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Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Bonfires can cause localised air pollution and annoy neighbours. Follow the bonfire guidelines to avoid causing nuisance to others, or contact your local council and find alternative ways to dispose of your waste.

Bonfires and the law

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, 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 health department.

The Environmental Protection UK leaflet 'Garden Bonfires' 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
  • your bonfire will also add to the general background level of air pollution
  • they cause detrimental health effects
  • bonfire smoke may cause problems for asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions and children
  • bonfires cause annoyance to neighbours
  • the smoke, soot, 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
  • any bonfire is a potential safety risk
  • 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

Other ways to dispose of garden waste

There are many other ways to get rid of your garden waste:

  • you can make compost from your garden waste - find out more from the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) who provide 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 as well as maintain soil moisture
  • you may be able to take it to a special composting area operated by your local council

Bonfire guidelines

If a bonfire is the best practicable option for disposing of garden waste, follow these guidelines from the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NCSA) to avoid causing 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
  • be considerate to your neighbours - if it is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbours gardens and across roads
  • avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high - check the weather forecast, or the air quality website

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