There is no law against having bonfires, though it is an offence for the smoke, or the smell of the smoke, to cause a nuisance. Smoke from garden bonfires in a residential area can seriously affect the residential amenity and enjoyment of other premises. It can also contribute to local air pollution levels and, in some locations, reduce visibility on nearby roads.

If materials are dry and burn quickly creating little smoke, then there is usually little problem, providing the smoke does not blow directly towards occupied premises. Damp vegetation, however, does not burn well as it produces large volumes of smoke and smoulders for long periods of time. The burning of this type of waste causes most complaints and so it should be disposed of in other ways.

Our policy on bonfires is to seek the co-operation of residents in avoiding nuisance from bonfires by asking that garden waste and other material is composted or recycled. If there is no alternative to having a bonfire then the burning should be carried out when the weather conditions are suitable.

Bonfire Guidelines

A bonfire can be a convenient way of getting rid of a large amount of waste, or perhaps you want a bonfire just for fun - on Guy Fawkes night for instance. If a bonfire is the most practicable and environmentally friendly way to dispose of dry garden waste (for example, diseased plant material that cannot be composted) warn your neighbours - they are much less likely to complain. Remember that bonfire and barbecue parties can cause noise as well as smoke.

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, methylated spirits 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 roads.
  • Avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high. This information is included in weather forecasts or on the UK Air Quality Archive website.

Reporting Problems

It's always a good idea to try and resolve problems informally, by just politely letting your neighbour know if a bonfire has been causing a nuisance.

Your Local Authority only has a duty to act and take enforcement action where it can be shown that a statutory nuisance exists.A single bonfire is unlikely to be a nuisance even though it may cause annoyance to one or more neighbours. In order to be a nuisance, there has to be evidence about the frequency of the bonfires, their duration, the locality and how the bonfire directly affects the complainant's enjoyment of their land.

You can report an air pollution problem to us using our online form

What action we will take

We will inform the person responsible for the bonfire that a complaint has been made and provide advice on how to avoid further problems, and the complainant will be asked to submit a diary of bonfire events should the problem persist.

If we receive evidence that the reported problems constitute a statutory nuisance, we will serve an abatement notice on those responsible. An abatement notice requires that any nuisance must be prohibited, and must not take place in future.

Failure to comply with an abatement notice is a criminal offence and can result in a prosecution via a Magistrates' Court, with a fine of up to £5,000 imposed on those responsible. 

Taking your own action about a smoke nuisance

Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows a person aggrieved by a "statutory nuisance" (including a smoke nuisance) to take their own legal action. There are 4 aspects to the procedure:

  • Collecting the evidence and compiling a written record of "events".
  • Give the person responsible for the bonfire at least 21 day's notice in writing of your intention to make a complaint to the Court.
  • Make a complaint at the Magistrates' Court.
  • Court hearing.