Bonfires & smoke nuisance

For domestic properties, there are no laws which prohibit having a bonfire. Someone can light a bonfire at any time as often as they like. However, if it causes a statutory nuisance,  the council can do something about it. For a bonfire to be classed as such a nuisance, the smoke will have to be substantially affecting you  in your home and/or garden.  It will also likely need to be happening on a regular basis not just a one off or a few times throughout the year.

There are laws relating to burning trade waste on industrial or commercial premises.  If these bonfires emit dark smoke, then an offence is committed and the council or Environment Agency can take action which could include prosecuting the offender. Please see the sub heading dark smoke offences for further information.

Tips to prevent a smoke nuisance

  • Ask yourself do I really need a bonfire, could you take the material to the local recycling centre or compost the material?
  • Before having a bonfire, let your neighbours know. This gives them an opportunity to shut their windows and bring any washing indoors and can significantly reduce the chance of a complaint.
  • Avoid having a bonfire when the wind is blowing onto neighbouring properties.
  • Site the bonfire away from the houses.
  • smoke which blows across a highway is an immediate offence.
  • Avoid burning when the air is still and damp in the air or in the evenings when smoke tends to hangs on the air.
  • Never use petrol, methylated spirits or similar to light the fire.
  • Ensure that plastics, painted materials, plywood and chipboard are not burned as they give off poisonous chemicals, some of which can cause cancer.
  • Try to burn only dry material which burn very quickly resulting in minimum smoke generation.

Dark Smoke Offences

  • If a bonfire held on commercial or industrial premises gives rise to dark smoke an offence is committed.
  • The occupier of the land and the person who caused or permitted the smoke can be taken to court and may be fined.
  • To take a prosecution for dark smoke it must be confirmed that the smoke met the legal definition of dark smoke. This requires observations of the smoke and burnt material to be undertaken by a trained officer.
  • Dark smoke offences do not apply to domestic premises "except where trade or industrial waste is burnt on domestic premises".

For general information and advice on statutory nuisance please visit our statutory nuisance homepage. The page provides background information on what the requirements are for something to be a statutory nuisance, information on how we investigate and what information and commitment we would require from our complainants.

See also

Better bonfires