By Matt Burdett, 30 November 2017
On this page, we look at the UK’s Glastonbury music festival as a case study of one festival in a rural location, its site factors and geographic impacts.
Note: For ease of international comparison, all financial figures have been converted to US dollars at a rate of GBP1 to USD1.35.
Welcome to the Glastonbury Festival!
- Docherty, R. 2015. Glastonbury Festival 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fussyonion/19302015185 Accessed 1st December 2017.
Glastonbury Festival is the UK’s largest music festival. It has been held on Worthy Farm near Glastonbury most years since 1970, when it was started by Michael Eavis. He and his daughter Emily are still the main people in charge of the festival. Over 200,000 people went in 2017. The festival usually lasts three or four nights.
Where is Glastonbury?
The Glastonbury Festival takes place on Worthy Farm, near Glastonbury in south west England. The nearest major city is Bristol, about 40km away.
- Source: Noebse, 2006. Glastonbury – Somerset dot [map]. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Glastonbury_-_Somerset_dot.png Accessed 1st December 2017
Key facts about the festival
Glastonbury started off as a small festival but has grown substantially (BBC News, 2010). The following two graphs show the increase in attendance and ticket price, and during the following years the trend continued:
- 40 years of attendance at Glastonbury. BBC News, 2010. Glastonbury gates open to festival goers. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10387611 Accessed 1st December 2010.
- Glastonbury ticket prices over 40 years. BBC News, 2010. Glastonbury gates open to festival goers. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10387611 Accessed 1st December 2010.
As the annual festival has grown, so have the temporary secondary tourist resources that are required – over 200,000 people come to an area usually populated by just a few thousand. The local area does not have permanent facilities to cope with such a large number of people, so temporary and portable facilities are provided. The following were provided in 2017 (Belfast Telegraph, 2017):
- 514 food stalls
- 900 shops, including 150 that take card payments.
- 5,000 toilets provided.
- 3,000,000 gallons of water.
- Accommodation for the vast majority of the festival-goers is in one million square metres of public camping space.
Factors affecting the choice of site
The original factor affecting the choice of site was because the idea for the festival came from Michael Eavis who owned Worthy Farm, where the festival has been held ever since.
A rural site is required, since an urban area could not easily provide the space necessary. A huge site is used for the festival – it is over 360 hectares (Belfast Telegraph, 2017). This is larger than Worthy Farm, so over 21 different landowners contribute land to the temporary festival in addition to the main site (BBC News, 2016).
Another benefit of the site is the low population in the vicinity. The nearest town, Glastonbury, has a population of less than 10,000 so disruption to a large population is avoided.
However, an unusual limitation for a site this large is that it is not near a major transport route. The nearest motorway (major highway) is around 27km away. Congestion on narrow rural roads is a major issue during the festival weekend.
A complicating factor is soil erosion. Because the soil needs to recover after the festival, every few years there is a ‘fallow’ year in which the festival doesn’t take place. This happened in 2012 and 2018. There is pressure to find an alternative location, such as Longleat which is a country estate about 20km from Worthy Farm. However, this is a difficult problem to solve because of local opposition to such a large festival taking place in a new area (Rawlinson, 2016). No decision has yet been published about the choice of alternative venue for future years.
Costs and benefits
Costs and benefits can be analysed using thematic approach. Below, the themes of social, economic, and environmental issues are discussed.
- About 100 people are permanently employed to run the festival.
- In 2017 the festival spent over US$8 million with local companies (Glastonbury Festival, 2017a).
- A 2007 study showed that the average person spent about US$180 on site and roughly the same off-site in the local area (Mendip D.C., 2007).
- Each year the festival raises US$1.35 million for charities.
- Crime is low, but present with 188 crimes reported to police in 2017, with 71 people arrested compared to 40 in 2016 (Herbaux, 2017). Figures on the impact on local residents are not available.
- Each year the festival has a ‘health focus’ and in 2015 it was blood donation leading to an increase in blood stocks in the area (Glastonbury Festival, 2017b).
- Glastonbury benefits from a greater ‘reach’ to tourists from other places – in 2007 over 700 journalists from around the world reported on the festival (Mendip D.C., 2007).
