Both the Friends and the Richmond Park Wildlife Group are very concerned about open-air screenings of classic films to be held in the Park on August 31 and September 1 and 2.
The screenings will take place in the evening (from 6.30 pm onwards) on the field on the opposite side of the road from Roehampton Gate car park.
The Wildlife Group’s concern is that the event will cause damage to the Park’s wildlife, and in particular little owls, bats and moths/night-flying insects. The Friends’ concern is less about the event itself, which is relatively small (an audience of 800 per night although the initial figure was 1500), than the precedent it sets.
The Wildlife Group points out that the location of the event is one of the main foraging areas of the Park’s Little Owls and it will be at the time of evening when they come out from their roosts in the old trees to feed on the adjacent grassland. If the Little Owls are prevented from foraging for three consecutive nights, it could cause them considerable harm, particularly if they also experience a few days of bad weather before or after which further restricts their foraging. If they try to move to other areas, this could involve them in territorial disputes. In addition, Little Owls have a high first year mortality rate, and the event is scheduled for the period when the young are starting to become independent from their parents, which could render them particularly vulnerable.
For the bats, exceptional light and noise close to their flying corridors could cause them to become disorientated, and interfere with their nightly feeding. For moths and night-flying insects, the illuminated screen will act as a giant moth trap, exhausting moths and night-flying insects (of which we have many rare species), as they batter against it for several hours for three nights running.
It is impossible to establish the degree of harm to wildlife that the screenings will cause however closely we try to monitor the event. In these circumstances, the normal rule is to apply the Precautionary Principle. This places the burden of proof on the proposers of the event – TRP and Nomad Cinema – to produce evidence that it will do no significant harm. TRP have not done this, merely saying that it falls within “acceptable levels of disturbance”.
The Friends’ view is that the event does not fit in a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. It will create light and noise pollution, litter, food (that will attract vermin), damage to grassland, trees and streams, and disturbance to wildlife – all things that we and Park management try hard to educate visitors not to do and most of which are covered by Park regulations. We also fight to restrict developments outside the Park that will cause noise and light pollution.
More worrying is the precedent the screenings will set. As far as we know this is the first entertainment event to take place in the Park, apart from one-offs and those held in Pembroke Lodge or White Lodge. Since the event is small-scale, presumably it will only make a small amount of money. So, the obvious next step will be to expand to more screenings and then to concerts. If there are not the facilities to cope with larger events, there will be pressure to build the facilities and to expand the area of the Park used for the concerts.
Once started, it will be difficult to put a limit on the expansion. The Friends’ Trustees discussed this at length and decided the only proper course of action is to resist the events at the start. Read our Chairman’s Letter below for a dystopian vision of the future. If it seems far-fetched, remember that events in Hyde Park have grown from the occasional concert 15-20 years ago to 12-15 concerts a year now and Winter Wonderland (all of which are heavily light and noise polluting).
The next 12 years
A member of the Friends was recently treated to a trip on a time machine and sent me the following piece from the Surrey Comet, written in 2025.
“In retrospect, of course, the decline started in 2011. Looking back, we were all culpable but it was difficult to know when to say “that’s enough”:
2011: The marathon and film screenings are declared a great success by the participants (“a wonderful experience”) and TRP (“very useful contribution to our income in these difficult times”). A few thousand spectators watch the trial of the Olympics road cycling race through the Park.
2012: The marathon grows to 500 runners. Film screenings increase to 10 (“the Park is a great place for such events” said the Comet). On a hot day, 25,000 people watch the Olympics cycling race; the Olympics organisers call it “a resounding affirmation of the Olympic spirit”, but later apologise for the litter, barbecues, damage to veteran trees and mass swimming in Pen Ponds.
2014: 3 marathons are held, each of 1000 (“still manageable given the size of the Park” says TRP). After local pressure, TRP replaces the film screenings with 3 small classical concerts which are a sell-out (“such a lovely location for such lovely music”). Inspired by the Olympics, thousands of cyclists now race around the Park each summer week-end; there is frequent conflict with motorists and pedestrians. TRP make the roads cycling-only on Saturday and Sunday mornings, to widespread local protest.
2015: Four marathon runners are seriously injured when the crush along Pen Ponds causeway causes runners to fall down the steep bank. The media criticises the race for being unsafe. That winter the width of the causeway is doubled. The steep hill beyond the causeway is also unsafe when it rains, so a new wide gravel path is made across to Pembroke Lodge, cutting through Queen Elizabeth Plantation. 5000 runners take part in each of the next year’s 3 marathons.
2016: All three candidates for the Mayor of London elections promise to fund a purpose-built road cycling route around the Park. That winter, a second perimeter road is constructed alongside the existing one, with pedestrian bridges spanning it and the old road, now reserved for cars. Everyone – cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians- is happy.
2017: The plans for 10 classical concerts attract criticism from politicians for being elitist, so TRP also stage a small, rock concert featuring the local band the Roving Stones, then just starting on their rapid trajectory to stardom. The response is overwhelming, fans try to force their way into the concert, and fights break out. That winter the concert area and the nearby rugby field are combined by covering over Beverley Brook. A new car park is constructed and an area is tarmaced over for a refreshment and toilet “city”.
2019: There are 6 marathons a year, each of 7000 runners. Charities, under pressure to maximise their fund-raising, continue to press for more. The 6 rock concerts that summer attract 20,000 people each. Profits from the races and concerts now cover all the costs of running Richmond Park (“a remarkable achievement” says a government minister).
2020: The Park is re-named the Richmond Park Sports and Entertainment Arena, incorporating the Richmond Park Velodrome.
2021: A B-list celebrity running in the marathon is attacked by a deer protecting its young; other deer, being chased by two dogs, run at full tilt into a concert audience. The media are outraged and demand action. A new deer compound is created with a 10 foot high fence. It becomes the foundation of the Richmond Park Nature Zoo and Interpretation Centre, which soon attracts over half a million people a year (“amazing, you can see the deer so close”).
2023: In the new 20 storey Tesco superstore on Richmond Hill, two local women discuss a planned expansion of the Arena and decide to start a new conservation group: Save Richmond Park.