Although the burning of straw or stubble could engage the general law of nuisance, there is a specific statutory regime for its control. The law as stated in this article is accurate for England and for Wales.
1. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 secondary legislation imposes specific prohibitions on the burning of straw and certain other crop residues; it also imposes restrictions on how non-prohibited burning may be carried out.
2. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 s.152 allows the Government to make provision to "prohibit or restrict the burning of crop residues on agricultural land by persons engaged in agriculture".
3. Although there is express provision for the introduction of exceptions to the regime prohibiting straw and stubble burning, the Government has announced the intention to make as little use of that as possible: "Any exemptions to the prohibition will be kept to a bare minimum". (Hansard, HL Vol.519, col.487 (May 18, 1990)).
4. The power to prohibit straw and stubble burning has been exercised in the Crop Residues (Burning) Regulations 1993/1366.
5. The key provision of the regulations provides that "No person engaged in agriculture shall, on agricultural land, burn any crop residue of a kind specified in Sch.1 unless the burning is for the purposes of - (a) education or research; (b) disease control or the elimination of plant pests where a notice has been served under art.22 of the Plant Health (Great Britain) Order 1993 (see now the Plant Health (Wales) Order 2006/1643, the Plant Health (Scotland) Order 2005/613, and the Plant Health (England) Order 2005/2530); (c) the disposal of straw stack remains or broken bales" - reg.4.
6. The following crop residues are listed in Sch.1 - cereal straw, cereal stubble, and residues of oil-seed rape, field beans harvested dry and peas harvested dry.
7. In relation to straw and stubble burning that is not actually prohibited by the 1993 Regulations, they restrict how it can be carried out.
8. Regulation 5 provides that the burning of "crop residues" must be in accordance with the provisions of Sch.2.
9. The restrictions under Sch.2 include restrictions relating to time, area, fire-controls, distance from buildings, disposal of ashes and giving of advance notice.
10. The regulations are enforced by a summary criminal offence - reg.6.
Heather and grass
11. The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2007/2003 govern the burning of heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse and vaccinium. They do not apply to private gardens or allotment gardens. The Regulations: prohibit burns starting between sunset and sunrise; require sufficient persons and equipment to control burns and other reasonable precautions to prevent injury or damage; and require a licence outside the "burning season". The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (Wales) Regulations 2008/1081 make similar provision in relation to Wales.