This information provides advice on how to avoid nuisance caused by smoke from bonfires. Such smoke can be very irritating and cause distress to those who are exposed to it.

Under the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, smoke caused by bonfires may be a statutory nuisance and the City Council has powers to take action against those who create a statutory nuisance or allow it to happen. Private individuals are also able to take their own action by complaint to a Magistrates Court.

Case law has established that the concept of nuisance considers "reasonable expectation". So in general terms the occasional small garden bonfire burning dry wood/plant material may be acceptable, whilst burning of other household materials such as painted wood, plastics, furniture, mattresses etc would not.

Bonfires which are on land near to roads and causing an inconvenience or a danger to passers-by, can also be an offence under the Highways Act 1980.

It is often believed that there are "bonfire bylaws" controlling hours when you can light bonfires; this is not the case.

What you should do?
If you have a complaint, it is best to discuss it initially with the person responsible; they may not realise they are causing a problem. Try to be reasonable, otherwise your discussions are likely to end in further argument. Explain the details of your complaint and try to agree on a reasonable solution or compromise.

If the situation does not improve, then contact the Environmental Protection Team on 01962 848 350. You will be required to confirm your complaint either in writing or by the completion of log sheets. If the log sheets indicate that a statutory nuisance exists, the person responsible for the bonfires will be contacted and advised that an offence may be taking place. A copy of the logsheet is available for downloading on this page, although you are advised to discuss the problem with us first.

If the bonfires persist, and evidence suggests that the bonfires are causing a statutory nuisance, a legal notice may be served. If found guilty of further offences by the Magistrates Court, a fine of up to £5000 may be imposed.

Bonfire Guidelines
If you have garden waste to dispose of, try and compost as much as possible. Consider using a shredding machine, which can reduce hardwood materials into mulch for use on your garden. The remainder can be taken to one of the household waste recycling centres. If you must light a bonfire, ensure that the material to be burnt is dry. This will minimise the amount of smoke produced.

  • Do not light a fire when the weather conditions might cause the smoke to travel into your neighbours garden or property.
  • Remember that smoke will hang in the air on a damp, windless day and in the evening around sunset.
  • Position any bonfire as far away from buildings as possible. Do not light a fire if the wind will carry the smoke over roads.
  • Never leave a fire to smoulder - put it out with water or soil.
  • Remember, heaps of garden refuse provide a haven for small animals such as hedgehogs. Check before you light.
  • Take care to keep children away from a bonfire. Supervise burning as much as possible.
  • Burn only dry plant/wood waste. Avoid burning any wood that is treated/painted or any other household waste.

What hours can I have a Bonfire?
It is a common misconception that there are "bonfire bylaws" that control the hours you are allowed to have domestic bonfires. There are no such rules and instead we assess whether the bonfires are causing a statutory nuisance (Environmental Protection Act 1990). This has to be judged on a case by case basis and essentially we consider whether the impacts are reasonable with reference to:

  • Duration,
  • Severity,
  • Frequency,
  • Common Convention (e.g. occasional garden bonfires are often considered reasonable, whilst burning plastics, domestic refuse is not).