Garden bonfires have been a traditional way of disposing of garden rubbish but they often cause a nuisance to neighbours from smoke, smell or dirt. They also contribute to air pollution. As a means of disposal, bonfires are becoming less and less acceptable.
The problems caused by garden bonfires
- Bonfires can be very annoying to neighbours - usually from smoke or smell. This can stop them from enjoying their garden, prevent them from opening their windows, or hanging out washing. This is especially a problem if your neighbour or their children are asthmatic or have a chest condition.
- Bonfires cause air pollution. They can produce irritating and even poisonous compounds that contribute to poor air quality, which everyone nearby then has to breathe in.
- Bonfire smoke can also cause a hazard to road users by reducing visibility.
- Bonfires can cause a fire hazard if they are close to trees or fences and especially if left unattended.
There are no specific laws that prohibit garden bonfires, nor any that restricts them to certain hours of the day, days of the week or number per year.
If, however, a garden bonfire causes what is called a "statutory nuisance", the council can serve a legal notice on the person responsible requiring them to stop causing the nuisance. Failure to do so is then an offence for which they can be prosecuted. Under the same legislation any person affected by a bonfire can also lodge a complaint at the Magistrates Court alleging nuisance, which will then be dealt with by the court. If it is found that a nuisance did exist the person responsible can be fined by the court. Further details are available on our Pollution control - nuisance webpage.
Guidelines to follow if you have a bonfire
If after having carefully considered the alternatives you still decide to have a bonfire, there are some guidelines that will help to ensure that you don't cause a nuisance:
- Be courteous and speak to your neighbours first. Neighbours who are aware that you are going to have a bonfire for a specified time are generally far less likely to complain.
- Only burn dry material.
- Never burn household rubbish or anything with plastic, foam, paint, or rubber in it.
- Never use old engine oil, methylated spirits, or petrol to light or encourage a fire. Not only does this make smoke, it is also very dangerous.
- Avoid lighting fires in unsuitable weather conditions such as damp, still days.
- Avoid times when the wind will blow smoke over roads or into neighbouring gardens.
- Avoid burning when people want to enjoy their gardens such as weekends or bank holidays.
- Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder.
- Bear in mind the law of statutory nuisance mentioned above; regular smoky bonfires - or even a single one that is very polluting - could be regarded as a statutory nuisance and result in a legal notice being served on you by the council.
Alternatives way of disposing of rubbish
We would encourage all resident not to light bonfires in their garden. Instead there are other alternatives for disposing of your rubbish:
- Take it to the tip
- Compost your garden and kitchen waste
If I still need to have a bonfire what should I do?
If you have considered the alternatives above and still need a garden bonfire you should first make sure that: -
- You have spoken with your neighbours first.
- Your neighbours have not got washing on the washing line.
- It is not a windy day.
- You do not choose a day when your neighbours will be enjoying their gardens or have windows open.
- All the material is dry and will burn quickly.
- You do so very rarely.
My neighbour is constantly having bonfires what should I do?
Speak to him/her quietly and reasonably. If that doesn't work report the issue to Environmental Health.
Our preferred method for reporting an issue is to complete our online form
Alternatively you can:
- Call Environmental Health on 01443 866544
It will help if you kept a log of when your neighbour is burning the rubbish but please ensure that it is always the same neighbour.