It is a common misconception that there are specific byelaws that prohibit garden bonfires or specify times they can be lit - there aren’t. Very occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of garden waste that cannot be composted - such as diseased plant material or tough woody waste. If only dry garden waste is burnt the occasional bonfire should not cause a major problem.
What can be the problems?
Burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering. This will contain pollutants including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles. Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials not only creates an unpleasant smell but also produces a range of poisonous compounds.
Risk to health
Although serious harm is unlikely if exposure to bonfire smoke is brief, bonfire smoke inhalation can cause problems for some people. It can particularly affect those with existing health problems, such as
- Asthma sufferers
- Bronchitis sufferers
- People with heart conditions
You should take care when burning waste because:
- Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants
- Rubbish may contain bottles or cans that can explode when burnt
- Piles of garden waste are often used as a refuge by hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets
Respect your neighbours
The smoke, smuts, and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints to local authorities. Smoke prevents your neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads. Allotments near homes can cause particular problems if plot holders persistently burn waste.
Where a neighbour is causing a problem by burning rubbish, the law is on your side. Under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, a statutory nuisance includes “smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance”. In practice, to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem, interfering substantially with your well-being, comfort or enjoyment of your property.
Conditions that may give rise to a statutory nuisance could be:
- Smoke entering people’s houses.
- Smoke blowing across gardens and preventing normal use of the garden.
- Smoke affecting peoples’ washing.
- Hot ash and cinders landing on properties.
- An occasional bonfire (unless it burns causing smoke nuisance to you for a long time or gave rise to particularly noxious emissions) would not be considered a nuisance.
- If a bonfire of industrial/commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is an offence under the Clean Air Act 1993.
It is an offence for factories and trade premises to emit dark smoke from their chimneys under the Clean Air Act 1993 except when it is unavoidable (e.g. on lighting up). Current technology should allow efficient combustion, free of dark smoke at all times. Dark smoke emissions from open burning (bonfires) on industrial or trade premises (including demolition sites) or agricultural land is also prohibited, except in very limited circumstances. “Dark” smoke is a shade of grey defined by law.
If your neighbours are having a bonfire and you are bothered by smoke, approach them and explain the problem. You might feel awkward, but they may not be aware of the distress they are causing. Hopefully, they will understand and be more considerate in the future. If talking to your neighbours fails, contact your local council’s environmental health department. They must investigate your complaint and can issue a nuisance abatement notice under the Environmental Protection Act.
Do you wish to report a bonfire problem?
Telephone: 01352 703330
Write to us:
Flintshire County Council,
Phase IV, County Hall,
How can I have a bonfire without causing a nuisance?
- If you must have a bonfire be considerate towards your neighbours.
- Only burn dry material.
- Never leave a fire unattended.
- Never use petrol, paraffin, diesel, lighter fluid or old oil to encourage the fire.
- Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint.
- Avoid having a bonfire at weekends or bank holidays.
- Warn people nearby that could be affected.
- Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions. Smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening. If it is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbours’ gardens and across roads.Also, avoid hot days when your neighbours are more likely to be enjoying their garden.
- Avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high. This information is included in weather forecasts, or you can check by ringing 0800 556677, or athttp://www.airquality.co.uk
Remember that bonfire and barbecue parties can cause noise as well as smoke.
Alternative ways to dispose of garden waste
There are many ways to get rid of your garden waste without making a bonfire. For example, most garden waste can be recycled by composting, including. This includes grass cuttings, pruning and hedge trimmings, leaves and vegetable waste from your kitchen.
Your local council may help you get a compost bin or offer a green waste collection service. By composting, instead of sending green waste to landfill sites, you can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
North Wales Fire and Rescue Service
North Wales Fire and Rescue Service emphasises how important it is to 'call us before you burn!' - and encourages landowners to take on board some basic safety procedures and notify the fire and rescue service before they conduct their burn. The Heather and Grass Burning Code states that burning is allowed only between the 1st of October and the 31st of March in upland areas and the 1st of November and the 15th of March elsewhere: Wales.goc.uk/environmentcountryside
Many farmers take the opportunity to undertake controlled burning of heather, grass bracken and gorse on their land and should not continue this the practice beyond the burning season. Stuart Millington, Senior Fire Safety Manager, says: "Every year we are called to countless false alarms and controlled burns which have spread. "We are urging all landowners undertaking controlled burning to notify us by calling our control room on 01931 522 006. This will help avoid false alarms and crews being sent out unnecessarily as well as ensuring we are ready to respond in the event of a burn getting out of control. "When the weather is dry it is easy for fires to spread. These fires are often in areas where access is extremely difficult and water supply is limited - should the fire get out of control, this can place tremendous pressure on resources, with firefighters tied up for a considerable length of time trying to bring them under control. These fires can put homes, livestock and the lives of crews and residents at risk as firefighters are kept from attending genuine emergencies.
Please follow the guidelines below if you are planning a controlled burn:
- Ensure you have sufficient people and equipment to control the fire
- Check wind direction and ensure there is no risk to property, roads and wildlifeIf a fire gets out of control contact the fire service immediately giving details of location and access
- It is illegal to leave a fire unattended or to have too few people to control it
- Always ensure a fire is completely out before you leave it and check next day to ensure it has not reignited.