‘Don’t pee on the land’: Drugs found in Glastonbury river endanger wildlife

Sadly, waterways are known to harbour unwanted substances like chip packets and plastic, but what about the drugs from Glastonbury?

Scientists have found high levels of cocaine and ecstasy running through a river at Glastonbury music festival, which are endangering a rare species of fish and other wildlife.

Researchers measured levels of illicit drugs in the river before, during and after the last Glastonbury festival in 2019, comparing levels upstream and downstream at the event.

Glastonbury Festival river
Image: The Forty-Five

“Illicit drug contamination from public urination happens at every music festival,” said Dan Aberg, a masters student in Bangor’s School of Natural Sciences.

“Glastonbury Festival’s close proximity to a river results in any drugs released by festival attendees having little time to degrade in the soil before entering the fragile freshwater ecosystem.”

Samples taken from the river in 2019, when more than 200,000 people attended the festival in Somerset, found MDMA concentrations were four times higher the week after the festival.

According to the report published by the scientists, this meant that the drug levels in River Whitelake were high enough to harm aquatic wildlife, including a rare eel population.

The researchers found that the amount of MDMA was 104 times greater downstream than upstream in the weeks after the festival, rising to levels that could harm the life cycle of European eels, a protected species.

Cocaine concentration was 40 times higher downstream, but these levels weren’t considered harmful to aquatic life.

Previous research has shown that cocaine traces in rivers can cause eels to become hyperactive and experience muscle wastage, impaired gills and hormonal changes.

According to Reuters, a spokesman for the festival said protecting local streams and wildlife was of “paramount importance” to Glastonbury.

Ahead of the 2019 festival, Glastonbury’s organisers launched a ‘Don’t pee on the land’ campaign to raise awareness of the environmental damage caused by public urination on Worthy Farm.

They said the campaign had “measurable success” and would continue to “strongly discourage” the practice.

We also do not condone the use of illegal drugs at Glastonbury,” they added.