Naturenet: Nuisance


Common law nuisance and public nuisance

In principle anything (except an Act of Parliament) which stops anyone from exercising and enjoying their rights can be considered to be a common law nuisance. If the nuisance affects the whole neighbourhood, it can be considered to be a public nuisance. This does not always mean that it is something which can easily be stopped! In fact nuisance is rarely a law which has any practical application in countryside situations.

In the case of an individual nuisance, the remedy is for the individual concerned to sue for damages and/or seek a court injunction to prevent a recurrence of the nuisance. This is the most likely instance where a countryside manager might encounter this law - when an irate neighbour complains about some activity and threatens to sue for nuisance.

Statutory nuisances

Although there is no exact legal definition of a statutory nuisance; a number of things explicitly fall within this definition, and for action to be taken, the nuisance complained of must be, or be likely to become, prejudicial to people’s health or interfere with a person's legitimate use and enjoyment of land. This particularly applies to nuisance to neighbours in their homes and gardens. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Public Health Act 1936 lay down certain types of nuisances for which there is a statutory remedy. These include:

Also, since 6 April 2006 the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 added two more statutory nuisances to this list:

If somebody complains to their local council about a statutory nuisance the council must investigate and if necessary serve an abatement notice.

What else is a nuisance?

RadioUnfortunately, for non-statutory nuisances the law does not define exactly what is and what is not a nuisance. Furthermore, two people might both consider that the other is creating a nuisance. Who is right? Although a court would be the only sure way to find out, the landowner on the ground might need a quick decision. For any nuisance the test of reasonableness can be applied. Just because someone complains of a nuisance this does not mean that there necessarily is one. e.g. if a neighbour complains that rangers are lighting a bonfire and blowing smoke into his garden, if it is a small amount of smoke for a relatively short time, it is probably not a nuisance as he could reasonably expect them to produce a small amount of smoke going about their legitimate business. On the other hand, if the bonfire burns for weeks producing lots of smoke, then quite possibly it is a nuisance. It might also depend on whether there have been regular bonfires at the same spot in the past. In any case, for practical purposes nuisance is a matter of subjective judgement, which means that if you are in doubt and if the problem is serious enough it is always best to let the Environmental Health Officers from your local council, or a solicitor decide. Nuisance is very rarely something the police will become involved in.

High hedges, often considered a nuisance but with very few successful legal actions, now have their own special legislation - see our guide about high hedges, what to do about them and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet.

Examples of possible nuisances

The information on this page is partly based on "Neighbourhood Nuisance", a free fact sheet written by Paul Slatter for the Shell Better Britain Campaign.