- The physical soil degradation from trampling means the land requires a year off every six years or so. Recent “fallow” years include 2012 and 2018 (BBC News, 2016)
- High energy consumption – over 120 generators are required, with a 2014 study showing that many of them were inefficient because they were oversized (Powerful Thinking, 2017).
- Renewable energy can be used. In the Green Fields coordinators camp a 1.5 kW solar unit (plus 22 kWh of battery storage) has been used to supply steady energy (Powerful Thinking, 2017).
- Although around two thirds of the visitors arrive by car, causing traffic congestion and air pollution, the emissions of carbon dioxide may be lower than those people remaining at home because during the festival they stay in tents. However this is a complex issue and no comprehensive study has been done.
- Noise pollution: some individuals have claimed that the festival can be heard over 8km away (Newman, 2017)
BBC News, 2010. Glastonbury gates open to festival goers. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10387611 Accessed 1st December 2010.
BBC News, 2016. Glastonbury Festival: ‘No plans to move for fallow year’. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-37340905 Accessed 1st December 2017.
Belfast Telegraph, 2017. The key facts and figures as Glastonbury Festival marks its 35th year. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/music/news/the-key-facts-and-figures-as-glastonbury-festival-marks-its-35th-year-35855008.html Accessed 1st December 2017.
Docherty, R. 2015. Glastonbury Festival 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fussyonion/19302015185 Accessed 1st December 2017.
Glastonbury Festival, 2017a. Local Benefits. http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/worthy-causes/local-benefits/ Accessed 1st December 2017.
Glastonbury Festival, 2017b. Worthy Causes. http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/worthy-causes/nhsbt/ Accessed 1st December 2017.
Herbaux, C., 2017. Number of people arrested at Glastonbury 2017 rises but overall crime rate remains low. http://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/number-people-arrested-glastonbury-2017-137724 Accessed 1st December 2017.
Mendip District Council [Mendip D.C.], 2007. Glastonbury Festivals 2007 Economic Impact Assessment. http://www.mendip.gov.uk/glastonburyfestivaleia Accessed 1st December 2017.
Newman, T., 2017. Personal conversation with the author.
Noebse, 2006. Glastonbury – Somerset dot [map]. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Glastonbury_-_Somerset_dot.png Accessed 1st December 2017
Powerful Thinking, 2017. Comprehensive Energy Monitoring Project with Agrekko and UWE. http://www.powerful-thinking.org.uk/casestudy/glastonbury-festival/ Accessed 1st December 2017.
Rawlinson, K. 2016. Glastonbury festival to move from Worthy Farm in 2019, says founder. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/19/glastonbury-festival-to-move-from-worthy-farm-in-2019-says-founder Accessed 1st December 2017
Case study: Glastonbury Festival: Learning activities
- Describe the location of the Glastonbury festival. 
- Suggest reasons why the site is suitable for a large temporary festival. 
- Suggest reasons why the site is unsuitable for a large temporary festival. 
- Describe the economic costs of the festival. 
- Explain why the social impacts may be considered positive overall, rather than negative. 
- Explain why charities such as Greenpeace have participated in the festival despite the environmental problems it causes. 
Imagine you are going to Glastonbury festival. You have decided to try to raise awareness amongst your fellow music fans about the impacts of the festival. Are you going to:
- Persuade them of the problems the festival causes
- Congratulate them for making a positive impact on the local area
Think carefully – consider both the issues at stake and the audience. Produce a large poster or sign with a slogan that supports your view.
- http://www.essaywriting.expert/the-environmental-impacts-of-glastonbury-music-festival-essay/ This is an example of an essay about the festival, but beware: the sources are not listed in the free version of the essay (though in-text citations are provided), and the essay dates from 2014.
- https://impactoffestivals.wordpress.com/project-outputs/reports-and-papers/ This is a link list to many useful sections of a project about the impact of festivals in the UK.
- https://rumercooper.wordpress.com/university-year-1/tm4005-introduction-to-events-management/tm4005-glastonbury-impacts-on-location/ A well referenced account of the impact of Glastonbury, though with some errors in the quality of written English.
- http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Schools/Teaching+resources/Key+Stage+3+resources/Mapping+festivals/Greening+Glastonbury.htm A well written and approachable summary although sadly somewhat dated.