What are the UK fire lighting laws? Where can I have a campfire in the UK?

by Elvis Jai Closs on July 16, 2021

I can remember starting bushcraft, wanting to jump straight into practising bushcraft skills but being confused about where to go and what I was allowed to do.

Campfires are a focal point of every camp. Apart from creating a peaceful atmosphere, fire is a versatile tool that can provide warmth, singling abilities, heat for cooking, drying and sanitation. With some knowledge and understanding of the basics, you will be able to have a campfire and safely enjoy an integral part of the camping experience in no time.

England, Wales and Northern Island

Unless you are the landowner or you have the landowners permission, you cannot light a fire in England, Wales and Northern Island. All of the national parks, forests and fields in England are privately owned. One benefit of this is that many campsites have recognised the need for a safe space to light fires. Many campsites up and down the UK permit campfires (please check individual guidelines before booking). If you know of a local landowner with some land there is no harm in asking!

Do BBQs and raised fires to apply to the same rules?

Raised fires protect the ground from the head and are a lot more environmentally friendly than campfires. However, the same laws apply - this helps minimise the risk of wildfires and damage to local areas.

Scotland

Open campfires have been legal in Scotland since 2004. As long as you follow the following guidelines:

• No fires are permitted in forests, farmland, peaty ground, very dry conditions, cultural heritage sites, Areas of Special Scientific Interest, plantations, farmland or near buildings/roads.

• Fires must be kept small, under control and supervised at all times.

• You may be liable for major damage caused by a fire.

• All traces of an open fire must be removed.

My personal experience

Over the years, practising bushcraft, I can't say I have followed the UK regulations very closely. In my opinion, practising the art of fire lighting responsibly and leaving no trace is of the top priority, not necessarily the location of the campfire. The Leave No Trace Campaign encourages responsible land use and nature protection in the US. They have a great set of fire lighting guidelines:

• Where possible, use existing fire pits or a camping stove. Our Sidekick Stove, for example, prevents the fire from spreading, but provides adequate heat for cooking and keeping warm. One of my favourite Native American sayings goes something like "White man has large fire sits far away, red man has small fire sits close" There is no reason to have an overly large fire. Where no fire pit is available, a fire pan or mound fire also work well. Leave No Trace Centre For Outdoor Ethics has a great YouTube how-to video showing how to make a mound fire.

• A fire plan is a metal plate that is raised 3-5inches off the ground. Stones can be used to elevate the pan above ground.

• A mound fire is a mineral soil platform that the fire sits on, insulating the ground from the heat.

How to make a ‘Leave No Trace’ Mould fire

• Gather mineral soil (dry soil 2-3 inches below the surface), gravel or sand into a ground bag.

• Build a 3-5 inch thick platform with the soil, making sure the platform is larger than the intended fire, to catch embers.

• Once the fire is safely out (see above for instructions) scatter the wood ashes over a large area and return the mineral soil to where you found it.

Gathering Wood Responsibly

Another important, though the sometimes less obvious aspect of leaving no trace, is the responsible gathering of wood (deadwood that you can break with your hands) or buying firewood from a local source. This all helps to protect the surrounding woodlands that play a large part the local ecosystem. Burning freshly cut wood is also often pointless, due to its high moisture content, meaning it gives off little heat and doesn’t burn well.

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