Heather and grass burning

The burning of heather and grass is governed principally by the Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007 and the Hill Farming Act 1946.

The following legislation is also relevant to the burning of heather and grass:

  • The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 prohibits burning which disturbs or destroys wild birds or other protected animals, plants and habitats and in some cases burning on a Site of Special Scientific Interest without Natural England’s consent;
  • The Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c) Regulations 1994;
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974;
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999;
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998;
  • The Environment Protection Act 1990;
  • The Water Resources Act 1991;
  • The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979;
  • The Highways Act 1980.

There is also a Heather and Grass Burning Code 2007 which, whilst not legally binding, outlines good practice on the burning of heather and grass.

When do the Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007 apply?

The Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007 do not apply to land cultivated as private gardens or to allotments. Some of the Regulations do not apply to the burning of vegetation covered by the Regulations carried out on railway land by or under the authority of Network Rail or Transport for London.

What does the Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007 prohibit?

The Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007 prohibits:

  • the commencement of the burning of heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse or vaccinium (such vegetation is referred to in the Regulations as “specified vegetation”) on land between sunset and sunrise;
  • the burning of specified vegetation where there are insufficient persons and/ or equipment to control and regulate the burning during the entire period of the operation;
  • the burning of any specified vegetation outside of the “burning season” without a licence (The burning season for land which is situated within an “upland area” is from 1 October to 15 April and for other land is from 1 November and 31 March. In order to check whether land is situated in an upland area it is necessary to check the “Volume of maps of less-favoured farming areas in England” which is held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs);
  • the burning, without a licence, of any specified vegetation in a single area during the burning season, or in two or more areas within 5 metres of each other with a combined area of more than 0.5 hectares if the land has a slope of more than 45 degrees or if more than half of the land is covered by exposed rock or scree;
  • the burning, without a licence, in a single burn an areas of more than 10 hectares of specified vegetation;
  • the burning, without a licence, of specified vegetation during the burning season in a manner which exposes a single area, or two or more areas within 5 metres of each other with a combined area of more than 0.5 hectares of bare soil or an “area of bare soil” which extends more than 25 metres along the bank of a “watercourse” and is more than a metre wide at all points (for a continuous stretch of more than 25 metres), measured from the edge of the bank of the watercourse (an area of bare soil means an area of soil of which no more than 2% is covered by vegetation or plant litter. The term “watercourse” covers rivers, streams, ditches, grips, drains, cuts, culverts, dykes and sluices but excludes mains and other pipes);
  • the burning, without a licence, of specified vegetation where the soil is left smouldering for more than 48 hours.

The Regulations also require anyone burning specified vegetation to take all reasonable precautions to prevent injury or damage to any adjacent land or to any person or thing on that land, both before starting burning and during the entire period of the operation.

Licenses

Licenses to burn specified vegetation outside of the burning season or to burn in a manner otherwise prohibited by the Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007 can be obtained from Natural England.

A licence will only be granted if the proposed burning is, in the case of railway land, necessary or expedient for good maintenance of the land or for the purpose of pest control. In the case of other land a licence will only be granted if the proposed burning is necessary or expedient for the conservation, enhancement or management of the natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations or for safety reasons.

Failure to comply with the Heather and Grass etc Burning (England) Regulations 2007

If unauthorised burning is carried out Natural England has the power to serve a “burning notice” on the occupier of the land in question. A burning notice requires an occupier of land to notify Natural England of any proposed burning of any specified vegetation on the land occupied by him from the date it is served.

Contravention of the Regulations is a criminal offence, under the Hill Farming Act 1946, punishable by fine and/ or imprisonment.