Bonfire advice

Officers from the Environmental Health team can investigate complaints and offer advice on bonfires from domestic premises. We can advise you on steps you can take yourself to try and resolve the problem, what we require from you in order to investigate your allegations of smoke nuisance and details on how complaints are investigated.

What can I do about a smoke nuisance from a bonfire? 

It is a common misconception that there are specific bylaws that prohibit garden bonfires or specify times they can be lit - there aren't. Very occasionally a bonfire is the best practicable way to dispose of garden waste that cannot be composted - such as diseased plant material or tough woody waste. Most of Wirral is within a designated Smoke Control Area however the specific requirements relate only to smoke from chimneys.

Commercial waste cannot be burnt, even if the person is self-employed. There are minor exemptions for where construction or demolition work is taking place however these still must not cause a nuisance. If a bonfire of industrial or commercial waste is emitting black smoke it is dealt with under the Clean Air Act 1993.

Many people may also not realise that they may be causing a smoke nuisance. For this reason, we strongly encourage you to approach the person and politely tell them about the problem. Talking with the person and explaining the issues may resolve your complaint without the need for formal investigation by council officers.

If the person causing the disturbance lives in a property managed by a housing association/registered social landlord or in a private rented property, you could discuss the problem with the landlord. Most Conditions of Tenancy include a requirement that tenants do not cause disturbance to neighbours and the landlord may be prepared to take action.

If you do not get a positive response, do not feel you can comfortably speak to your neighbour, or the smoke from bonfires continues to regularly disturb you then you can report it to us.

You need to know that for officers to take action against smoke disturbances they have to determine if a statutory nuisance exists.

What is a statutory nuisance?

A statutory nuisance is not simply something that annoys you - it is something that causes a serious and unreasonable interference with your right to enjoy your home. 

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 wellbeing, comfort or enjoyment of your property.

When determining whether a smoke problem amounts to a statutory nuisance the officer will assess several criteria such as:

  • the amount of smoke emitted and whether the smoke is affecting nearby properties
  • how often the bonfires occur and for how long
  • the motive of how or why the bonfires occur
  • the type of materials which are burned as this affects the production of smoke and how noxious the fumes from the smoke are
  • how unreasonable the activity is (for example, smoke from an everyday activity like cooking is unlikely to be a statutory nuisance)
  • the number of persons affected and how the bonfires affect others
  • the characteristics of the location

When undertaking an investigation of a bonfire complaint, we do so from the point of view of the average and reasonable person. In order for smoke to be considered a Statutory Nuisance, the bonfires have to be frequent and the level of smoke must be severe enough to materially interfere with the use and enjoyment of your own property. It is unlikely that a single or infrequent bonfire could be considered a Statutory Nuisance. Similarly, if you are being troubled by bonfires from different neighbours, each only burning occasionally, a nuisance action would 'be difficult as there are several offenders.

What you need to know before we investigate

We are unable to investigate anonymous complaints as, by law, we must know who is, or who is likely to be, affected by the smoke nuisance.

We will make every effort to maintain your anonymity, but you need to be aware that the person you are complaining about can sometimes work out who has complained. If the investigation results in legal action your name and address may have to be revealed in court and it may be necessary for you to appear in Court and give evidence.

It is likely that we will need to access your property to carry out an assessment of the smoke nuisance. If access is denied, it is unlikely that we will be able to investigate your complaint.

For officers to take action against smoke problem, they have to determine if a statutory nuisance exists.

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.

Making a complaint 

If an informal approach does not work, or is not possible, and you wish to complain to Environmental Health, then you can use the link at the bottom of this web page to report a smoke nuisance.

We will then ask you to complete diary sheets (which we can send to you, or you can download from this page) for a minimum of 14 days. Completed diary sheets are an important part of the investigation and can be used as evidence in any formal action that might be taken.

Please read the instructions on the diary sheets carefully. It is important that you provide enough information in the diary sheets for the investigating officer to make an assessment of statutory nuisance. Without enough information in the diary sheets, we may not be able to investigate your complaint further.

Once you have reported a smoke nuisance to Environmental Health, completed diary sheets can be returned via email to or by post to:

Environmental Health
Wirral Council
PO Box 290
Brighton Street
CH27 9FQ

We would encourage you to return the diary sheets by email. It may also be advisable for you to keep a copy of the diary sheets for your own records.

If following your complaint you do not return your diary sheets within 6 weeks, we will be unable to progress your complaint and your case will be closed.

The PDF file may not be suitable to view for people with disabilities, users of assistive technology or mobile phone devices.

Download log sheet

What happens once your diary sheets are returned to the council?

Once we receive your completed diary sheets, your complaint will be allocated to an officer. The officer will carry out an assessment of your diary sheets to see if the smoke problem indicates that a statutory nuisance may exist.

If the diary sheets demonstrate that a statutory nuisance may exist, the officer will then look to further investigate. In most cases we will write to the person causing the bonfires, providing general advice, and giving them the opportunity to reduce the smoke disturbance. In many cases this will resolve the problem. We will let you know when we have written. If you don’t contact us within 6 weeks to advise the smoke problem is continuing, we will assume the warning letter has been effective and your case will be closed.

If the smoke problem continues, the officer will need to witness the alleged smoke nuisance by undertaking monitoring. Monitoring can be undertaken by officers visiting your property, both internally and externally. It would be useful at this stage for photo/video evidence to be obtained where possible, to accompany the diary sheets.  

Officers will use your diary sheets as one way to help determine the best times to carry out the monitoring. In most cases Officers will only undertake a maximum of up to 3 monitoring visits, in an attempt to witness the alleged smoke nuisance.

What happens after monitoring

An officer will assess all of the information collected as part of the monitoring and throughout the investigation of your complaint.

