There is no law in the UK that specifically bans bonfires in gardens, even in smoke-free zones. But there are laws against causing a public or statutory nuisance, and some restrictions that landscapers should be aware of being lighting a bonfire.
If smoke makes its way on to a public highway, it can be classified as a criminal offence in some circumstances and leads to fines. Regularly burning material on private property could also be a nuisance in the eyes of the council, if it causes problems for neighbours. Councils could issue an abatement notice.
What to burn on a bonfire
A lot of garden waste can be safely recycled or composted rather than burned. Try to avoid burning large amounts of leaves or soft clippings that can be easily composted.
A bonfire is ideal for burning untreated wood that is not suitable for use indoor. Ensure any wood burnt is free from metal objects such as nails or staples. These can be dangerous; as the fire heats up, they could fly out and hit unsuspecting bystanders.
Any wood burnt should be dry and untreated. Wet wood can explode as it burns, collapsing bonfires and posing a risk to bystanders. Softwoods such as pine, spruce, alder or cedar will light easily and burn more quickly than hardwoods such as eucalyptus, alder, oak or citrus.
Stick to burning dry material, in particular, garden waste such as:
- Untreated wood
- Rose prunings
- Hedge clippings
- Weeds such as bindweed, couch grass or ground elder
- Holly leaves
- Yew trimmings
What NOT to burn on a bonfire
It is a criminal offence to get rid of domestic waste in a way that could cause pollution or harm to human health. Burning plastic, rubber and painted materials releases toxic smoke, causing serious harm.
Materials that should never be burnt:
- Aerosol cans
- Paint tins
- Treated wood
Be considerate with bonfires
Think about where the bonfire is located. How much smoke will it create and where will that smoke go?
- Ensure to locate the bonfire where smoke is unlikely to bother neighbours
- Try not to burn waste when people are likely to have their windows open
- Avoid windy days when smoke is more likely to drift
- Avoid damp, still days when smoke is likely to linger
- Do not burn material when air pollution is already high, as this could create difficulties for people with asthma or other respiratory problems
Safety advice for bonfires
It is also important to pay attention to basic safety advice.
- Before lighting a bonfire, check it for small animals that may have used it as a shelter
- Ensure that the bonfire is not located too close to structures or planting. Avoid placing it too close to low-hanging trees or plants, underneath power lines or close to flammable walls
- Remove any rubbish from the bonfire area, so it’s not possible for someone to throw it on later
- Never use petrol, paraffin or other flammable liquids to help light or encourage the fire. This can lead to an explosion or uncontrolled spread of the fire
- Always keep a bucket of water or a hosepipe available
- Never leave bonfires. Supervise them until they are fully burnt out. If it must be left, damp it down with plenty of water