Environmental Protection Services
Bonfires and the law
Bonfires can cause localised air pollution and annoy neighbours. Follow the bonfire guidelines to reduce nuisance to others.
There are no specific laws governing the use of bonfires although under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, a statutory nuisance includes "smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance".
If bothered by smoke from a bonfire, approach your neighbour and explain the problem. You might feel awkward, but they may not be aware of the distress they are causing and it will hopefully make them more considerate in the future. If this fails, contact your local Council's Environmental Services Team. They will investigate to see if the bonfire amounts to a statutory nuisance.
The National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NSCA) factsheet 'Pollution, Nuisance and the Law' explains the situation in more detail. If the fire is only occasional it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law.
Under the Highways Act 1980, anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. Contact the police in this case.
What's wrong with bonfires? They add to air pollution:
- burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering
- burning plastic, rubber or painted materials not only creates an unpleasant smell but also produces a range of poisonous compounds, which contravenes the Clean Air Act 1997
- your bonfire will also add to the general background level of air pollution
- bonfire smoke may cause problems for asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions and children
- the smoke, smuts, and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints to local Councils
- smoke prevents your neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads
- allotments near homes can cause particular problems if plot holders persistently burn waste
- fire can spread to fences or buildings and cans are a hazard when rubbish is burned
- piles of garden waste are often used as a refuge by animals, so look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets.
Leaflets to download
Other ways to dispose of garden waste Try these other ways to get rid of your garden waste:
- make compost from your garden waste - find out more from the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) who have tips on how to make compost
- your local Council may run composting schemes such as the supply of reduced cost compost bins
- your local Council may collect garden waste for a small charge
- use a shredder to reduce small branches and twigs to chippings which you can spread on the garden as a mulch to reduce weeds and maintain soil moisture
- you may be able to take it to a special composting area operated by your local Council