When we usually think of ‘bonfires’ we more often than not think of Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th and the accompanying firework displays in commemoration of that particular event. Because of the symbolic nature of that date, people are more readily able to accept the presence of bonfires within particular areas of the neighbourhood.
However, people are often a lot less tolerant about having a bonfire in your back garden for things like burning dead branches or leaves and other garden rubbish, especially nowadays when so much garden rubbish can be recycled or composted.
There are certain restrictions on having a bonfire in your back garden, depending on where you live and it’s important to know what they are and to follow the correct procedures if you don’t want your neighbours’ complaints to be upheld by your local authority.
The Law Regarding Bonfires in Your Garden
The legislation which is in place to regulate the use of bonfires in the garden is called ‘Statutory Nuisance’ which is contained in the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Contrary to popular belief that some people hold whereby you might hear people say that you can’t have a bonfire on a Monday because it’s a ‘wash day’ or you can only have a bonfire after 6pm, neither of these statements are true. You can actually burn a bonfire at any time of the day as long as the smoke given off by the flames does not cause a nuisance to other people who live nearby. ‘Causing a nuisance’ may seem a broad term but a ‘nuisance’ in this instance would be if the smoke was to enter people’s houses, if it was blowing across people’s gardens and preventing their normal use of the garden, if it affected any washing which had been hung out to dry or if any ash or hot cinders was to blow onto a neighbour’s property.
This would all seem quite a ‘grey’ area because firstly, it would seem that you couldn’t have a fire without one or more of the above happening and also because what some people would deem acceptable, others may perceive the same activity as a nuisance. Therefore, local authorities would rather you follow their guidelines in terms of whether and when you should have a bonfire or not because not only can a bonfire be unsafe, it can also have health implications for some people, particularly those with asthma or who suffer with other chest or breathing complaints.
Firstly, before you even think about the right way to have your garden bonfire you should really think of where your house is located and whether that means you’ve got no chance of avoiding being a nuisance to at least one person and, remember, it only takes one person to complain to your local authority for it to become an issue.
It may be stating the obvious, but a person who, say, lives on a remote farm or in a secluded cottage is going to receive far fewer complaints (if any) than a person who lives in a row of terraced houses where it would be virtually impossible to have a bonfire without receiving at least one complaint and perhaps several.
Therefore, you need to take into account things like your location and that of others nearby, the weather conditions, the time of day, whether the fire is going to be closely attended and kept in check and what you intend to burn. It also helps if you speak with any nearby neighbours first to tell them that you intend to have a bonfire, the approximate time you plan to have it, how long it’s likely to last, what you plan on burning and that you’ll be in control of the fire. In some cases, by just giving people notice of this to help them plan better and reassuring them that it won’t get out of hand and their properties will be safe, it can sometimes do the trick and they might be far more accommodating in letting you go ahead undisturbed if they’re prepared for it beforehand.
The main safety aspects you need to take into consideration are similar to other situations where fire is concerned such as when you’re planning a barbecue but with a couple of additional guidelines. They are:
- Burning dry material only
- Attendance to the fire at all times
- No use of petrol, paraffin, diesel or lighter fluids
- Avoiding having a bonfire at weekends or on bank holidays – when people may want to make more use of their own gardens
- Avoiding having a bonfire when the air is still or damp hangs in the air which will only make the smoke linger and take longer to disperse
- Informing neighbours first as to when you intend to have the bonfire
At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of good common sense and consideration for others. You may have followed all of the steps above yet still find one person who’ll object to your plans and who might be all to keen to get on the phone and call your local authority’s environmental health department at the first whiff of smoke. Therefore, there’s no guarantee that by following the advice here, that your planned bonfire will go off without a hitch.
Furthermore, in this day and age of recycling and composting, people are less likely to have an empathy with you and your desire to burn rubbish in your garden. And, if you have a certain item or items that simply can’t be recycled or composted, then perhaps you need to make plans to have your local authority take it away or to take the items to an appropriate landfill site yourself as opposed to burning them.