Bonfires can cause nuisance to neighbours from smoke, smuts and smells. Mid Devon District Council’s Public Health & Regulatory Services will investigate bonfire complaints and can take legal action where appropriate.
- Bonfire smoke contains potentially harmful gases and microscopic particles which can cause damaging health effects. The people most susceptible to these effects are the young, the elderly and those with existing heart and respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
- Bonfire smoke and/or strong odours will aggravate any health conditions for anyone suffering from or getting over the effects of Covid-19.
- Smoke prevents your neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads
- There are no laws prohibiting bonfires altogether, or specifying times when you can burn, but there are laws which might apply if the smoke causes a nuisance.
Smoke drifting across a public highway where it could endanger traffic should be reported to the police.
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.
How do I have a bonfire without causing a nuisance?
To reduce the likelihood of causing a nuisance, if you must have a bonfire you should consider and take the following action:
- Cut up woody garden waste and store it somewhere safe to dry out for the next few months.
- Never burn garden waste that is still green or recently cut, and never burn any other household waste
- Consider how often you have a bonfire
- Inform your neighbours before you have the bonfire
- Consider the weather. Ideally no wind or a light breeze, blowing away from nearby houses.
- Burn only during the day
- Locate the bonfire as far away from neighbours as possible
- Have a small fire – it must be controllable and hot enough to burn with minimal smoke
- Monitor changes in the wind/smoke direction
- 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.
What's wrong with a good old fashioned bonfire?
Bonfires may be fun but they are environmentally unfriendly, cause pollution and local nuisance:
- Smoke can upset neighbours, stop people enjoying their garden, opening windows or hanging out washing
- Dense smoke can affect roads causing a hazard to drivers
- You could be prosecuted
Bonfires also cause pollution, particularly if the waste is wet and smouldering instead of dry and blazing:
- Poisonous carbon monoxide
- Other noxious or irritating materials
- Adding plastics will create other poisonous chemicals as well as causing unpleasant smells
Release of these toxins can damage the health of children, asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers and people with heart problems.
What are the alternatives?
Most kitchen and garden waste can be recycled into compost. A traditional compost heap or more effectively, a modern compost bin, will produce a valuable soil conditioner, saving money on commercial products. For further information about composting at home, please see RecycleDevon.org - In the Garden.
Wood waste can be shredded for composting or used as a mulch. Shredders can be bought or hired quite cheaply. Take care though, for safety's sake you must follow the manufacturers instructions when using them. They can also be noisy - don't replace one nuisance with another!
Household waste should not be burnt on a bonfire.
We can help dispose of bulky household items that are too large for your regular waste collection. We can collect most freestanding furniture or electrical appliances. There is a charge for the service, please see our Request bulky waste pick-up webpage for further information.
You can also dispose of household items and garden waste at the Civic Amenities Sites at Ashley, Tiverton and Punchbowl, Crediton, see Find a recycling centre.
Alternatively, check the Yellow Pages telephone directory to contact a local skip hire company.
What can I do about a smoky bonfire?
If you are being plagued by persistent bonfire smoke, you can take the following action:
- Approach your neighbour and explain the problem. This usually resolves the situation as most people will be more considerate in the future.
- If the problem continues, download our Bonfire and Smoke Nuisance Diary to keep a note of the dates and times of the bonfires and Contact Environmental Health. We will follow up your complaint confidentially, although you may be required to give evidence if we prosecute. The initial approach will usually be an informal letter, advising alternative methods for the disposal of waste and explaining the health and social problems caused by bonfires. If this is not successful and the bonfires continue, the investigating officer will decide if the fires are causing a statutory nuisance. If so, they will take further action in line with the Environmental Protection Act 1990
- You can also take private action in a Magistrates Court under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Contact the Clerk of the Magistrates' Court directly for details about how to proceed, see Exeter Magistrates' Court - North and East Devon.
- Contact the Police if smoke from a bonfire near a road is causing a traffic hazard.
Nobody can stop me having a bonfire?
This is not strictly true. Although there are no bye-laws prohibiting bonfires or regulating times when they can be lit, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Highways (Amendment) Act 1986 apply nationally and can be used to control problems from bonfires.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 constitutes the main legislation for addressing statutory nuisances. The occasional, well-controlled bonfire would not be considered as a statutory nuisance, however, frequent smoky fires that interfere substantially with people's well-being, comfort or enjoyment of their property would be. We can serve an abatement notice against bonfires that cause a statutory nuisance and can pursue this through the Magistrates' Court if necessary. Members of the public can use the same law to take private action if they wish.
The Police are responsible for dealing with bonfires that pose a hazard to traffic.
Bonfires from trade or industrial premises are dealt with differently, please see our web page on Clean Air Act 1993.For further information please Contact Environmental Health.