An electronic music festival planned for next weekend in the middle of an ancient Caledonian pine forest in the Cairngorms has still to be granted a licence because of concerns it could harm rare birds.
Over 500 tickets for ‘Groove Cairngorm’ at Badaguish in Glenmore forest at the foot of the Cairngorm ski slope have already been sold. But Highland Council is still considering how to protect the forest’s capercaillie, one of Scotland’s most endangered species, from the traffic, noise and crowds.
Two government bodies – Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which is meant to protect wildlife, and the Forestry Commission, which manages the woodland – are worried that the event could prevent the birds breeding unless major measures are taken to protect them.
SNH has advised the council that the noise should be kept below 75 decibels, and that sound barriers will be required around the concert site. It also wants to prevent concert-goers from leaving the site, and lights from being shone into the woods.
The Forestry Commission said it was concerned about the event taking place near places where capercaillie perform their distinctive mating dances, known as leks.
Environmental groups have warned that disturbing capercaillie would be illegal, with one suggesting the event should be refused a licence. The festival’s organisers, however, insist that the event will be able to go ahead without the birds being harmed.
Groove Cairngorm is billed as “the UK’s first resort-based snowsports festival”, and is due to take place in an open-sided outdoor centre hall from 3pm and 1am on 12-13 March. The bill features Grandmaster Flash, a DJ set from Hot Chip, The Cuban Brothers, DJ Yoda, The Lafontaines, Monki and others.
SNH said that it was consulted about the event by Highland Council on Thursday afternoon. “We have provided advice that mitigation to avoid capercaillie disturbance should take place,” said an SNH spokesman.
“Birds could be present anywhere in the woods around Badaguish and sound barriers/dampeners will probably be needed around some or all of the concert site.”
According to the Forestry Commission, a licence had not yet been issued for the concert and an environmental impact assessment was still to be carried out. “Capercaillie are one of our priority species and we will take whatever opportunity we have to voice our concerns about such an event taking place in the vicinity of Capercaillie leks,” said the commission’s Graeme Prest.
Highland Council asked Groove Cairngorm to discuss environmental protection on Thursday. “The event organisers are in discussion with the council’s planning service and SNH on this matter,” said a council spokeswoman. “The licence is still being processed.”
Aedán Smith, head of planning for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, pointed out that capercaillie were particularly vulnerable to disturbance at this time of year. It was vital for the authorities to ensure that effective measures were put in place so that wildlife wasn’t harmed, he said.
“It is also important that the organisers and festival-goers are reminded that disturbance to wildlife could result in an offence being committed, with serious implications for any individuals or organisations involved.”
Dr Gus Jones, convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, argued that it was irresponsible to use Badaguish for a music festival. “It is vital that the authorities resist pressure to issue an event licence at this highly sensitive location,” he said.
Sam Barker, an organiser of Groove Cairngorm, stressed that environmental concerns were important to everyone involved in planning the event. “We are aware of the planning regulations necessary and we are working through these with SNH and Highland Council,” he said.
“We do not anticipate any problem in conforming to the regulations and ensuring that any capercaillie are not disturbed.”
Conservationists were accused of looking like “alarmist extremists” by the LibDem councillor for Badenoch and Strathspey, Gregor Rimell. “We need visitors of all sorts,” he said.
“Music in magnificent surroundings is magical. It spreads the word of how important it is to safeguard our heritage. These events spread the message of conservation to an audience conservation treat as enemies.”
Update 07 March 2016: Groove Cairngorm announced that it had acquired a licence for this weekend's event. "The festival organisers have been working closely with SNH and Highland Council to reduce any potential environmental issues resulting from the hosting of the festival and can confirm that all parties are happy that the festival will be able to exist in harmony with all local habitats," said a statement.