Bonfires

Celebrating bonfire night

Thinking of celebrating bonfire night at home? Please read this helpful guidance from GOV.UK. A community guide to organising bonfires and fireworks [PDF, 64 kB]

Bonfires to get rid of waste

A bonfire can be seen as a convenient way of getting rid of a large amount of waste. However, it is not usually the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of rubbish and is likely to cause pollution and local nuisance. Read more below.

Bonfires or barbecues on open/public spaces

It is a criminal offence to light a barbecue or bonfire on any open space within Cambridge, and also to cause criminal damage to any area of the open space including burning grass.

Report a bonfire that is causing pollution or a nuisance

Effects of bonfires

Air pollution

Burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering. This will contain pollutants including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles.

Burning plastic, rubber or painted materials not only creates an unpleasant smell but also produces a range of poisonous compounds.

Health effects

Emissions from bonfires can have damaging health effects. Serious harm can be avoided, however, if exposure to bonfire smoke is brief.

Problems may be caused for asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions, and children.

Annoyance

The smoke, smuts and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints to local authorities.

Smoke prevents your neighbours from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads.

Allotments near homes can cause particular problems if plot-holders persistently burn waste.

Safety

Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants.

Exploding bottles and cans are a hazard when rubbish is burned.

Piles of garden waste are often used as a refuge by animals so look out for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets.

Alternatives to bonfires

Composting

Rather than burning garden waste or putting food waste in the dustbin where it will end up buried or incinerated, a compost bin will produce a useful soil conditioner, saving money on commercial products.

Woody waste can be shredded to make it suitable for composting or mulching - you can buy or hire shredders and some allotment societies have their own.

Recycling

Garden waste such as grass cuttings, hedge cuttings, flowers, and weeds can be recycled in your green bin or brown sack.

Household waste should not be burned on a bonfire - many items can be recycled.

Old beds and sofas and additional household waste items are not suitable for burning.

These can either be taken to Milton Household Waste Recycling Centre for free disposal or a special collection can be arranged at a charge by ringing 01223 458282.

The law

It is a common misconception that there are specific byelaws that prohibit garden bonfires or specify times they can be lit - there are no such byelaws.

If only dry garden waste is burnt, the occasional bonfire should not cause a major problem.

Where a neighbour is causing a problem by burning rubbish and a statutory nuisance is established, however, legal action may be taken.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA), a statutory nuisance includes "smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance".

In practice, to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem, interfering substantially with your well being, comfort or enjoyment of your property.

If a bonfire of industrial or commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993.

If bothered by smoke, 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 this fails, please contact us on 01223 457890 to report the problem.

We will investigate your complaint and if a statutory nuisance is being caused by bonfire smoke we can issue a nuisance abatement notice.

If this notice is breached it could lead to court action and a fine of up to £5,000. The act also allows you to take private action in the magistrates' court.

If the fire is only occasional it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law.

Similarly, if bonfires from different neighbours are troubling you, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance action would be difficult to establish as there are several offenders.

Finally, under the Highways Act 1980 anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. Please contact the police in this case.

Bonfire guidelines

If a bonfire is the best option for disposing of garden waste, follow these guidelines and the chances are you won't annoy your neighbours or cause serious nuisance:

  • only burn dry material
  • never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
  • never use old engine oil, meths or petrol to light the fire or encourage it
  • have a small fire and load regularly with small amounts of fresh material - hot fires with visible flames create less smoke
  • avoid lighting a fire 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 gardens and across roads.
  • avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high. This information is included in weather forecasts, or you can check at the UK Air Quality Archive.

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Environmental Health

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