Bonfires and smoke
Burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp or the material being burnt is green. The smoke, smuts and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints. Smoke from garden bonfires can prevent neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out.
Garden bonfires and the Law
It is an urban myth that there are specific byelaws to control or prevent bonfires; common misconceptions relating to this are that bonfires are only permitted at certain times or on specific days or that they are prohibited altogether. This is not the case and such controls do not exist.
An outright ban would be difficult to enforce and occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to deal with some garden wastes. However, the law does not permit anyone to create a nuisance by emitting either smoke or fumes from such a fire.
In practice for such emissions to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem which interfered substantially with someone's well-being, comfort or enjoyment of their property. If a fire is only an occasional event it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law and similarly if bonfires are being lit by different neighbours, each burning occasionally it would be difficult to support an action for nuisance.
Under the Highways Act 1980 anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. This legislation is enforced by the police.
What can we do?
If complaints about nuisance from bonfires are received, the complainant is given advice about the law relating to bonfires. We will investigate complaints and this may include asking the complainant to keep a record of when the fires are being held. If appropriate the alleged offender will be approached and given advice on the provisions of the law. If this does not resolve the problem, enforcement action may be taken.
Please also consult our Garden bonfire leaflet [PDF 41KB]
Industrial and commercial bonfires
Dark smoke emissions from bonfires on industrial or trade premises are prohibited, except in a few limited special circumstances. 'Dark' smoke is a specific shade of grey defined in Clean Air legislation. It is also a specific offence to remove the insulation from wire and cable by burning it.
Please also consult our Commercial bonfire leaflet [PDF 37KB]