Smoke from domestic bonfires
Smoke from garden bonfires can be frustrating. Find out how we deal with complaints about bonfire smoke and air pollution.
There are no local bye-laws stopping people having bonfires in their garden.
The legal controls on bonfire smoke are based on the law of 'nuisance'. To be a nuisance, the smoke must be unreasonable to an average person. We cannot take formal action unless the smoke meets the legal requirements.
The amount of smoke, how often and for how long it happens are all taken into account when considering if it is a nuisance. It also has to be persistent and stop you enjoying your property or impact your wellbeing. Smoke that does not happen often or does not last a long time is unlikely to be classed as a nuisance.
Your first steps
Most nuisance problems can be resolved by having a polite conversation. People do not always know their bonfire is disturbing others. A polite chat is always the best first option.
West Sussex Mediation Service offer free, confidential and independent assistance with neighbour problems. They can be contacted on
Phone 0300 200 0025
If your neighbours don't take any notice of your conversation, our Environmental Health team may be able to help.
How to report bonfire smoke
You can make a report anytime day or night using our online service.
What happens next
We will write to your neighbour telling them a complaint has been made, and they should take steps to control the smoke produced. We'll also write to you to confirm we have done this. We don't tell your neighbour who complained, but they may be able to guess.
If we take legal action, you may be asked to give evidence in court.
If they don't take any notice and the disturbance continues, you need to start keeping diary.
A nuisance diary involves making a detailed record of when and how are you disturbed by the smoke. This should cover a representative period, usually around 3 weeks. It's important this is as detailed and accurate as possible, and it may be required as evidence in court.
See our example of a nuisance diary:
|Date||Time||Type of nuisance and how you were affected|
|12/6/21||5pm to 6:45pm||Thick black smoke from bonfire at end of garden 11 Smoke Avenue. Had windows open due to the temperature, but smoke came into the house and had to shut all windows despite the heat.|
|15/6/21||8:45pm to 10pm||Large bonfire in 11 Smoke Avenue, strong smell, had neighbour from 8 Smoke Avenue in the garden, he witnessed the amount of smoke coming across and had to leave due to the smell.|
You'll need to return your completed diary to us. We'll review the diary and decide if the smoke is unreasonable and could be considered a nuisance.
We will send a second letter to your neighbour warning them of the possible legal action and penalties for causing a further nuisance. If the problem continues after this, let us know and we will investigate further.
One of our officers will try to visit at a time the bonfire is burning to witness the smoke. Normally we need to witness the nuisance to take legal action. Our officer will assess if the smoke meets the legal definition of a nuisance.
We will try to respond more quickly, and visit within one day, if there is evidence to suggest that materials other than wood and garden waste are being burned.
If we are satisfied that there is a nuisance and the smoke is likely to continue in the future, we will serve a Notice on the person(s) responsible. This requires the person to stop the smoke or it be reduced within a given time. That person may appeal against the Notice or may just ignore it.
In either case, your evidence may be needed in court. If the nuisance continues, in breach of the terms of the Notice, further investigations will be necessary to provide evidence for prosecution. You should keep a diary until the problem is resolved.
If we consider that a nuisance does not exist, we will tell you, and we will take no further action.
However, you may still be able to take your own legal action under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
It is our aim to resolve your complaint within three months. The majority of complaints will be resolved within this time but some cases do take longer.