Smoke from burning can cause a Statutory Nuisance if not conducted responsibly and can ultimately result in court action and fines.
Bonfires can be a nuisance - the smoke, smuts and smells they cause can ruin residents' enjoyment of their property, preventing them from opening windows, hanging washing out and can prevent them enjoying being in their own garden.
Burning waste may produce the poisonous gas carbon monoxide as well as other toxic compounds. Many of these compounds can have damaging health effects, particularly in susceptible people - such as children, asthmatics, and those with heart and chest problems.
Even if the immediate health risk is small, your bonfire will add to the background level of air pollution. Weather conditions can make matters worse. If the air is still, particularly in the late afternoon or evening, smoke will linger in the air. On the other hand, if it is too windy, smoke may blow into neighbouring properties causing nuisance or across roads causing danger.
Don't forget that bonfires can be dangerous from a safety point of view - spreading fire to fences or buildings, scorching trees and plants. Piled rubbish for bonfires is often used as a refuge by animals - look out for hibernating hedgehogs and sleeping pets.
What you can do
Instead of having a bonfire, there are other, far less environmentally damaging methods of disposal:-
Composting - most garden and kitchen waste can be recycled into compost which will produce a useful soil conditioner, saving you money on commercial products. If you are unable to compost at home, you can take your garden waste to the Household Waste Recycling Centres throughout the district. In addition to being to deposit recyclable materials, residents can take other household waste, free of charge, for safe and responsible disposal.
Shredding - woody waste can be shredded to make it suitable for composting and mulching; you can buy or hire shredders, but remember, they can be noisy - do not replace one nuisance for another!
In order to avoid problems and possible legal action, it is recommended that you follow the checklist below:-
Only burn dry material.
Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint.
Never use old engine oil, methylated spirits or petrol to light a bonfire or to 'encourage it'.
Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening.
Avoid burning if the wind will take any smoke into neighbours gardens / houses and across roads.
Avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens.
Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smolder.
Bonfires can be dangerous. Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Exploding bottles and cans are a hazard when rubbish is burned.
The Fire and Rescue Service will deal with bonfires if there is a risk to the safety of people or buildings. For further information and advice you should contact your local fire and rescue service office.
To be considered a nuisance, the bonfire would have to be a regular problem and interfering substantially with your well-being, comfort or enjoyment of your property. If you are bothered by persistent bonfire smoke, you may wish to approach your neighbours: they may be genuinely unaware that their actions are affecting you.
However, you may feel unable to approach your neighbours, and you must consider your safety if you were to try this method. You should contact the Environmental Health Team and inform them of your concerns. In most cases letters are written to both parties and this is enough to resolve the problem.
Unfortunately, in some cases it does not end there and if the bonfires persist you should inform the officer dealing with your case. You should complete the monitoring form sent to you by the officer, to provide information to allow the officer to establish whether there is the occurrence of a nuisance.
They may wish to visit to assess whether the bonfire is a statutory nuisance. If it is, an abatement notice may be served on your neighbours under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the person then fails to comply with the notice, they may be prosecuted which upon conviction in a Magistrates Court gives rise to a maximum fine of £5000.
Smoke from bonfires may constitute a Statutory Nuisance, this can result in us serving an Abatement Notice. Contravention of such a notice could the person who owns the land or property where the fire is liable, on summary conviction, to the following fines:-
Industrial / Commercial Premises - Maximum Fine £20,000.
Domestic Premises - Maximum Fine £5,000 + £50 per Day.
It is also an offence to emit dark smoke from industrial / commercial premises. This need not be observed at the time of a visit but may be assumed from material evident on a bonfire site which has previously been burned. On summary conviction, person(s) responsible may be fined up to £20,000.
Emissions of dark smoke are exempted only if they result from the burning of matter covered by the Clean Air (Emission of Dark Smoke) Regulations 1969.
It is an offence to burn insulation from a cable with a view to recovering metal from the cable. This legislation applies to all premises and, on summary conviction, person(s) responsible may be fined up to £5000.