Wood Festival is the famed Truck Festival’s “folkier, younger, cleaner, greener and mysteriously beardier brother”. A small festival set in the beautiful grounds of Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, Wood is a beacon of environmental sustainability run almost entirely on renewable power, aiming to highlight green issues and promote ecologically friendly living, with composting toilets, showers heated by wood-burning stove and a solar-powered stage as well as participatory activities that encourage consideration of environmental concerns. The festival is one of the few to yet be awarded a 2 star Industry Green certification, and was commended particularly for its major efforts at improving its impacts in its few short years in existence.
Wood was born in response to a distaster. The day before Truck Festival 2007, the July floods hit the site and disrupted transport links, forcing the cancellation of the festival in its 10th year of running. While the Oxfordshire-based festival was rescheduled for September and the event broke even, the additional costs caused by the flooding coupled with a lack of insurance meant that the body running the festival could no longer continue.
This challenge also presented a major opportunity to regroup and refocus – the core team established Truck Enterprises Ltd and set about producing two new festivals alongside Truck festival with an even stronger commitment to a low impact approach. The first new event was Wood, which they aim to make an example of best environmental practice. Robin Bennett, a co-director observed: “we had always been aware of and interested in ecology and the flood certainly reminded us of the urgency for change.”
While Truck festival itself is a fairly small event for 5000 people, Wood’s capacity was much lower to allow experimentation with new ways of running things, and particularly to enable a comprehensive response to recycling and waste management.
Sustainable site structures
The team invested considerable cost and labour in building a permanent green oak stage at Brazier’s Park.
The oak was from Mackroy Timber Yard, Nettlebed, and was built by friends who specialize in oak frame construction, using no nails or screws. The stage should last for at least 10 years, and represents not just a long term vision for the festival but also a commitment to working with the community that own the site - it is used in a variety of ways by other events held there throughout the year.
In 2009 a living roof made of Sedum was added to the stage. In 2010 some of the herbs and flowers planted on the roof were visible for the audience to see.
Composting loos with a view
The group also built 6 new composting toilets in addition to the 6 already in the campfield at Braziers Park – as with the stage these represent an initial outlay which will see payback over the next few years of the event. The toilets include what may be the first disabled access composting loo. All the loos were customised for the festival setting and fitted with a hole for viewing the stage.
Wood uses water plumbed in from the main Braziers Park supply. Pressure is provided gravitationally from the tank being mounted high up in a tree. Toilets at Braziers Park are composting so require no water. Handwashing facilities are operated by foot pedal so no water is wasted by taps running unattended. Sewage is turned into compost so no waste is generated.
Diverse energy sources
No diesel is used: all energy comes from biodiesel, solar powered batteries and cycle power. All biodiesel used is sourced locally from a workers co-operative, recycling used oils from restaurants and kitchens. Wood has even tried to minimise the amount of biodiesel used: a 30% reduction in the litres used per audience day was achieved from 2009 to 2010.
The main stage was powered by solar panels from Firefly Solar, which ran the sound and lights for 12 hours each day, until midnight, even though the weather was overcast. Home-made showers were powered by a wood-burner and a campfire ran throughout the event, guarded by an old hippy who taught everyone how to make coffee and eggs in the fire.
Local hops to local workshops
- Lager, cider and ale were all sourced within the county, and organically produced, from the festival’s friends at Cotswold lager microbrewery and others.
- Food was provided in a camp canteen and again locally sourced, including soup made from nettles picked in the campsite. Recycling was well over 80%, including biodegradable plastic cups and bottles.
- The festival featured workshops and talks on everything from making your own harp to sustainable farming – the festival directors see these as an integral part of the event.
Greenfield festival sites are by their very nature usually further away from populous areas which means people travel greater distances to get to the events, producing higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions. However the small scale and local base of the festival events (mostly coming from Oxfordshire and Berkshire) works to build community and reduce audience travel. Many had got into the spirit of the event and gone to great trouble to take buses, trains and bikes, or a combination of those. There were very few cars.
The team arranged a cycle ride to Wood festival from Oxford in conjunction with Oxford cycle workshop, with 27 riders. The team hopes to increase this again in 2011. A free pint is offered as an incentive to those cycling to the event. In 2009 Wood car parking tickets were jokingly described as a “parking fine”, and were priced at £10 (an increase from £5 in 2008). In 2010 there was a price reduction for cars arriving with more than two occupants, or a “fine” for those driving alone.
Greenfield events also provide a lower carbon way of living for the duration of the festival, and an opportunity for people to experience nature, animals and food production in a more direct way. One lad was shocked that a duck could fly! It could be argued that understanding and experiencing lower carbon living in rural environments is critical to engaging with current issues about climate change.
Towards the future
Wood Festival has set a range of targets going forward. The 2011 event will be handled by a specialist recycling team to increase recycling to 85%, if not higher: Wood aims to be a zero waste event. The festival aims to reduce its power consumption on site by switching to 100% renewable energy power over the next 3 years. More composting toilets will also be constructed to avoid the need of setting up temporary structures to cope with an increase in audience figures. Where possible, all production supplies will be sourced from a 50 mile radius.
Further promoting of public transportation will take place for audience members, including buses, cycling and car-sharing. The audience will be informed of their impact on the event, as well as the event’s own impact through workshops and informative signage aiming to increase awareness on water consumption and recycling.
In response to our audience survey, more workshops on foraging and nature awareness are being added.
A new dedicated WOOD website, woodfestival.com, to launch next week, will show more information about the event’s environmental performance, including the IG reports.