Dealing with bonfires

Domestic bonfires

Garden bonfires are often used to deal with excess garden waste. However, this is becoming less acceptable as a means of waste disposal.

Smoke and smells from garden bonfires trigger a large number of phone calls to Waverley's Environmental Health department. The details below are our responses to the most common questions and requests.

The law on bonfires

  • There are no specific laws against having a garden bonfire and no byelaws in Waverley to specify when a bonfire must be lit, but there is legislation to deal with the nuisance they can cause if not managed appropriately. Legislation also controls dark smoke emitted from trade bonfires. We receive lots of complaints about bonfire smoke and odour every year.
  • Sometimes a bonfire may be the most practical way to dispose of garden waste that cannot be composted, such as diseased plant material or tough wooden waste and if only garden waste is burnt, the occasional bonfire should not cause a major problem.
  • However, if you affect your neighbours with smoke and/or ash, we can investigate the matter to find out whether you are causing a statutory nuisance. A one-off bonfire is not normally a statutory nuisance, but if you have more regular bonfires that cause disturbance to your neighbours, we would consider enforcement action.
  • It is an offence to dispose of domestic waste in such a way that is likely to cause pollution or harm to human health. This would include the burning of plastics, rubber or painted and treated materials, which can generate poisonous fumes.
  • Trade bonfires (either at trade premises, or elsewhere if associated with a trade, e.g. on a building site) must not emit dark smoke. The burning of timber is allowed if arising out of demolition or site clearance.

Alternatives to having a garden bonfire

Because of the number of complaints we receive about bonfires we encourage householders to look at the alternatives wherever possible including:

Report a bonfire problem

If you are being disturbed by smoke, the best initial course of action is to approach your neighbour and explain the problem. This may be difficult but your neighbour may simply be unaware of the effects the bonfire is having.

If you see smoke from a fire that is allowed to drift across a road and is endangering traffic, you should contact the police.


Complete the online bonfire complaint form

How is a complaint handled?

  • An officer will investigate your complaint and will try to deal with the problem by visiting or sending a letter to notify your neighbour of the disturbance being caused. We will also ask you to keep a diary which will record dates and times of your neighbour's fires and how they are affecting you. This is crucial information as it will allow us to establish if the circumstances are serious enough to possibly be a statutory nuisance.
  • The officer will issue an abatement notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, if they consider a statutory nuisance is being caused.
  • To be considered a statutory nuisance, bonfires usually need to be a regular occurrence and causing serious interference with your wellbeing. If the bonfire is a one-off, or you are troubled by bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally, enforcement action would be difficult to pursue.
  • The abatement notice may mean your neighbour must stop having bonfires completely and if this is not complied with then they could face a fine.
  • The Environmental Protection Act 1990 also allows you to take your own private action in the magistrates' court. The Environmental Health department has further information on how to undertake such action if you choose to pursue this.

Page owner: Paul Shrimpton. Last updated: 26/07/2017 10:26

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