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Posted On: 07-05-2020
Posted In: Environment

Stock image of a bonfire by Pexels from PixabayAlthough there are no by-laws in Mid Devon prohibiting bonfires or regulating times when they can be lit, the Council’s Public Health & Regulatory Services team will, in line with legislation, investigate and take legal action where smoke causes a nuisance.

The smoke and smell from bonfires can often prevent other residents from enjoying their gardens, opening windows, and hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on the roads.

Furthermore, the gases given off contain microscopic particles, which are potentially harmful and can have damaging health effects. Those most susceptible are the young, elderly and those with existing heart and respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, not to mention anyone recovering from COVID-19.

When investigating nuisance bonfires that are affecting people’s lives, the Public Health & Regulatory Services team can invoke a range of legislative powers to include Abatement Notices, Civil Injunctions or Community Protection Notices.

If you absolutely must have a bonfire, to reduce the likelihood of causing a nuisance, you should consider the following action:

  1. Cut up woody garden waste and store it somewhere safe to dry out for the next few months before burning it.
  2. Never burn garden waste that is still green or recently cut, and never burn any other household waste.
  3. Consider how often you have a bonfire.
  4. Inform your neighbours before you have the bonfire.
  5. Consider the weather – ideally no wind or a light breeze, blowing away from nearby houses.
  6. Burn only during the day.
  7. Locate the bonfire as far away from neighbours as possible.
  8. Have a small fire – it must be controllable and hot enough to burn with minimal smoke.
  9. Monitor changes in the wind/smoke direction.
  10. Only burn suitable materials, i.e. materials must be dry. This will burn quickly and give off minimal smoke and smell. Examples of such materials include: dry garden waste, clean wood, paper or card.

Group Manager for Public Health and Regulatory Services, Simon Newcombe, said:

“In the current circumstances with the tips being closed, it’s tempting to have a bonfire to dispose of garden waste and other items, but we urge residents to think about the impact this will have on their neighbours and their health at this difficult time. We’re all in this together and need to look after ourselves and our neighbours. We will however take action against anyone who persistently has bonfires without any thought for the community”.

To find out more about bonfires, or what you can do if you are being plagued by persistent bonfire smoke, visit the Council’s Bonfires and smoke nuisance webpage.


The highway

Smoke drifting across a public highway where it could endanger traffic should be reported to the police.

Domestic premises

The Council has the power to take action where smoke from bonfires is causing a statutory nuisance to neighbouring properties. You could receive a fine of up to £5,000.

Business or trade

The burning of commercial or agricultural waste, is regulated by the Environment Agency.

Bonfires from business or trade premises can also be dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993 which makes it an offence to produce dark smoke from a bonfire. Offenders can be prosecuted by the Council. Officers do not need to witness dark smoke for this offence – it is enough for Officers to find evidence that materials likely to cause dark smoke have been burnt.