Bonfires on Allotments
The bonfire gets its name from the medieval bon-fire of animal bones. While modern day bonfire ingredients may not be as gruesome, they still cause pollution and local nuisance.
Can I have a bonfire on my allotment?
Bonfires do tend to cause concern for other plot holders and neighbours to our allotments, therefore we recommend you only have a bonfire if it is actually necessary. It can be a good way of controlling disease but quite often you won't have enough material for a really good fire and will only create a lot of smoke. It is not appropriate to bring in material from other places to make a fire, this can even be considered an offence by the Environment Agency. There are guides to composting which in many instances will be enough to get rid of arisings, but if you still feel a bonfire is necessary then please remember that causing a nuisance is grounds for the authority to terminate your allotment contract.
What's Wrong With Bonfires?
Burning garden waste produces smoke, especially if it is damp and smouldering. This will contain pollutants including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles. 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. Air pollution in the UK often reaches unhealthy levels – do you really want to make it worse?
Emissions from bonfires can have damaging health effects. Serious harm is unlikely if exposure to bonfire smoke is brief. However problems may be caused for asthmatics, bronchitis sufferers, people with heart conditions and children.
The smoke and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints to local authorities. 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.
Fire can spread to fences or buildings and scorch trees and plants. Exploding bottles 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.
What's the Alternative?
Rather than burning garden waste or putting food waste in the dustbin where it will end up buried or incinerated, a compost bin will produce a useful soil conditioner, saving money on commercial products. Woody waste can be shredded to make it suitable for composting or mulching, you can buy or hire shredders and some allotment societies have their own. If using a shredder be considerate as they can be very noisy. Take care not to replace one nuisance with another. Advice on composting is available from your local authority or the following:
Centre for Alternative Technology
Tel: 01854 702400
Household waste should certainly not be burned on a bonfire. Many items can be recycled; find out about recycling facilities from your local council. Garden waste should not be mixed with other household waste. Ask your local authority what services they offer. Some local authorities provide larger ‘wheelie' bins and allow garden rubbish to go in them. Waste can be taken to the local amenity site or your local authority may collect bagged rubbish free of charge. Old beds and sofas are not suitable for burning. Some councils and voluntary groups collect old furniture for repair and re-use.
Bonfires and the Law
It is a common misconception that there are specific bye-laws to prohibit bonfires - there aren't. An outright ban would be difficult to enforce and very occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of garden waste. If used sensitively, the occasional bonfire should not cause a major problem. However, where a neighbour is causing a problem by burning rubbish the law is on your side. 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". In practice, to be considered a statutory nuisance, a bonfire would have to be a persistent problem, interfering substantially with your well being, comfort or enjoyment of your property.
If bothered by smoke, approach your neighbour and explain the problem. You might feet 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, contact your local council's environmental health department. They must investigate your complaint and can issue a nuisance abatement notice under the EPA. The Act also allows you to take private action in the magistrates' court. The NSCA fact sheet Pollution, Nuisance and the Law explains the legal position in more detail. If the fire is only occasional it is unlikely to be considered a nuisance in law. Similarly, if you are being troubled by bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally. In this situation encourage them to consider the alternatives give them a copy of this leaflet! Finally, 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 police in this case.
Barbeques can also cause a smoke problem especially if weather is still and sunny, and you use lighter fuel. If the barbeque will contribute to photochemical smog (this is formed in the summer, by the action of sunlight on pollutants). Again, be considerate. If you are having a barbeque tell your neighbours. Don't ignite it when they've got their washing out, and if it's windy check that smoke won't blow straight into neighbouring properties.
But I Like Bonfires...
A bonfire can be a convenient way of getting rid of a large amount of waste, or perhaps you just want a bonfire for fun - on Guy Fawkes night for instance. If a bonfire is the most practical and environmentally friendly way to dispose of garden waste (for example, diseased plant material that cannot be easily composted) please be courteous to your neighbours and warn them in advance. Remember that bonfire parties can cause noise as well as smoke.
If a bonfire is the best practicable option for disposing of garden waste, follow these guidelines and the chances are you won't annoy your neighbours or cause a 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 to encourage it
- Avoid lighting a fire in unsuitable weather conditions – smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and in the evening. If is windy, smoke may be blown into neighbours' gardens and across roads
- Avoid burning at weekends and on bank holidays when people want to enjoy their gardens
- Avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high. This information is included in weather forecasts, or you can check by ringing 0800 556677
- Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder. Douse it with water if necessary.
National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection
44 Grand Parade
Tel: 01273 878770
Fax: 01273 606626http://www.environmental-protection.org.uk