Garden View This month – Bonfires

November seems a good month to talk about bonfires. I’m not actually a huge fan of the garden bonfire; I think that generally there are better ways of disposing of garden waste. Most green waste, such as leaves or grass can be recycled. Woody waste can be shredded and either composted or used as mulch, though it may be more cost-effective to hire a shredder rather than buy one outright if your garden is small.
But if wood is diseased a bonfire may be the best way to deal with it. So what are the rules regarding garden bonfires?
Rather surprisingly there are no specific laws against having a bonfire, or when you can have one. There may be local by-laws though: laws made by a local authority and applicable only in a defined geographical area. Phone your council or check their website for further information. If you rent a property you’ll need to check under your tenancy agreement too, in order to find out whether bonfires are permitted.
Laws about bonfires are generally concerned with their potential nuisance value. So you can’t burn plastics, or painted household waste which may produce toxic fumes or thick smoke harmful to asthma sufferers. Also, the Highways Act states that it is an offence to light a bonfire near a road if the drifting smoke may cause a traffic hazard.
Mostly though bonfires are all about common sense. The smoke and smell from a fire might annoy your neighbours, especially if it prevents them from opening their windows or hanging out their washing. It’s polite to warn your neighbours beforehand; they may have an outdoor party planned or want to spend the afternoon pottering in their garden. Light your bonfire at a time least likely to cause a nuisance – remember on a warm sunny day people are more likely to be out in their garden, enjoying it. Only burn dry material because damp material creates a lot of smoke.
The other issue with bonfires is, of course, safety.
Bonfire Safety Check-list
Build the bonfire away from sheds, fences and trees
Don’t build it too large and make sure it’s stable, so it won’t collapse outwards or to one side.
Check the bonfire for hibernating wildlife.
Don’t use petrol or paraffin to start the fire as these accelerate the flames and may cause the fire to burn out of control.
Keep a bucket of water or a hose handy—just in case
Don’t leave the fire unattended.
Keep small children and pets out of the way.
Once the fire has died down, pour water over the embers to stop them re-igniting.
By Rachel Leverton