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.
Fires are permitted, as is free camping provided it does not interfere with agriculture or nature.
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:
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 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.
The Scottish 'code' mentions specific rights on the 'foreshore'
However, it also says...
England and Wales are likely TOTALLY different. Lighting fires anywhere is pretty much frowned on, AFAIK.