Bonfires can cause localised air pollution and annoy neighbours. There are no specific laws governing the use of bonfires, but there are laws covering their impact on others and the environment. Pollution from bonfires can fall within the definition of statutory nuisance.
For more information, see our section on.
Bonfires cause environmental difficulties for the following reasons:
There are many other ways to get rid of your garden waste:
If you decide 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:
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. They must investigate your complaint and can issue a nuisance abatement notice. You can also take private action in the magistrates' court.
If the fire is only occasional, it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law. Similarly, if you are being troubled by bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance action would be difficult as there are several offenders.
In England and Wales, bonfires can fall within the definition of a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990 if they are a persistent problem, interfering substantially with your well-being, comfort or enjoyment of your property. For a discussion of the law relating to statutory nuisance, see oursection.
If a bonfire of industrial/commercial waste is emitting black smoke, it is dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993 in England & Wales and the Clean Air (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 (as amended) in Northern Ireland; this includes the burning of such material in your garden.
In addition, under the Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 and the Waste Management (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2006, it is an offence to dispose of domestic waste in a way likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health. In practice, you should not burn waste that is likely to create excessive smoke or noxious fumes. If only dry garden waste is burnt, your bonfire should not cause a problem.
Finally, in England and Wales, 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.
Some nuisance problems only happen occasionally, and it may not always be possible for an environmental health officer to witness it. Some local authorities may find it difficult to deal with nuisance problems as fully as they might like, because of staff shortages. If for any reason they do not feel able to take action, you can take action yourself through the magistrates' court under Section 82 of the EPA or Article 39 of the Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order 1978. This is dealt with in oursection.
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. Avoid the temptation to use volatile fuels for lighting them.
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 it's windy, check that smoke won't blow straight into neighbouring properties.... and keep the noise down!