It is a common misconception that there are specific byelaws
that prohibit garden bonfires or specify times they can be lit -
there aren't. If only dry garden waste is burnt the occasional
bonfire should not cause a major problem.
However, where a neighbour is causing a problem by burning
rubbish, the law is on your side. 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". In practice, to be considered a statutory
nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem,
interfering substantially with your well being, comfort or
enjoyment of your property.
If the council considers a bonfire to be a nuisance, it can
issue an ‘abatement notice’. This notice may mean your neighbour
must stop having bonfires completely. If they do not stick to the
notice (‘comply’) they face a fine of up to £5000 and a further
£500 for each day they don't comply.
If a bonfire of industrial/commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is dealt with under the
Clean Air Act 1993.
Commercial Bonfire information
Danger to Traffic caused by smoke
Under the Highways Act 1980, anyone lighting a fire and allowing
smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic.
If this happens, call the police.
Emissions from bonfires can have damaging health effects. Serious
harm is unlikely if exposure to bonfire smoke is brief. However
problems may be caused 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 authorities. 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
If a bonfire is the best practicable option for disposing of garden
waste, follow these guidelines and the chances are you won't annoy
your neighbours or cause serious nuisance:
- Only burn dry material Never burn household rubbish, rubber
tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint Never use old
engine oil, meths or petrol to light the fire or encourage it.
- Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke
hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening. If it is
windy, smoke may be blown into neighbours gardens and across
- Avoid lightening a bonfire when your neighbours have washing
drying, or are out enjoying their gardens or have windows
- No not leave your fire to smoulder for long periods. Never
leave a fire unattended. Hose it down until cold before you leave
Barbeques can also cause a smoke problem - especially if you use
lighter fuel. If the weather is still and sunny, a barbeque will
contribute to photochemical smog (this is formed in the summer, by
the action of sunlight on pollutants). Barbeques contribute to air
pollution on still sunny days. Again, be considerate. If you are
having a barbeque, tell your neighbours. Don't ignite it when
they've got their washing out, and if its windy check that smoke
won't blow straight into neighbouring properties. Find out
more about reducing the impact of your barbeque from Recycle Now