Smoke nuisance

It is not an offence to light a garden bonfire. It is however an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to cause a statutory smoke nuisance.

A statutory nuisance happens when smoke causes unreasonable interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of their property. Smoke nuisance can occur at any time of the day or night.

Tips for dealing with garden waste

It’s much better for your neighbours and the environment to compost garden waste instead of burning it.

  • Sign up for garden waste collections
  • Leave your lawn for longer before you mow it
  • Let the grass grow to create a mini meadow – it’s great for wildlife
  • Make a mulch with your grass clippings
  • Make compost at home and give yourself a free supply of nutrient-rich soil
  • Spread out grass cuttings to dry for a few days before putting in your green bin – this avoids making the bin heavy and reduces any smells from rotting.
  • If you are cutting back trees and bushes, use the branches as supports for other plants later in the year.


  • Warn your neighbours – they are much less likely to complain
  • Light the bonfire at a time least likely to affect your neighbours e.g. not on a warm day when people will be in their garden.
  • Only burn dry material. Burning damp material causes more smoke.
  • Avoid lighting a bonfire when air pollution in your area is high – check the weather forecast, or the National Air Quality website

The law

There aren’t specific laws against having a bonfire or when you can have one – but there are Acts that deal with the nuisance they can cause.


Here is a list of what you can or can’t burn:

  • Only burn dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish, tyres, or anything containing plastic, rubber, foam or paint
  • Never use old engine oil, meths or petrol to light the fire or to encourage it
  • Avoid having a bonfire 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
  • Avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high. You will find this out in weather forecasts, by viewing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (DEFRA) air forecasts website or by calling on 0800 556677
  • Never leave the fire unattended or leave it to smoulder – put water on it, if necessary

Danger to traffic

Under the Highways Act 1980, anyone who lights a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic.  If this happens please call the police.


A bonfire may be the only way of disposing of garden waste  that shouldn’t be composted,  like diseased wood but the smoke  and smell created by a bonfire  can annoy your neighbours.

Report it

If you are bothered by smoke you can approach your neighbour and explain the problem. You might feel awkward, but they may not be aware of the distress they are causing and it will hopefully make them more considerate in the future.

If you find it difficult to approach your neighbour and for advice: