News from Therfield Heath Conservation – Royston Kite Festival

Therfield Heath Conservation – Pasque flowers

The Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens support the Kite Festival continuing to take place on Therfield Heath.

For the last two years we have been in discussions with Rotary on how to better manage the Kite Festival, so it does not impact SSSI grassland.

We have concerns about the scale of the event, the amount of car parking requested (1200 cars, where the car parking available is 250), and the impact on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The area that has traditionally been used for this event is included in the SSSI designation, which was previously used as the practice range for Royston Golf Club. The citation for the SSSI states “The site contains some of the richest chalk grassland in England”. The best practical regime for most of the Heath SSSI is to ‘cut and collect’, i.e. mow and remove the clippings, once a year from mid-August onwards when the plants, insects and birds have largely completed their life cycle.

The issue we’ve faced, in order to ensure the site is ready for early August when the Kite Festival is held, is that we’d need to implement regular grass cutting from mid-March onwards, to prevent ground nesting birds nesting, and to provide the quality of surface desired for the event. Once the birds have nested, we would not be able to implement a grass cutting schedule, which would destroy the nests, in time for the Kite Festival.

When regularly cut, this area has relatively little value for wildlife. However, the Kite Festival could not proceed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the grass was therefore not cut from mid-March. When not regularly cut the grassland has wildlife of note, including anthills and several wildflower species being seen.

Several options have been explored, most of which Rotary have ultimately rejected as unworkable, due to being a small charity with limited volunteer capacity. Rotary have decided that one option is to look for another site. Should another site not be found we will continue working with rotary to find a compromise.

We are happy to support recreation on the Heath including organised events, but we also have to comply with our many statutory duties including allowing people access at all times to Common Land and keeping the SSSI in good condition.