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Bonfires and smoke - smoke control

There are no formal Smoke Control Zones in the Stroud District.

Garden bonfires have been a traditional way of disposing of garden rubbish but they often cause a nuisance to neighbours from smoke, smell or dirt. They also contribute to air pollution. As a means of disposal, bonfires are becoming less and less acceptable. This section aims to encourage householders to give up bonfires and to suggest some alternatives.

Covid-19 and bonfires

Please do not burn waste on bonfires during the current crisis.

Covid-19 is a respiratory disease. It is well known that smoke from bonfires may cause particular problems for people with underlying health conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and heart conditions. During this pandemic, more people than normal are at home, working, caring for their family and/or self-isolating. People in your area may already be suffering breathing difficulties due to the virus.

People with underlying health conditions or self-isolating in their homes need to go out into their gardens for fresh air and they need to be able to open their windows for ventilation; they have nowhere else to go. Smoke will increase their breathing difficulties and place a further burden on the NHS.

You may be tempted to dispose of some additional household and/or garden waste by having a bonfire.  As the pandemic throws up new challenges for us all, we ask everyone to be a good neighbour and to not burn any of this waste.

We thank you for your cooperation in doing all you can to protect the health of your family and that of your neighbours, many of whom may be more vulnerable to the effects of bonfire smoke than ever before and who are presently restricted to their homes. Any waste that cannot be collected as usual can, in the case of garden waste, be composted or it can simply wait - store it for now until the current emergency is over and do not burn it.

The problems

  • Bonfires can be very annoying to neighbours - usually from smoke or smell. This can stop them from enjoying their garden, prevent them from opening their windows, or hanging out washing. This is especially a problem if your neighbour or their children are asthmatic or have a chest condition.
  • Bonfires cause air pollution. They can produce irritating and even poisonous compounds that contribute to poor air quality, which everyone nearby then has to breathe in.
  • Bonfire smoke can also cause a hazard to road users by reducing visibility.
  • Bonfires can cause a fire hazard if they are close to trees or fences and especially if left unattended.

What's the legal position?

There are no specific laws that prohibit garden bonfires, nor any which restrict them to certain hours of the day, days of the week or number per year. Therefore it is not "alright" to have bonfires as long as it's after 6:00 p.m. In fact, in the evening smoke will hang around for even longer due to inversion effects.

If, however, a garden bonfire causes what is called a "statutory nuisance", the Council can serve a legal notice on the person responsible requiring them to stop causing the nuisance. Failure to do so is then an offence for which they can be prosecuted. Under the same legislation any person affected by a bonfire can also lodge a complaint at the Magistrates Court alleging nuisance, which will then be dealt with by the court. If it is found that a nuisance did exist the person responsible can be fined by the court.

There are no formal Smoke Control Zones in the Stroud District.

Bonfire guidelines

If after having carefully considered the alternatives you still decide to have a bonfire, there are some guidelines that will help to ensure that you don't cause a nuisance:

  • Only ever burn dry material.
  • Never burn household rubbish or anything with plastic, foam, paint, or rubber in it.
  • Never use old engine oil, methylated spirits, diesel or petrol to light or encourage a fire. Not only does this make smoke, it is also very dangerous.
  • Avoid lighting fires in unsuitable weather conditions such as damp, still days.
  • Avoid times when the wind will blow smoke over roads or into neighbour's gardens.
  • Avoid burning when people want to enjoy their gardens such as at weekends or Bank Holidays.
  • Air Pollution is described using ten index points, between LOW and VERY HIGH. Avoid burning when air pollution in the area is anything other than Low. You can check this at the DEFRA Air Information Resource at provides daily forecast levels of air pollution.
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder.
  • Bear in mind the law of statutory nuisance mentioned above; regular smoky bonfires - or even a single one which is very polluting - could be regarded as a statutory nuisance and result in a legal notice being served on you by the Council.

Smoke from wood burners and open fires

The Stroud district has no smoke control areas so therefore people are entitled to have open fires and operate wood and multi fuel stoves. However, the increase in their popularity does lead to increases in fine particulate matter emissions. Indeed in 2015 domestic wood and coal burning formed the largest contributor to harmful particulate matter emissions (40%). The tiny particles in smoke can produce a range of health impacts such as breathing difficulties and asthma exacerbation. A practical guide entitled "Open fires and wood-burning stoves" has been produced by DEFRA which sets out simple steps to reduce environmental and health impacts.

Further advice is available in the guidance document "We all breathe the same air" which provides clear advice on procedures to follow when lighting a stove to minimise smoke emissions.

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