Environmental management – 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.

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

If you don’t follow the rules for burning grass or heather you can be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000.

Burning safely

When burning heather or grass 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 and damage to land and property
  • not cause injury, interruption or danger to road users
  • not create smoke likely to damage health or cause a nuisance
  • not disturb or destroy wild birds and their nests, or other protected animals, plants and habitats
  • not damage important monuments
  • not pollute watercourses and groundwater, for example, through soil erosion caused by burning

Further advice on burning heather and grass is provided by the Uplands Management Group

Burning season dates

You must burn during the ‘burning season’, which runs from:

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

When you need a licence

You need a licence if you want to:

  • burn outside the burning season
  • burn more than 10 hectares in a single burn
  • burn more than 0.5 hectares on a slope steeper than 45 degrees or on rocky or scree areas
  • burn in a way that exposes more than 0.5 hectares of bare soil (where no more than 2% is covered by plant material)
  • burn 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
  • leave soil smouldering for more than 48 hours

You also need consent from Natural England to burn in environmentally protected areas, for example a site of special scientific interest.

When you don’t need a licence

You don’t need a licence to burn heather and grass on:

  • private gardens
  • allotments

Apply

Licences are free.

You need to apply to Natural England 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 don’t follow the rules you can be prosecuted or Natural England may:

  • send a warning letter
  • give you a caution
  • serve you with an injunction
  • issue a ‘burning notice’ requiring you to notify Natural England of any proposed burning of permitted vegetation for up to 2 years

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 GAEC6 for rules on heather and grass burning.

Contact

Natural England

Environmental impact assessment helpline

Email: eia.england@naturalengland.org.uk

Telephone: 0800 028 2140