How 2000trees became rock’s most eco-friendly festival

Every year thousands of rock fans descend upon the Cotswolds for the party of the summer. But the brains behind the operation are determined to do right by the planet

In 2007, 2000trees festival launched in the Cotswold hills as an alternative for rock-lovers who were tired of massive, overly-corporate events. Its six organisers were Reading festival regulars who decided they could do better; on atmosphere, food and drink, toilets and without losing sight of the focal point – the music.

The festival tries to showcase the best of the UK’s underground rock, punk and alternative bands, with some big names and acts from abroad thrown in for good measure. Headliners have included Enter Shikari, Frightened Rabbit, Alkaline Trio, The Wonder Years, At The Drive-In and Refused.

Around 1,000 people came in that first year. In 2019, that figure hit 11,000, but it hasn’t lost its intimate feel nor its claim to the friendliest festival crowd of the summer. And it’s almost on the verge of getting the credit some argue it deserves within the industry (Kerrang! magazine dubbed it the UK’s coolest festival last year).

ECC

But the organisers’ ambitions all those years ago weren’t limited to good grub and a line-up that would set social media alight with anticipation.

“Environmental considerations were a huge part of our plan right from the start,” says James Scarlett, one of six organisers (his brother and his mates from university make up the other five). “That’s where the name came from, it was a bit of a nod to that.

“I was very militantly environmentalist in those days, I had already given up flying and spent most of my time lecturing people on what they should and shouldn’t be doing.”

After four successful years, the organisers quit their day jobs to go full time with the festival – among them an accountant, a lawyer and a furniture designer – despite 2000trees starting out as little more than an ambitious hobby.

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“I’ve changed my opinion on some things since then though, on how we can make change,” says Scarlett. “For example – look, we’ve committed to being zero-plastic by next year. We’ve done lots of things this year to get us there.

“One of them is means getting in a lot of water here for bands. You’d be amazed how much water bands and traders can drink. But we’ve gone for canned water, the amount of plastic bottles that would come of that is unthinkable. But those cans, they’re five times more expensive than bottled water that holds the same amount.”

It will take legislation to remove such a barrier that makes it challenging to do right by the planet, the organiser reckons. “People with power need to make it so that you can’t buy drinks in plastic bottles. Put it all in cans. Then the price will come down and we can all do it.

“We’re taking a hit to our profits to try and do the right thing. Not everyone will make that choice, so you have to force their hand if we’re going to confront this crisis effectively.”

Scarlett explains that while most 2000trees attendees know the festival to have more of an environmental and socially conscious approach than bigger mainstream events, not everyone wants to be told what to do – “so it’s better for us to implement new things and just do it rather than preaching to people”.

And that’s exactly what they did. The festival teamed up with a whole host of external partners and invited a range of third-sector organisations to the Upcote Farm site.

Pro-planet protestors Extinction Rebellion held daily workshops in The Retreat, a hang-out area new to this year’s festival that blends charity with spoken-word poetry and comedy. Nearby, campaigners Safe Gigs For Women had a presence all weekend to help the festival fight against sexual harassment. Recycling gurus Every Can Counts were moving around the festival too, encouraging people to dispose of their cans at one of the many recycling spots, and offering rewards (everything from temporary tattoos to shirts) to people who recycled the most.

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“There are a lot of charities in there,” says Scarlett. “It’s nice to give those people a bit of a platform and a new, younger audience.”

The organisers invited FRANK Water on site too, who provided chilled, filtered water to attendees with reusable vessels for a £3 charge – this goes to providing safe water and sanitation to people in India and Nepal (nearly 404,000 people have benefited so far).

And at the bars dotted across the site, Trees teamed up with Green Goblet. The initiative produces novelty and, crucially, reusable cups for events. Anyone who bought a drink paid a little extra for one of these, swapped it for a clean one every time they went to the bar, and could take home whichever one they were left with by the time Sunday rolled around.

The festival’s waste crew works hard throughout the festival, sorting through rubbish to ensure the event’s recycling is maximised. Scarlett exhales: “That’s hard work. That graft shouldn’t be underestimated.”

When it comes to people getting to and from the festival, Trees pushes car-sharing schemes and this year had more coaches than ever coming from elsewhere. “We’re trying to get people out their cars,” says Scarlett. “We want to do the festival as greenly as we can from start to finish.” That means encouraging campers to take their tents home with them, an effort Glastonbury successfully pulled off.

The organisers would love to do more, he says, but the cost of it proves a huge obstacle. “We’re in a very sensitive industry where a lot of festivals go bust and making a profit from one year to the next could be difficult. A thousand sales here or there can make a big difference.”

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The organisers’ conscienscious approach to their environmental impact – combined with the killer line up – are just a couple of reasons that keep people coming back to 2000trees year after year, from right across the UK and beyond.

“I don’t think the rock industry had a festival like this,” says Scarlett. “I feel like we’re the first ones to mix the music with the vibe.” Only 358 days until it all kicks off again, with none of the plastic but all of the fun.

Image credit: Gareth Bull