Bonfires

Bonfires can cause localised air pollution and annoy neighbours. Follow the bonfire guidelines to reduce nuisance to others.

Bonfires and the Law

West Somerset Council has no local byelaws governing the use of bonfires although under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, a statutory nuisance includes "smoke, fumes or gases emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance".

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 use our Pollution Control online form or contact the council's Environmental Health team by calling Customer Services on 01643 703704.

GOV UK provides more information. If the fire is only occasional it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law.

Under the Highways Act 1980, anyone lighting a fire and allowing smoke to drift across a road faces a fine if it endangers traffic. Contact the local police in this case 0845 4567000.

What’s wrong with bonfires?

Air pollution
  • burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering
  • burning plastic, rubber or painted materials not only creates an unpleasant smell but also produces a range of poisonous compounds
  • your bonfire will also add to the general background level of air pollution 
Health effect
  • bonfire smoke may cause problems 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 councils
  • 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 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

There are other ways to dispose of garden waste, please see the Recycling pages of this website.

Bonfire guidelines

If a bonfire is the best practicable option for disposing of garden waste, follow these guidelines from the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NCSA) to avoid 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
  • 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 neighbours gardens and across roads
  • avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high – check  the weather forecast, or the air quality website
Local Civic Amenity Sites

You can take you garden waste to the Council's amenity sites situated in Minehead, Williton and Dulverton.  Please see the recycling pages of this website for further information. 

Commercial Bonfires

Commercial premises or builders should not use bonfires to dispose of any rubbish produced as a result of their operations. The only exception to this is the burning of diseased wood on site, which is permitted in certain cases. If a bonfire is causing a nuisance we can take action under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, whilst if the bonfire produces black smoke this could be an offence under the Clean Air Act 1993. If either our informal or formal approach is ignored then we will consider prosecuting the offender..