Q Are there any rules governing whether you can have a bonfire?
A If you light a fire and the smoke reduces visibility, causing injury, interruption or danger to people using a highway nearby, you may be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine and/or be sued for negligence. You may also be breaching the Environmental Protection Act 1990 by committing a Statutory Nuisance. The burning of any commercial or industrial waste causing black smoke is an automatic offence. Other than this, there is little legislation relating to bonfires, and they are not covered by smokeless zones, which only apply to smoke from chimneys. There may be local by-laws restricting the times bonfires are allowed, but these are rare.
Caption: Smoky bonfires can be a real nuisance
Q So, if my neighbour has a bonfire every day, there is nothing I can do about it?
A There may be. A bonfire may constitute a nuisance if it regularly interferes with your enjoyment of your property. If your neighbour does not respond to gentle persuasion, keep a log of the nuisance, noting how and when it affects you, then contact your local Environmental Health Officer (EHO). The EHO must investigate your complaint and issue an abatement notice if there is a Statutory Nuisance.
Q I have a load of manure delivered once a year. My neighbour complains about the smell. Am I breaking the law?
A Probably not. Occasional unpleasant smells, such as a load of manure or the occasional barbecue, are unlikely to constitute a nuisance as described in the previous question’s answer. However, a long-term, persistent bad smell could amount to a legal nuisance, and you could be obliged to remove the cause.
Q Whose responsibility is it to stop my neighbour's ponies leaning over the fence and eating my plants?
A Under the Animals Act 1971, the owner of the ponies is strictly liable for any damage they cause by straying, which includes leaning over the fence and eating the plants within reach. Strict liability means that you do not have to prove negligence on their part and if your neighbour does not take action to prevent the problem, you could seek damages and/or an injunction in the County Court. This law applies to most farm animals, but not to mountain sheep, New Forest ponies or deer, other than those kept in an enclosed park.
Q How can I stop my neighbour's dogs digging up my garden?
A The onus is on your neighbour to keep their dog out of your garden. Dog owners are expected to take reasonable steps to prevent their pets causing damage, but are not obliged to fence them in or prevent any incursion onto your land, especially if it is open plan. If however the neighbour makes no effort to prevent the damage to your garden by controlling or containing their dog, you could seek an injuction and/or claim compensation through the County Court. You will have to produce good evidence, which might include a diary, photographs or witnesses. In Scotland, the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987 allows the occupier of land to detain straying animals for the purpose of preventing injury or damage. They must however be delivered to the owner, or the incident be reported to the police, as soon as reasonably possible. Dangerous animals are covered by stricter controls under separate legislation.
Q Sometimes I feel like shooting next door's cat, but what can I legally do to keep it out?
A You must not deliberately harm your neighbour's cat as this would be an offence. The law regards cats as wild animals with a right to roam (although owners must still take reasonable steps to prevent their cats causing injury or damage to property). You may however use reasonable means to remove it from your garden or deter it from entering. A well-aimed jet of water from a water pistol would be effective and strategically placed ultrasound generators can also work, though you may need several of these to protect the whole garden, as ultrasound will not travel through solid objects.