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Assuming a lack of signage indicating the legalities, is it legal to light a bonfire on a beach in the UK? I haven't been able to find an authoritative source on this either way, hence the question. In my experience it hasn't ever been an issue after dusk when beaches are mostly empty, but I was wondering if there was any specific legislation.

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This is a long shot because this question was so long ago, but what beaches have you had a bonfire on? Me and a few friends are looking to experience having a bonfire on a beach but are having trouble looking for one! – user3105 Apr 2 '14 at 21:23
@Ashley, if you want to ask a question, you should explicitly ask a question using the Ask Question link, not comment on someone else's question. – Liam Apr 3 '14 at 12:15
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Fires are permitted, as is free camping provided it does not interfere with agriculture or nature.

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The code there doesn't specifically mention beaches, just the countryside - does the beach always fall under the "countryside" banner? – berry120 Apr 20 '12 at 15:18
It does appear to in England, Wales and Scotland in reading these codes and the associated websites. – Rory Alsop Apr 20 '12 at 16:12
England and Wales are no slightly, but almost TOTALLY different. Unlike Scotland, Wild camping without landowners consent is certainly not legal. (but it's still done, of course...) – Roddy May 7 '12 at 9:54

The Scottish 'code' mentions specific rights on the 'foreshore'

What about public rights on the foreshore?

2.18 Public rights on the foreshore and in tidal waters will continue to exist. These have not been fully defined but include shooting wildfowl, fishing for sea fish, gathering some uncultivated shellfish, lighting fires, swimming, playing on the sand and picnicking. Access rights also extend to these places.

However, it also says...

Wherever possible, use a stove rather than light an open fire. If you do wish to light an open fire, keep it small, under control and supervised – fires that get out of control can cause major damage, for which you might be liable. Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland, or on peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused. Heed all advice at times of high risk. Remove all traces of an open fire before you leave.

England and Wales are likely TOTALLY different. Lighting fires anywhere is pretty much frowned on, AFAIK.

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Ok, first thing to note is who owns the coast.

The land between the high water mark and the low water mark is owned by the crown (crown reserves) in UK law. (ref) The land above he high water mark is owned by land owners, this may also be the crown if it's common land etc.

Any land owned by private land owners is subject to the land owners themselves. They could allow or disallow bonfires at their discretion. So if you want to build a bonfire here you should contact the landowner.

The law on bonfires on common land will be covered by the local by-laws of the council in question.

From the management of crown lands web site:

Under Section 124 of the Crown Lands Act 1989 (the Act), a member of the reserve trust board or a ranger or other employee authorised by the reserve trust can remove a person from the reserve if they are:

Situations that may require management include:

  • bonfires – particularly in environmentally sensitive areas or during fire bans;

So the law is pretty gray in this area. Being as your talking about bonfires I'm guessing this is going to be pretty big, not just a camp fire.

I would suggest that this practice will at best be frowned upon by any land owners or crown employees (this will include Police) and at worst may result in you being forcibly ejected.

There is also the question of environmental damage to what could be a environmentally sensitive area.

That said if it's a quiet public beach, your not causing any nuisance or damage I'd be surprised if anyone interrupted you (or even noticed). Also fires on Bonfire night will generally be tolerated a lot more than on other nights.

Scottish law

Scottish law is the exception not the rule. Scottish law includes a "right to roam" that has not been implemented in England, Wales or Nothern Ireland. I think Roddy covers this point well.

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Most of the time, if it's a public beach & you know how to build a bonfire & keep it under control, you should be fine.

For example, a music festival in Whitby has had an unofficial beach bonfire twice a year & has had 1 visit from the Police in 20 years. They took a quick look at the fire, saw that it was being looked after by people who knew what they were doing & wished us a good evening & have not been back since.

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