Climate change and the risk to UK folk festivals - a letter in STS issue 81 May 2013

Dear Chris,

We hear a lot these days about climate change. Leaving aside the arguments about why it is changing, the consequences for some festivals could be severe. In the 16 years I have lived in Sidmouth, the river Sid has flooded very badly about five times. Three of these events have been in the last year or so. The river was in my garden again at the end of March and it had only rained for a day. We have had road closures, trees down, landslides and major roads needing to be stabilised - and of course the cliffs have suffered badly all along the coast.

Many STS readers may remember the year of the great flood in the Sidmouth Festival week of 1997 when trade stands in the old Arena grounds were washed out of the marquees as a torrent of muddy red water flooded down the valley. It was the year I moved to Sidmouth. Folkies are occasionally still seen in their souvenir T shirts -"I survived Sidmouth 1997"! We had few problems for many years afterwards, this was one factor that has enabled the new 'FolkWeek' to evolve and prosper from 2005 onwards.

Last year we had major flood events in both July and November, the latter being the worst in over 30 years. If you have the internet simply ask Google for 'Sidmouth floods 2012' to view some videos. This pattern is one of the predictions of 'climate change' and should encourage some contingency planning. For example, at Sidmouth, if the July rains of 2012 had come 7 or 10 days later, the main campsite could have been simply unusable and it is doubtful if some venues could even have been constructed.

The International Sidmouth Festival folded in part owing to money for wet weather insurance not being made available - and this was several years before the recent notable increase in flood events. Shrewsbury festival at the end of August seems currently to be one event that can do no wrong - it has been sold out for the past few years. Yet it could suffer a complete shutdown if the West Midland showground flooded and there would be nowhere else for thousands of people to go at short notice. Will insurance soon be available at any price? Toweresy is a purely site based festival but the land is flat and on chalk and it drains very well. Sidmouth is not so fortunate.

Yet Sidmouth could be made quite resilient - the main venues could probably cope with a deluge but the campsite could not, so the suggestion is for a reservoir of residents in the town to agree to take in folkies and their caravans and tents onto their driveways or lawns if the worst happened - and at least the dancing would be able to continue!

I'd be interested to know if any festival has made specific plans to keep going in the face of sudden really bad weather. One issue is the insurance implications of 'commercial' use of private gardens.

What I feel we are lacking for the festival as a whole is forward planning to cope with an extreme weather event just at the wrong time.

For anyone planning on coming to Sidmouth for the first time there is plenty of guidance on the internet including my 'Newcomers' Guide'.

The new social dance venue is also described for anyone who is not yet familiar with what is now on offer.

Yours (with an eye on the river level)

Stephen Wozniak

next page

back to top of section

home page