When you need a licence, when you can burn and how to burn safely.
Applies to England
You may need a licence to burn heather, rough grass and other vegetation (including gorse, bracken and Vaccinium species such as bilberries).
If you’re burning in private or allotment gardens, follow guidance on garden bonfires.
When you will need a licence to burn heather and grass
There are 2 types of licence you can apply for. You may need to apply for more than one licence.
Natural England licences
You must apply for a licence from Natural England if any of the following apply to your burn:
- it is outside the burning season (see the dates at the end of this section)
- it will cover more than 10 hectares in a single burn
- it will cover more than 0.5 hectares on a slope steeper than 45 degrees or on rocky or scree areas
- it will expose more than 0.5 hectares of bare soil (where no more than 2% is covered by plants)
- it will expose more than 25 metres of bare soil along the banks of a watercourse (any channel with flowing water, apart from pipes) that is wider than one metre for its entire length
- it will leave soil smouldering for more than 48 hours
You may have to apply for a licence from Defra to burn at any time in the year in areas that are both:
- on ‘deep peat’ – peat that is deeper than 40cm (sometimes called ‘blanket bog’)
- on a protected site – land within a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and either a special area of conservation (SAC) or a special protection area (SPA)
If you do not need a licence you must only burn during the burning season.
The burning season
The burning season is from:
- 1 October to 15 April in upland areas
- 1 November to 31 March in other areas
When to apply for a licence
You will usually get a decision on your application within 8 to 12 weeks. If it is going to take longer than this Defra or Natural England will contact you, depending on which licences you have applied for.
You should submit your application as soon as possible to make sure there is enough time to process your application before your intended burn dates.
Apply for a licence from Natural England
You can apply for 2 licences from Natural England, depending on the type of burn you want to carry out:
- apply for a licence to burn grass and heather necessary to conserve, enhance or manage the natural environment, or for safety
- apply for a licence to burn grass and heather on railway land needed to maintain the land or for pest control
To apply, you must complete and submit the relevant form to email@example.com.
Apply for a licence from Defra
Follow the guidance on how to apply for a licence to burn on deep peat within a protected site.
Licences will last for one year, although you can ask to extend this time in your application.
You do not need a licence to burn on deep peat within a protected site if the total burn area in one year is 0.5 hectares or less, and either:
- the ground is steeper than 35 degrees
- more than 50% of the area to be burned is covered by exposed rock or scree (areas of loose rock)
The 0.5 hectares can be:
- a single area
- 2 or more areas within 5 metres of each other where the combined area is 0.5 hectares or less
Check if a burn area is on deep peat
Deep peat is deeper than 40cm.
You can check that you’re complying with the regulations by measuring and recording the peat depth at places you’re planning to burn.
Follow these steps to measure peat depth for every 2,500m² (0.25 hectares):
- Take a photograph of the equipment you’re using to measure peat depths, for example a measuring stick.
- Identify the position of the 4 outer corner points and the centre point of the burn.
- Record the location of the 5 points using GPS coordinates or an 8-figure Ordnance Survey (OS) grid reference.
- Measure and record the peat depths at each of the 5 points.
For example, for an area of 7,500m² (0.75 hectares) you would repeat these steps 3 times.
If the peat depth at any of the points is more than 40cm this is classed as deep peat.
Check if a burn area is within a protected site
A protected site is an area within a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and also one or both of the following:
- a special area of conservation (SAC)
- a special protection area (SPA)
You can check if your burn area is within a protected site using the Ordnance Survey MAGIC map. To do this you should:
- Find the location of your burn area on the map.
- Select ‘Designations’ on the table of contents on the left-hand side of the page.
- Select ‘Land-Based Designations’.
- Select ‘Statutory’.
- Select ‘Sites of Specific Scientific Interest’ for the country the land is in.
- Select ‘Special Areas of Conservation’ for the country the land is in.
- Select ‘Special Protection Area’ for the country the land is in.
If your burn area is covered by both an SSSI and a SAC or SPA it is within a protected site.
Burning heather and grass safely
When you burn heather and grass you must:
- start burning between sunrise and sunset
- have enough people and equipment to control the burn
- take all reasonable precautions to prevent people getting injured
- take all reasonable precautions to prevent damage to the surrounding land and anything on it
When burning you must not:
- cause injury, interruption or danger to road users
create smoke likely to damage human health or cause a nuisance
- disturb or destroy wild birds and their nests, or other protected animals, plants and habitats
- damage important monuments
- pollute watercourses and groundwater, for example through soil erosion caused by burning
If you do not follow the rules
If you do not follow the rules, you can be:
- sent a warning letter
- given a caution
- given an injunction
- given a ‘burning notice’ requiring you to notify Natural England of any vegetation burning you propose to do in the next 2 years
- fined up to £1,000
You can appeal against a burning notice within 28 days.
If you have questions about a Natural England licence to burn heather and grass, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions about the licence to burn on deep peat in a protected site, email Defra at email@example.com.