Grass burning – advantages, disadvantages and controversies

Grass burning is a habit that has dragged on for humanity for years. Where did it really come from? Is it true that it carries benefits for the soil? You will find out what effects it actually has – both positive and negative – and learn about options to combat or replace it.

Is it true that grass burning fertilises the soil?

It is true that this custom is linked to agriculture. The belief persists that burning plant residues will clean and fertilise the soil. This is not entirely true and the reality is often different. The burning of grass depletes the soil, leaving it in a state where it needs a long time to regenerate, destroying nitrogen compounds and nutrients, releasing all toxic substances into the atmosphere, and creating the risk of fire.

However, we cannot say that grass burning has no positives. The ash that is produced in this process can prove to be a valuable fertiliser.. Among other things, it contains phosphorus, calcium and potassium. It improves soil structure and replenishes the soil with many micronutrients. In addition, due to its high pH level, it can be used to deacidify soils. It can be used to fertilise lawn, orchard plants and vegetables. Not every plant will react positively to it, but information on this is readily available and it is not difficult to know the truth before making a decision. It is also a great addition to compost. Although the ash itself carries many values, the firing process nullifies most of them.

Wincenty Dmochowski forest burning

Where did this custom come from?

It may seem that this custom has been in use as long as agriculture itself. He was to help with forest clearing, two-field and three-field, and preparation before planting crops. Over time, new ways were found to get rid of the weeds, but the custom has remained to this day – mainly in neglected meadows and wasteland.
At one time, there was also the burning of straw after the harvest due to its reduced demand. Nowadays, this practice is slowly being forgotten due to the financial implications, the legal implications, the proliferation of combine harvesters with straw shredders and the sheer demand for straw for heating purposes.

When is grass burning most visible?

The answer is extremely simple – grass burnings most often occur at the turn of winter and spring. As this custom started from the mistaken belief that it would help to clean and fertilise the soil, people try to prepare their fields in this way before planting or to get rid of their unwanted leftovers from the previous year. It is seemingly the perfect time – the snow is melting and all that is left is dried plant residue. However, many people forget that fire can move in unpredictable ways.

house fire

What harm does grass burning do to people and animals?

Many burners forget how dangerous fire can be – especially in terms of spreading quickly. This makes nearby forests, houses, farm buildings, crops and all living beings unsafe.

The situation for animals during grass burnings does not look good Fire and smoke can distract and frighten them more than people. The possibility of suffocation and the unpredictable nature of flames should also not be overlooked. This can lead to the death of nearby pets, as well as larger forest animals if there is a wooded area nearby. And that’s not all! The burning will kill all living creatures inhabiting the grass and soil, including earthworms, spiders, ants and other insects. It kills earthworms,which help to improve the soil, and ants, which help to control pests. Among the birds there are species that locate their nests on the ground or in bushes – this means that, in the event of a fire threat, an unpleasant fate awaits not only them, but also their chicks or eggs.

Once the fire starts to spread, destruction threatens not only the remnants of greenery left in the area chosen by the burner, but also all the surrounding vegetation. Grasses, flowers, trees and anything else that gets in the way of the elements are burnt. Plants that are valuable to the environment and trees that play a huge role for the ecosystem are being lost.

There is another thing worth discussing – pollution. The chemicals they contain that end up in the air add to atmospheric pollution, contain greenhouse gases and affect the health of neighbourhood residents. This includes: carbon monoxide and dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur, dioxins or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

As you can guess, unsuspecting people can also fall victim to fire, especially if there is a large-scale fire or a residential property fire. Not only can they lose their homes, their health, their loved ones and even their own lives.

During burnouts, the perpetrator risks more than they might initially think. Two serious health consequences are usually lurking for those who have taken up burnout – heart attack and heat stroke. And if they are unlucky, they may even end up victims of the fire itself, which can change direction or size under the influence of the wind.

The smoke from burning can also cause a lot of harm. If there is a street or motorway nearby, the conditions caused by the scorcher could lead to a bump, and evenan accident. Smoke can obscure the view, and this is one of the most important things when driving.


What are the alternatives to grass burning?

Instead of burning the plant remains, it is better to let them decompose naturally – this will ensure much better results.
They can also be turned into compost. Any option is better than burning out, which brings more and more negative effects and events every year.
Cultivation can be supported in a number of ways. Read more about this in our article.

One question remains, “How do we prevent grass burning?”

Notifying the law enforcement officers Notifying the law enforcement officers is an appropriate step, probably the first that comes to mind for most of us, and rightly so – grass burning is illegal and therefore punishable.
Do you have any concerns? Prefer to report anonymously? The National Safety Hazard Map will help. With this website, you can report various offences – including grass burning.
The whole process is simple, quick and anonymous. The map is interactive and allows you to observe offences reported across the country.


What about the law?

An arsonist can receive a variety of penalties:a fine, detention, or even imprisonment for up to 10 years if the culprit – a reprimand, is responsible for a fire that endangers the health or life of many people or leads to the destruction of large-scale property..

The law is clear on this point:

Act of 14 April 2004. on nature conservation:
„Art. 124. 1. Burning of meadows, pastures, wastelands, ditches, roadside lanes, railway tracks and reed beds and rushes is prohibited.”
„Art. 131 Whoever burns meadows, pastures, wasteland, ditches, roadside strips, railway tracks, reed beds or rushes – shall be liable to a custodial sentence or a fine.”

Law of 28 September 1991. about forests
„Art. 30 point 3 In forests and mid-forest areas, as well as within 100 m of the forest boundary, activities and actions that may cause danger are prohibited, in particular: 1) lighting fires outside the areas designated for this purpose by the forest owner or forester; 2) use of an open flame; 3) burning of topsoil and plant residues”.

Act of 6 June 1997. from the Criminal Code
„Art. 163. § 1. Whoever brings about an event which endangers the life or health of many persons or property of great magnitude in the form of fire shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of one to ten years.”

Act of 20 May 1971. from the Code of Offences
„Art. 82. § 4. Whoever burns grass, straw or plant residues in fields at a distance of less than 100 m from buildings, forests, standing crops and places where heaps or stacks have been set up, or in such a way as to cause disturbance to traffic, and without ensuring constant supervision of the place of burning, shall be punished with arrest, a fine or a reprimand.”
„Art. 24. § 1. A fine shall be imposed in the amount of PLN 20 to PLN 5,000, unless otherwise provided by law.”

A farmer who commits this offence may also lose or receive reduced direct payments for the year in question – a penalty that can be imposed by the Agency for the Restructuring and Modernisation of Agriculture..

What do you think about grass burning after all this time? Did you learn anything new? We invite you to read the other articles on our website.