Bonfires and smoke pollution

Wiltshire Council receive more than 150 complaints a year about smoke from garden bonfires, domestic flues and chimneys and about smoke emanating from commercial premises. 

The law and bonfires

Bonfires can cause a nuisance to other people:

  • by making asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory conditions worse
    •by affecting visibility for drivers on nearby roads
    •because fire can spread to nearby fences or buildings

There are no byelaws restricting bonfires in Wiltshire’s Area and there are no specific times of day restricting bonfires.

However if smoke is caused by a bonfire is creating a nuisance, the Wiltshire Council has powers to take action under the provisions of the  Environmental Protection Act 1990.

If a bonfire is causing smoke to drift across a road, please contact the police.

Private individuals can also take action through a Magistrates’ Court.

How to reduce the impact of bonfires

Garden bonfires produce smoke and smells, which can annoy neighbours as well as damage the environment. Garden trimmings that are still green and wet can give off lots of smoke, and materials like plastics and rubber create poisonous chemicals when they are burnt.

Most garden waste can be easily composted and larger amounts can either be placed in your Green Bin and taken away providing you have arranged a Garden Waste Collection or taken to one of the household waste recycling centres in the county.

If you must have a bonfire, then it is advisable to follow these simple guidelines.

  • Warn your neighbours – this gives them an opportunity to close windows and doors, remove washing off the line and they are much less likely to complain
  • Ideally burn later in the evening when people are less likely to use their gardens
  • Only burn dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish, rubber tyres or anything containing plastic, foam or paint
  • Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions – smoke hangs in the air on damp or warm, still days. If it is too windy, smoke blows into neighbours’ gardens and windows and across roads
  • Avoid burning when air pollution levels in your area are high or very high. You can check air quality on 0800 556677.
  • Keep your fire away from trees, fences and buildings
  • Warning Never use oil, petrol or methylated spirits to light a fire – you could damage yourself as well as the environment
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder – put it out

How do I complain about a bonfire?

If you are affected by smoke from a bonfire, we would recommend that you discuss it initially with your neighbour, as they may not realise that they are causing a problem. Always try to be reasonable, otherwise your discussions may end up in further arguments and create unwanted future neighbour tension.  Explain the details of your concern and try and agree a reasonable solution or compromise. 

If this doesn’t work or you feel unable to approach the person having the fires, download and complete the Wiltshire Council smoke monitoring log sheets. They are unable to investigate anonymous complaints and they must have the address of where the smoke is coming from. Please ensure you detail how the smoke is impacting on you within your property. If you have any photos please send them to Wiltshire Council with the log sheets. They are unable to access any third party storage sites for example Dropbox.

Once Wiltshire Council have received your log sheets the case officer will assess them and contact you to discuss what will happen next. They may write to the alleged offender bringing their attention to the matter. They may also make visits in an attempt to witness the smoke. Officers will usually undertake a maximum of three visits to substantiate your complaint.  If after the three visits no nuisance has been established, the council will close the investigation.

How does the council investigate bonfire complaints?

Once they have received your log sheets the case officer will assess them and contact you to discuss what will happen next. If there is insufficent evidence to indicate a nuisance is being caused they may ask you to continue to monitor the smoke or they may close the case.

They may write to the alleged offender bringing their attention to the matter and providing them with guidance on how to have a bonfire whilst reducing the risk of it being a nuisance to neighbours.

They may also make visits in an attempt to witness the smoke. Officers will usually undertake a maximum of three visits to substantiate your complaint.  If after the three visits no nuisance has been established, the council will close the investigation.

Enforcement

Having considered all the evidence, the investigation will result in one of the following courses of action:

a) No further action if no nuisance is substantiated
b) Informal advice
c) Service of formal statutory notice to abate the nuisance

If an abatement notice is served and not complied with legal action may be taken through the Courts.
Enforcement will be carried out in accordance with Public Protections Enforcement Policy

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