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Guidance on bonfires

Introduction to the bonfire guidance

Image of a bonfire giving off a lot of smoke

Bonfires are an historic way of disposing of rubbish.

However, they can be a cause of pollution so are not the most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of rubbish.

Bonfires can also be very irritating to neighbours by preventing them from enjoying their property and land.

There are a number of alternatives to having a bonfire which Great Yarmouth Council would recommend.

This guidance aims to provide the reader with information on your rights as a person having a bonfire, what to do if you are affected by bonfires and other methods of dealing with garden waste

Am I allowed to have a bonfire?

If you are disposing of garden waste, there are no laws that specifically prohibit bonfires.

However, if a bonfire interferes with the enjoyment of a neighbour's property, e.g. fills their garden with smoke so they can't open their windows or use their garden, you may be responsible for a statutory nuisance under section 79/80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The Council enforces this legislation which can result in an unlimited fine in the magistrates court for people who carry on causing a nuisance after being requested by the Council to stop.

Burning household waste will pollute the environment and may cause harm to human health. The burning of household waste is therefore prohibited under section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The maximum penalties for this offence on conviction are a £50,000 fine and/or five years imprisonment.

So what should I do with my waste?

We would prefer that garden waste is either composted or recycled as this is kinder to the environment.


Most garden and vegetable kitchen waste can be composted. Compost will produce a useful soil conditioner. Do not compost meat or other products of animal origin. Woody garden waste can be shredded before composting but please ensure if you are shedding that you do not cause a noise nuisance to your neighbours. Advice on composting is available from the following:

Domestic composting


You can recycle waste and uncooked vegetable peelings in your brown bin if you subscribe to the service. You are able to place leaves, twigs, pruning waste, grass cuttings, weeds and plants, cut flowers, plant and hedge trimmings and small branches under 10cm in diameter and 60cm in length in the brown bin. Unfortunately you are not able to dispose of soil, turf, compost, sand, stones or ash in the brown bin.

Further information on recycling and the Council's Brown Bin service can be found on the Bonfires webpage.

If you are planning a bonfire

If you have considered all other methods of disposal and have decided that having a bonfire is the best way to get rid of your garden waste, the first thing you should do is inform your neighbours.

Simple information such as how much material you have to burn and how long the fire might last for can go a long way to keeping good relations with your neighbours. Also be sure to tell them that if the smoke is bothering them then they should come and speak to you first and let you know so that you can do something about it. Most importantly, if they do come to you with a problem - do something about it!

Do not light the bonfire if conditions are unfavourable - for example, if smoke is likely to blow onto your neighbours home or garden.

Local weather conditions will affect the impact the smoke has on your neighbours. Still conditions will prevent the smoke from dispersing while windy conditions will blow smoke into neighbouring properties and across roads causing annoyance and possibly danger.

Bonfires can be a fire hazard; fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Sealed cans or bottles in a fire may explode.

Bonfire guidelines

To reduce the possibility of causing a nuisance to your neighbours:

  • do not have a fire if the wind is variable or if it is blowing directly towards neighbouring properties
  • burn dry material only
  • never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
  • never use old engine oil, methylated spirits or petrol to light a fire or to keep it going o Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke lingers on still days and if it is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbouring properties or across roads
  • avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their homes and gardens
  • avoid burning when the air quality in your area is 'poor' or 'very poor'. (You can check this by phoning 0800 556677, or by checking at Defra
  • never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - douse it with water if necessary and make sure it is out and will not continue to smoke once you have left it
  • allow any fire to burn down as much as possible before extinguishing it. Established fires tend to give off less smoke and throwing water over a large fire will eject ash into the air, increasing the chances of annoying your neighbour.

If you have problems with a bonfire

If you are affected by a problem of bonfire smoke you may consider one of the following options:

  1. It is best to approach your neighbour first and explain the problem. You might find this awkward, but they may not be aware of the problem and it may make them more considerate when planning and lighting a bonfire.
  2. If this approach fails, contact the Environmental Services team at the Council. The Council is legally obliged to investigate all complaints of nuisance in their area, which includes bonfire smoke.
  3. Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows you to take private action through the magistrate's court but you should seek legal advice before doing so. Also. The Council's Community Protection Team can advise you about private remedies for resolving your complaint to help you decide the best way forward.
  4. Under the Highways Act 1980 anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. If this is the case you should contact the police.

Further advice

If you would like further advice or would like to report a bonfire nuisance, please contact Environmental Services:

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