Laws and rules surrounding bonfires

Bonfires can cause a nuisance to neighbours, the emissions also contain substances (black carbon) that have a positive climate forcing potential and therefore lead to global warming; they also contain harmful compounds that impact human health. Person’s with pre-existing medical conditions like asthma or COPD are particularly prone to these emissions. For this reason, there are normally always more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of garden waste.

Some alternatives to having a bonfire

  • composting of garden waste is both sensible and useful. A compost bin will produce a useful soil conditioner which will then save money on commercial products. More information on composting is available from gardening organisations
  • the Somerset Waste Partnership operate a garden waste collection service that residents can subscribe to for a fee. For more information on this go to our garden waste collections page
  • there are 14 recycling centres in the Somerset area where garden waste can be disposed of free of charge. For more information on their location, opening times and the types of materials that are accepted go to the Somerset Waste Partnership recycling centres page

Best practice guidelines to follow when lighting a bonfire

If you do decide that a bonfire is absolutely necessary, please consider the following key advice:

  • only burn dry garden waste
  • never burn household refuse, plastics, rubber, painted materials, anything wet or commercial waste
  • warn your neighbours well in advance before lighting a bonfire and try to negotiate a time that would be most suitable. Well informed neighbours are much less likely to complain
  • ensure that smoke does not cause a nuisance or inconvenience to neighbours. Check the wind direction before lighting the fire. Smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days
  • keep your fire away from trees, fences and buildings. Have a hosepipe or buckets of water handy just in case it gets out of control
  • burn material quickly in small quantities so that a minimum amount of smoke is created
  • never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to light a fire – you could harm yourself as well as the environment
  • never leave your fire to smoulder for long periods or leave it unattended. Hose it down until the bonfire is 'cold' before you leave it

Bonfires which smoulder away and smoke for long periods, especially when wind and weather conditions are unfavourable, are those most likely to give rise to complaints from neighbours.

Where and when to have a bonfire

There are no Byelaws relating to set times when bonfires can be lit. However, you should avoid having bonfires in the evening or at night when you will not be able to watch them safely or see where the smoke is drifting.

You should not burn waste that is likely to create excessive smoke or noxious fumes.

Most bonfire problems are dealt with under nuisance legislation. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that a statutory nuisance can be 'smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.' We can serve an Abatement Notice on the person responsible if there is evidence that the smoke is bad enough to be causing a nuisance. If the nuisance continues legal action could be taken, including prosecution in court.

Dark smoke emitted from 'bonfires' on commercial premises (including construction and demolition sites) is prohibited under the Clean Air Act 1993, with a penalty of up to £20,000. It is also illegal to dispose of waste that is not from your property, for example, tradesmen must not burn waste from site at home.

Smoke from barbecues

Barbecues can also cause smoke and odour problems especially if lighter fuel is used. Again, be considerate.

Warn your neighbours, and don't light up if they have washing out. If it is windy make sure smoke won't blow directly into neighbouring properties - and keep the noise down.

What to do if you're affected by smoke from a bonfire or barbecue

In many cases the person(s) causing the smoke nuisance may not even be aware of the disturbance that they may be causing. In the first instance, we recommend discussing the problem with them if you feel it is appropriate and safe to do so and try to come to a common understanding.

You can make a formal complaint to us. On making a complaint the team will need your contact details, details of the source of the problem and any other relevant information you may have. We will contact the person having the bonfires, giving advice on how to avoid having bonfires and, if they do have one, ensure that the smoke does not cause a nuisance to neighbours. If this does not resolve the problem we would ask you to keep a record of when the smoke is affecting you as this will provide evidence if further action is needed.

During an investigation your details cannot be revealed without your permission under the Data Protection Act. However, if the case reaches the stage of going to Court and a statement is required from you to support any action taken by the Council your details can no longer be kept confidential.