Royston is set to lose its annual kite festival after more than 30 years, due to concerns from Natural England.

The festival, run by the Rotary Club of Royston, takes place on Therfield Heath each year, and was due to take place on Sunday, August 4.

For the first time, the organisers were asked to apply for Section 38 planning approval, which relates to works on common land and is granted by the Planning Inspectorate.

Martin Berry, one of the principle organisers, said: "We submitted our application last November, allowing, we assumed, plenty of time for it to be considered.  

"Applications such as this can usually be processed in weeks if there are no objections.

"However, Natural England objected, raising concerns about the festival being held on a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

"It has, of course, always been on the same site for decades and Natural England has never objected before."

Rotarians have been working closely with the Conservators of Therfield Heath to try to address Natural England's concerns, but without success.

Martin explained: "We are still waiting for the Planning Inspectorate to make their decision but we have now reached a point where we start incurring costs if the event is to take place. And these costs cannot be recovered if approval is denied.   

"We deeply regret the cancellation and would like to emphasise how grateful we are to those Conservators (Clive Hall and Clare Swarbrick) who have given up a great deal of their time to help us through this process.

"We know they are as disappointed as we are.

"Indeed, a great many local people and organisations will be disappointed, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us over the years.

"These include our main sponsors: Johnson Matthey, Tees Law, NCPI Solutions and Royston First BID Company. 

"We would also like to thank various friends of the festival, including: all of our amazing kite flyers, Birches Funfair, Paul and Kay Readhead,  the Scouts, The Friends of Therfield Heath, as well as the Hertfordshire Constabulary, Hertfordshire Fire Brigade and others."

Clare Swarbrick, chair of the Conservators of Therfield Heath, said: "For the past four years we have been working with Rotary to find a solution or an alternative site on the heath for the Kite Festival.

Royston Crow: Clare Swarbrick, chair of Conservators of Therfield HeathClare Swarbrick, chair of Conservators of Therfield Heath (Image: Conservators of Therfield Heath)

"The problem with holding the Kite Festival in early August is that area really needs to be cut regularly from mid-March to give a good surface and to prevent ground-nesting birds nesting, which would prevent us cutting the grass later.

"With no agreement to move the event or timings, in November 2023 we encouraged Rotary to submit a section 38 application to the Planning Inspectorate allowing for a full public consultation on the event on common land and cutting schedule on the SSSI.
"The Planning Inspectorate’s role is to apply Defra’s policy guidance and decide if the Kite Festival contributes to managing, improving or protecting the common and of maintaining the heath’s traditional uses.
"The Conservators are a small group of elected volunteers, who have an increasingly difficult and time-consuming balancing act between the various demands for activities on the heath, our desire to protect the environment and biodiversity and the complex legal frameworks we have to operate in.

"We know we will never be able to satisfy everyone but hope the public can see the difficult position and decisions we face in an increasingly complex regulatory environment."

Royston Crow: MP Sir Oliver HealdMP Sir Oliver Heald (Image: UK Government)

North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald is urging Natural England to reconsider its objections.

He said: "The Kite Festival is a wonderful event. I've taken my children there and really enjoyed it and it's a big thing for Royston.


"It's a great day out and it would be such a pity if it wasn't able to proceed."

Over the years, the Kite Festival has raised £100,000 for charities, including the Sick Children’s Trust, East Anglia Air Ambulance, Angels (which supports children with ADHD), Hertfordshire MIND Network and more.

John Torlesse, deputy director of the Natural England West Anglia Team, said: "Natural England supports the charitable and community aims of the kite festival and has been working with the Rotary Club to find solutions.

"Therfield Heath is a very special site, protected for its nature and featuring rare plant species.

"For the first time the Royston Kite Festival [Royston Rotary Club] has applied for permission to hold the event through the Planning Inspectorate.

"Natural England understands that the event would require mowing the chalk grassland multiple times, which would clearly cause harm to a rare habitat on this Site of Special Scientific Interest.

"We remain keen to have further discussion with the Rotary Club and believe collectively, we can find a pragmatic way forward."