Thousands of councils and charities will be committing a criminal offence, punishable by unlimited fines, because they are burning illegal 'waste materials' which were not produced on the land where their fires are situated.
Steve Farmer has for nine years been transporting hedge clippings and pruned branches from town gardens in Leicester and Melton Mowbray to a field out in the countryside where he can burn them safely without inconveniencing neighbours. But last summer, after his bonfire was observed by an official of the environment agency, he was notified this was a criminal offence under the Waste Management Regulations 1994 because 'controlled waste' may be burned only on the land where it was produced. Junior environment minister Alan Meale explained to Mr Farmer's MP, Alan Duncan, that all activities involving 'disposal of waste' were now 'subject to control under the EC Framework Directive on waste'.
In fact the directive, 91/156, imposes no conditions on lighting bonfires. These rules were added by UK officials. Nevertheless, to comply Mr Farmer had to pay thousands of pounds for a shredder so his branches can now legally be scattered on the field where he once burned them.
The environment agency said it would wish to use discretion and common-sense in enforcing the law, but it could not turn a blind eye to Mr Farmer's bonfire because he was running a business and other business might obey the law. 'It would be very unfair if we did not enforce these regulations consistently', said the agency.