There is no law against having bonfires and there are no set times restricting when they can be lit, though it is an offence for the smoke to cause a statutory nuisance. Smoke from garden bonfires in a residential area can seriously affect the residential amenity and enjoyment of other premises. It can also contribute to local air pollution levels and, in some locations, reduce visibility on nearby roads.
If materials are dry and burn quickly creating little smoke, then there is usually little problem, providing the smoke does not blow directly towards occupied premises. Damp vegetation, however, does not burn well as it produces large volumes of smoke and smoulders for long periods of time. The burning of this type of waste causes most complaints and so it should be disposed of in other ways.
The Council's policy with regard to bonfires is to seek the co-operation of residents in avoiding nuisance from bonfires. Ideally garden waste should be composted and then reused in the garden. Garden shredders significantly reduce the volume of garden waste, making it easier to handle, and can speed up the composting process. The Council has a garden waste collection service for householders. Non-compostable garden waste can be taken to the civic amenity sites provided by Surrey County Council at Chaldon Road, Caterham and Bond Road, Warlingham.
A single bonfire is unlikely to be a nuisance even though it may cause annoyance to one or more neighbours. In order to be a nuisance, there has to be evidence about the frequency of the bonfires, their duration, the locality and how the bonfire directly affects the complainants use and enjoyment of their land. Complainants are advised to keep a diary of serious smoke incidents for a two week period, noting the details on the record of bonfire incidents.
Complaints may be made on the Environmental Health complaint form.