Bonfires & The Law


It is a common misconception that there are specific byelaws prohibiting garden bonfires or specifying times they can be lit –there aren't. However, this is not a licence for indiscriminate burning! Occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of woody or diseased waste that cannot be composted. Bonfires are also used to mark traditional celebrations – especially November 5th.

When and where can I have a bonfire? 

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended) it is an offence for people to dispose of their 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.

Most bonfire problems are addressed under nuisance legislation. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a statutory nuisance includes "smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance." In practice a fire would have to be a recurrent persistent problem, interfering substantially with neighbours' well-being, comfort or enjoyment of their property.

If a bonfire of industrial or commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993 – this includes the burning of such material in your garden! Under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is illegal to dispose of waste that is not from your property – for example from your workplace or from a neighbour. For example, small tradesmen must not burn waste from site at home.