – a European protected species – were killed by the spill, and the local trout population was ‘effectively wiped out’.

During a two-day hearing at Bristol Magistrates’ Court this week, Judge Simon Cooper ruled that Glastonbury Festival’s actions after the fish kills had not been negligent and were of low culpability, but after hearing that organisers had been issued a caution after the 2010 festival, he ordered that a fine of £12,000 be added to £19,000 in costs.

The festival’s organisers had previously plead guilty to causing a water discharge activity not under or in accordance with an environmental permit at an earlier hearing, and the EA asked that an incident from the 2015 festival that involved overflow from a tank fed into by the site’s ‘long drop’ toilets also be taken into consideration.

Failure to alert authorities compounded problem

Glastonbury Festival, which takes place on Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, is the largest outdoor music and contemporary arts festival in the world, attracting up to 175,000 people each year.

The EA monitors water quality in the Whitelake River throughout the festival using telemetry equipment positioned upstream and downstream of the festival site. Additional monitoring is carried out by the festival’s environmental team, who are expected to alert the EA if they discover pollution within the site.

During this week’s hearing, the court heard how the festival’s monitoring team failed to alert EA staff in the agreed manner after sewage leaked into a tributary of the Whitelake River. On-site monitoring detected a spike in pollution at around 1am on 29June.

Glastonbury Festival organisers claimed that the out-of-hours EA officer had been called. However, with no call records to prove this had taken place, and with no recollection from the employee, the judge said in the balance of probability the call had not happened. The judge ruled that this failure to alert the EA through the proper channel resulted in a delay and caused a serious deterioration in water quality.

He was, however, satisfied there was a pollution monitoring system in place, and that ‘conditions were not straightforward’ while searching in the dark with a lot of facilities in the vicinity. He praised Glastonbury Festival staff for their efforts in stopping the spill once it was found.

The source of the pollution was traced to a leaking storage tank at Steanbow Park Farm, Pilton. The tank was installed and operated by Glastonbury Festival Ltd and used to store untreated sewage during the five-day festival. Festival staff created an earth bund to contain the pollution, which was later removed from site by tanker.

'Organisers have responsibility to environment'

Ian Withers, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “While we recognise the Glastonbury Festival provides enjoyment to tens of thousands of people and raises money for a number of good causes, the organisers have a responsibility to ensure it does not cause harm to the environment. The festival is held in a beautiful part of the Somerset countryside and we want to see it remain that way.

“This was a serious pollution incident that had a significant impact on water quality and the fish population of the Whitelake River over some distance.”

Read more about waste management at Glastonbury Festival in Resource’s feature article.