The call is out for Northlanders to mulch or compost their waste vegetation rather than let a backyard burn-up get up everyone's noses, and avoid a potential fine.

With spring just around the corner people's attention is turning to tidying their outdoor areas but the Northland Regional Council is reminding them to be courteous and stick to the rules about burning unwanted vegetation and other waste material.

Around a quarter of all calls to the council's 24-hour environmental hotline involve complaints about burning or associated smoke nuisance.

Those breaching the rules are liable for enforcement action which can range from instant fines of up to $1000.

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Air quality specialist Obi Khanal said the council's approach had toughened in recent years as backyard burning generated an increased number of complaints.

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The harder line would apply to breaching rules at industrial and trade premises, too.

"Open burning at industrial or trade premises is not permitted under our Regional Air Quality Plan and from now on businesses breaching this rule will typically receive a $1000 instant fine, rather than the warning they may have got previously," Mr Khanal said.

The rules applied to two broad geographical areas; one for the more densely populated Whangarei area and another for the rest of the region.

In the Whangarei city airshed, people are not supposed to burn waste material unless they obtain resource consent or their property is more than one hectare.

People outside that airshed can have outside fires as long as they don't cause offensive or objectionable smoke or odour to neighbouring residents or obscure vision on roads.

Banned from backyard burning, though, are rubber tyres, coated metal wires, treated timber, plastic containers, motor vehicle parts and waste oil.

"Those breaching the rules are liable for enforcement action which can range from instant fines of up to $1000, abatement notices and prosecution - the latter with the risk of much stiffer penalties - through the courts," Mr Khanal.