If in the officer’s professional opinion a statutory nuisance is established they will serve an abatement Notice on the person causing or responsible for the smoke, requiring them to abate the smoke nuisance. 

At any stage during the investigation, if in the Officer’s professional opinion, they determine that a statutory nuisance does not or is unlikely to exist, we will advise you.

What if the officers decide that the smoke is not a Statutory Nuisance?

You can take your own private action via the Magistrates Court under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This process can be carried out without legal advice, but we would advise you to speak to a solicitor. If you wish to consider this route, there are a number of key stages that you will need to follow including: 

  • write to the source causing the smoke, informing them of the type of disturbance you are suffering and that you intend to seek legal advice if the disturbance continues. 
  • keep a record of evidence to show; a description of the nuisance; how often and how long the nuisance occurs, the type of materials burned and how it affects you, for example, diary sheets.
  • write to the source causing the smoke nuisance, giving them at least three days notice of your intention to proceed to the Magistrates Court
  • contact the Clerk to the Justice at the Magistrates Court who will arrange a time for you to visit the court to show the evidence to a Magistrate
  • the Magistrate Court decides what action can be taken

Read about taking private action – Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. (PDF)

I've been told I'm causing a smoke nuisance - what can I do?

Take a moment to consider what impact you may be having on those living around you. Put yourself in the position of your neighbours. Be aware that they might have a different lifestyle than you and that your behaviour could be unreasonable as a result.

If there could be an element of truth to the complaint then simply be aware of the frequency that you may have bonfires, how long the bonfire lasts, the amount of smoke emitted and whether the smoke is affecting nearby properties; the type of materials which are burned as this affects the production of smoke and how noxious the fumes from the smoke are; how these bonfires may affect others and the characteristics of the location. Take sensible steps to reduce the likelihood of causing a smoke nuisance. 

Bonfire Advice: What you need to know

I want to have a bonfire

The Environmental Health service receives numerous complaints every year from members of the public who are aggrieved by smoke from bonfires. This can be very distressing, especially if the victim suffers from asthma or other similar illnesses.

One question often asked is, what we would consider a reasonable time to light a bonfire?

The truth is that no time is reasonable. Unpleasant smells and ash deposits can ruin your neighbours' washing and spoil their enjoyment of their houses and gardens.

Is your bonfire necessary?

Before you start your bonfire, ask yourself, is your bonfire necessary? Most garden refuse can be composted and will provide valuable humus for the garden, therefore burning waste should be a last resort.


Air Pollution

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 toxic compounds. Your bonfire will also add to the general background level of air pollution. Serious harm is unlikely if exposure to bonfire smoke is brief. However problems may be caused for people with respiratory conditions and for children.


The smoke, ash and smell from bonfires are the subject of many complaints to Wirral Council. 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.


Barbecues can also cause a smoke problem - especially if you use lighter fuel. If the weather is still and sunny, a barbecue 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 barbecue - tell your neighbours. Don't ignite it when they've got their washing out, and if its windy check that smoke won't blow straight into neighbouring properties.



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 online and from gardening organisations.


Household waste should certainly not be burned on a bonfire. Many items can be recycled in the grey bin. Garden waste should not be mixed with other household waste - the council provides a brown bin waste collection service. Waste can also be taken to the local tip. Old beds and sofas are not suitable for burning, but the council's ERIC service can collect items for a small fee.

You can find out more about council facilities for recycling.

If you still want to have a bonfire

If a bonfire is genuinely the most practicable and environmentally friendly way to dispose of dry garden waste (for example, diseased plant material that cannot be composted), warn your neighbours - they are much less likely to complain. Remember that barbecues, chimineas and fire-pits can also cause a nuisance and the same rules and principles apply. Follow these guidelines to minimise the chance of nuisance:

Bonfire do’s and don’ts


  • only have a bonfire as a last resort. Reuse, recycle, and then dispose of it
  • let your nearest neighbours know before you light your bonfire
  • only burn dry material in small amounts, and for a short period
  • consider using an incinerator rather than an open bonfire, where possible
  • choose the location of your bonfire carefully and have a spade, fork or hose pipe ready in case you need to extinguish the bonfire quickly
  • be aware that other residents may also have regular bonfires. Although you may only have one a month, if each resident did this, it could result in a bonfire every day, which could be unreasonable so it’s important to talk with your neighbours
  • use alternative methods, recycle other items, use the local household waste recycling centres, where possible
  • consider shredding instead of burning as a suitable safeguard against identity fraud
  • if you are a keen gardener composting is a good alternative to burning


  • don't burn damp grass cuttings or other damp garden waste as this will produce thick smoke
  • don't burn household rubbish, rubber tyres, oily rags or anything containing plastics, foam or paint etc. as these will give rise to black toxic smoke
  • don't use old engine oil or petrol to light the bonfire or to encourage it
  • don't light a bonfire 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 
  • don't light a bonfire when neighbours have hung out their washing or are enjoying their gardens. Be kind. Be considerate
  • don't light a bonfire if the wind is blowing in the direction of your nearest neighbour. Only light a bonfire if the wind is blowing away from your neighbours
  • don't leave a bonfire unattended. Never leave a bonfire once it is alight
  • don't start a bonfire one hour before dusk
  • don't allow your bonfire to smoulder for long periods of time, especially overnight. Ensure that you rake over the ashes and douse it with water before leaving the site to ensure the bonfire is extinguished
  • avoid burning when air pollution in your area is high or very high. This information is included in weather forecasts, or you can check Defra, UK

Remember that although there are no specific council byelaws controlling bonfires, you may be causing a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act and if the smoke is a nuisance to your neighbours, action may be taken against you in the magistrates' court, which could result in a fine of up to £5,000.