Glastonbury Festival fined £31k for river sewage pollution

25th May 2016

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Colin Whittingham

The organisers of Glastonbury Festival have been ordered to pay £31,000 for polluting a local river with untreated sewage.

More than 4 km of the Whitelake River in Somerset was polluted during the festival in 2014 after approximately 20,000 gallons of untreated sewage escaped from a temporary storage tank on a farm at Pilton, near Shepton Mallet.

The pollution killed more than 40 fish, including 29 bullhead, a European protected species, and effectively wiped out the local trout population, according to the Environment Agency.

The agency monitors water quality in the river throughout the festival using telemetry equipment upstream and downstream of the site at Worthy Farm. Additional monitoring is carried out by the festival’s environmental team who are expected to alert the agency if they discover pollution.

However, the festival’s monitoring team failed to alert agency staff after sewage leaked into a tributary of the river at around 1am on 29 June 2014. Glastonbury Festival claimed that it called the out-of-hours officer but the agency said there was no record of a call. The failure to alert the agency led to a delay in treating the problem, contributing to and a serious deterioration in water quality.

At Bristol Magistrates Court, judge Simon Cooper said he was satisfied there was a pollution monitoring system in place, and accepted that conditions for finding the leak in the dark were difficult. He also praised festival staff for their attempts to contain the pollution by creating an earth bund, which was later removed from site by tanker.

The judge ruled that the festival’s actions after the fish kill had not been negligent, but after hearing that the organisers had previously been issued a caution after the 2010 festival, he imposed a fine of £12,000 and costs of £19,000.

Ian Withers, environment manager for the 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.

‘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.’

Glastonbury Festival had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.


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