Party on... your nature reserve?
The Isle of Wight Festival isn’t quite the 500,000 hippies that famously descended on the Island in 1971, leaving the Island with its own Act of Parliament and a
reputation for free love. These days, the music festival is a far more organised affair, and smaller too, with only 45,000 visitors this year. But that’s still one of the country’s biggest festivals, and much of it takes place on and around sites managed by the Isle of Wight Council’s Parks and Countryside Service.
The festival management take on the entire site and hand it back at the end of the event, and although the council has close liaison with the festival, council staff don’t get involved in the direct delivery of the event. They do not get free tickets, either!
The biggest impact is the sheer volume of footfall on the main site: which is otherwise Seaclose Park, the Island’s biggest sports amenity area, with seven football pitches, a bowls green and a cricket pitch. After the event, hard work by the grounds maintenance staff and contractors means that football can be safely played on some of these pitches as soon as eight weeks after the festival, and almost all are usable by Christmas. So far, since 2002 there have been no football matches cancelled on account of the festival!
Across the nearby river Medina is a peaceful nature reserve, Medina Riverside Park. This meadow is only lightly used for most of the year, but come festival-time it gains sudden popularity as a site where the Festival can be enjoyed for free - well, heard, at least, if not seen. Traditionally the public have used this perhaps just to hear one particular band without paying for the whole weekend. This site is managed directly by the council, not the festival, and has problems of its own. Although visitor numbers are much lower, the grassland, woodland and estuarine habitats are much more vulnerable. Security staff are employed to protect the site and keep people from driving vehicles onto the delicate meadow; and the police are paid to provide extra patrols on the weekend of the festival. However, as a deliberate policy, facilities are not provided, so toilets and first aid are not on site.
Skips are provided, but otherwise the idea is that people must bring their own things, a
nd clear them away again - as one might expect in the
countryside. Pleasingly, people seem to mostly respect this and the free
site is generally a success. One problem is unauthorised fires, and the
damage to trees and ground by campfires. Low branches of trees are
gradually being ‘browsed’ upwards, giving the site the look of a
parkland in places.
The Isle of Wight Festival is a major benefit to the Island’s economy, and a lot of fun: but it also provides an opportunity for the Isle of Wight council’s Parks and Countryside Team to welcome a lot of visitors to some of the lovely sites they manage.
Matthew Chatfield, Parks & Countryside Manager, Isle of Wight Council