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Air pollution and bonfires

Rules about bonfires and dark smoke

It is contrary to the Clean Air Act 1993 to emit dark smoke from any chimney of any building (subject to permitted exemptions) unless the burning is part of a process authorised by the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Clean Air Act prohibits the emission of dark smoke from burning of waste materials on any industrial or trade premises.

Dark smoke emissions cause a nuisance and can be a source of harmful air pollutants.

How we can help

Try to resolve the problem with your neighbour. They may not be aware that their actions are causing you concern.

If this fails, contact Environmental Health. We'll investigate your complaint and take appropriate action.

Contact us if you see dark smoke being emitted from industrial or trade premises, which is a result of burning waste.

Not all bonfires will be a statutory nuisance, but all complaints will be assessed on a case by case basis.

Smoke drifting across a road could endanger traffic. In this instance, please contact the Police.

Fire related anti social behaviour

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service provides information about how to prevent deliberate fires.

Domestic premises

Bonfires and smoke nuisance

Bonfires cause complaints because of annoyance and nuisance caused to neighbours by smoke. There are health concerns about air pollutants in smoke, including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles.

Burning waste can prevent people from enjoying their gardens, opening windows, or hanging out washing. Smoke and fumes affect air quality and can damage health.

Bonfire guidelines

If you are going to have a bonfire, do so responsibly. Advise your closest neighbours in advance. Make sure they do not have windows open, and are not drying washing, or enjoying their garden.

We advise that you:

  • avoid burning in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and if it is windy, may be blown into neighbouring gardens and across roads
  • check piles of garden waste for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets
  • burn in an area away from fences, buildings and windows and beware of scorching trees and plants
  • only burn dry material
  • never burn household rubbish, aerosol cans, tyres, plastics, foams or painted items
  • never use old engine oil, methylated spirit or petrol to light or fuel the fire
  • never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - hose it down until it is cold before you leave it

Please note: even if you follow our guidelines, you may still cause a nuisance. Any complaints about your bonfire will be investigated by Environmental Health and may be subject to enforcement action.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service provides advice about bonfire safety.

Alternatives to burning

Consider other disposal methods, such as:

  • home composting
  • shred woody waste for mulch or composting
  • recycle newspapers, glass and cans
  • our garden waste collection (brown bins)
  • our bulky waste collection service

Smoke from chimneys

It is unlawful to emit smoke from the chimney of a private dwelling in a Smoke Control Area, where the smoke arises from the burning of unauthorised fuels.

Complaints about smoke from chimneys outside a Smoke Control Area can be investigated under nuisance legislation in terms of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as outlined above.

Commercial business/industrial premises

Contractors are discouraged from disposing of waste by burning. In many cases burning waste may be illegal.

Burning of waste on building or demolition sites

Bonfires on building or demolition sites are subject to the controls outlined above.

An exemption allows developers to burn untreated wood, bark and plant matter only, provided it does not cause pollution or a nuisance, and subject to certain other conditions.

Developers must notify the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in advance that they are operating such an exemption. Waste timber which has been treated for wet or dry rot must not be burned due to the release of harmful pollutants (dioxins). Only waste from that site may be burned - it is not permitted to import waste other sites for burning. There is no exemption from the requirement not to create dark smoke.


Farmers are permitted to burn debris on their fields provided that it:

  • is controlled
  • doesn't become a nuisance to neighbours
  • doesn't produce dark smoke.

Complaints regarding smoke nuisance or dark smoke, will be investigated.

What does the law say?

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires local authorities to take action against offenders if bonfires are considered to be harmful to health or a nuisance due to the emission of smoke. This includes nuisance from soot, ash, particulates and noxious odours.

The local authority may serve an Abatement Notice. If this is not complied with, the local authority may choose to prosecute or, serve a fixed penalty notice. This is £150 for domestic premises and £400 for industrial, trade or business premises.

Pay a fixed penalty

The emission of dark smoke from industrial or trade premises is an offence and subject to a fine of up to £20,000.

Cable Burning

It is an offence to burn insulation from a cable unless the burning is part of a process authorised under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Air quality management

Find out how we monitor the quality of air in North Ayrshire.

Contact Environmental Health




01294 324339


North Ayrshire Council, Housing & Public Protection, Environmental Health, Cunninghame House, Irvine, KA12 8EE