Guidance

Heather and grass burning: rules and applying for a licence

When you can burn, when you need a licence and how to burn safely.

Applies to England

You can burn heather, rough grass and other vegetation (including gorse, bracken and Vaccinium species such as bilberries) if you follow the rules and get a licence where required.

This guidance does not apply to private or allotment gardens.

If you do not follow the rules for burning you can be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000.

Burning safely

When burning you must:

  • start burning between sunrise and sunset
  • have enough people and equipment to control the burn
  • take all reasonable precautions to prevent injuring people
  • 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 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

For more information about burning, visit the Uplands Management Group website.

Find out how councils deal with complaints about nuisance smoke.

Burning season dates

The ‘burning season’ runs from:

  • 1 October to 15 April in upland areas (severely disadvantaged areas) - you can find upland areas on MAGIC
  • 1 November to 31 March in other areas

When you need a licence

You must apply for a licence from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to burn areas that are both:

  • on ‘deep peat’ - peat that is deeper than 40cm
  • within a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and either a special area of conservation (SAC) or a special protected area (SPA)

You’ll need this licence whether you plan to burn inside or outside the burning season.

Follow the guidance on how to apply for a licence to burn on deep peat within a protected site.

You must apply for a licence from Natural England if you want to burn:

  • outside the burning season
  • more than 10 hectares in a single burn
  • more than 0.5 hectares on a slope steeper than 45 degrees or on rocky or scree areas
  • in a way that exposes more than 0.5 hectares of bare soil (where no more than 2% is covered by plant material)
  • in a way that exposes bare soil that stretches for more than 25 metres along the banks of a watercourse (any channel with flowing water apart from pipes) and is more than 1 metre wide throughout
  • an area and leave soil smouldering for more than 48 hours

If you do not need a licence, you can only burn during the burning season.

How to apply

Licences are free.

To burn on deep peat within a protected site, read the guidance on how to apply for a Defra licence.

If you need a licence from Natural England, download and fill in the form to apply for a:

When to apply

You need to apply:

  • 28 to 56 days before the burn if you’re burning outside the burning season
  • at least 28 days before the burn and after the previous burning season, if burning in the burning season

Penalties

If you do not follow the rules, you can be:

  • sent a warning letter
  • given you a caution
  • given an injunction
  • given a ‘burning notice’ requiring you to notify Natural England of any proposed burning of permitted vegetation for up to 2 years
  • prosecuted

You can appeal against a burning notice within 28 days.

Farm subsidy payments

Farmers need to follow Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) rules on heather and grass burning to qualify for a full farm subsidy payment. See GAEC 6 for rules on heather and grass burning.

Help

You can contact Natural England or Defra, depending on which licence you need to apply for.

Contact Natural England

Email the environmental impact assessment team at eia.england@naturalengland.org.uk

Contact Defra

Email the peatland protection team at heatherandgrassburning@defra.gov.uk

Published 13 October 2014
Last updated 25 June 2021 + show all updates
  1. Under the 'Burning safely' section, added a link to guidance about how councils deal with nuisance smoke complaints.

  2. Added information about when you need a licence to burn on deep peat in a protected site and how to apply.

  3. First published.