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Bonfires - reporting problems, alternatives and tips

A bonfire

Report a bonfire problem in Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset & Weymouth and Portland. Also, some suggested alternatives to having a bonfire and tips on having a bonfire without causing a nuisance.

Reporting bonfires

If your neighbours are lighting bonfires which are causing you nuisance, in the first instance, approach your neighbours and politely tell them how the bonfire is affecting you. Often, people are unaware of the way smoke is blowing and consequently, the effect it is having on you.

If after discussing the matter, the neighbour continues to light bonfires which you feel cause you nuisance, you can report the problem and an officer will investigate.

Report it

Complaints in North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland

We are currently upgrading our reporting tool and are unable to accept complaints at this time. This function will be available again on the 24 May, we apologise for any inconvenience this causes.

Complaints in Christchurch and East Dorset

If you have a complaint regarding bonfires in Christchurch or East Dorset then you can report this using the button below.

Report it

What happens if I report a bonfire nuisance?

We will take all reasonable steps to investigate your complaint.

Initially, a case officer will write to the person causing the smoke saying that a complaint has been made, and asking them to try and reduce the smoke where possible. At the same time they will write to you with a record sheet so that you can log any times that you are affected by smoke. Though you should only record the times when you are affected by the smoke, as opposed to recording every time there is a bonfire. 

Your details will remain confidential at this time but may be released in the event of any court action. 

When the record sheet is returned, the case officer will assess it, and if appropriate visit the site to witness the smoke.

If the case officer establishes that a statutory nuisance ("smoke emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance") is happening, or likely to happen again then they can serve what is called an abatement notice. They will have taken into account a number of factors including the time of day or night, the severity of the smoke in question, and how frequently it occurs. An abatement notice will seek to control the smoke. 

Failure to comply can lead to a person appearing in court.

Sometimes, the case officer, although sympathetic to the effect the smoke is having on you, is unable to say that it would represent a statutory nuisance to the 'average' person.

In such instances, an attempt will be made to resolve your complaint informally, or you will be advised to seek mediation or take your own action.

Alternatives to having a bonfire

There are other environmentally friendly ways to dispose of your garden refuse without having to burn it:

Having a bonfire

If you have considered the alternatives and a bonfire is still the best practical option for disposing of your garden waste, you should ensure you have taken the following precautions:

  • Warn your neighbours - lighting a bonfire can cause nuisance to your neighbours especially if it is a nice sunny day with washing out and windows open
  • Only burn dry material - this is likely to cause less smoke
  • Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint - these can cause harmful emissions
  • Never use old engine oil, meths or petrol to light or encourage the fire
  • Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp days and in the evening. If it is windy smoke may be blown into neighbour gardens and across roads
  • Avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder

The law on bonfires

Bonfires are only illegal if they cause a nuisance to others. It is commonly thought that there are byelaws banning bonfires or restricting the days or times when they are allowed - there aren't.

Environmental Protection Act 1990

Environmental Protection Act 1990 can be used to deal with people who act unreasonably and cause a statutory nuisance to neighbours (opens in a new window). To be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would usually have to be a persistent problem. If someone does cause a repeated nuisance this may lead to enforcement action, and ultimately legal proceedings could be taken and the person fined up to £5,000.

If we feel the bonfire is an isolated occurrence or insufficient evidence is gathered to substantiate service of a notice, and you are not happy with this, then you may take legal action yourself under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (opens in a new window). However, you must be able to prove your case in court and therefore may wish to employ a solicitor.

Burning waste from another site

It is an offence to bring waste from another site and burn it, for example tradesmen bringing waste home and burning it.  Whether or not they are causing a statutory nuisance, they are committing an offence.

Burning waste on a trade premises

If the bonfire takes place on trade or industrial premises then there is an additional power given by the Clean Air Act 1993 (opens in a new window) where the bonfire is giving off dark or black smoke.

Hazard to road users

If the smoke from a bonfire poses a hazard to road users the police have powers to deal with it and you should report the incident to them.

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