With bonfire night and Halloween fast approaching, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) is urging people to build bonfires on the day they are going to be lit to save hedgehogs and other wildlife from potentially appalling suffering.
Piles of wood and autumn debris is very attractive to creatures looking for dry and sheltered places shelter and even to overwinter and a stack ready for a bonfire is a magnet for some of these innocent creatures. By building the bonfire on the day you plan to light it, you will not only save wildlife sheltering inside and burning to death, but will also stop the bonfire from getting soaked should it rain in the meantime!
Fay Vass, Chief Executive of BHPS, said “If material for burning is stored on open ground, or in any accessible place prior to lighting a bonfire, it’s really crucial to dismantle it carefully and move it to another spot just before lighting. You need to ensure that it’s moved to clear ground and never on top of a pile of leaves, as there could be a hedgehog underneath. It’s important to keep it well away from clumps of grasses, especially pampas grass which can ignite very easily and is another favourite spot for hedgehogs to hide under.”
Building in advance
“If a large bonfire must be built in advance, it’s important to prevent any wildlife from reaching it while it is being built by putting some chicken wire, at least one-metre-high, all the way around the bottom. This should be held in place with strong stakes and the wire should slope outwards at an angle to make it difficult to climb. Please remember that hedgehogs are really good climbers!
And just in case a determined creature has slipped in, always light the fire from one side only and keep people away from the unlit side so that any hedgehogs can hopefully escape quickly and safely,” Fay advises.
If an unlit a bonfire is left unattended, for however short a time, it’s imperative to check for young children, hedgehogs and all other animals, including family pets, before lighting. “As hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of a bonfire, please check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can cause injury. Using a torch will help you to see clearly and listen out for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed,” explains Fay.
Found a hedgehog?
“If a hedgehog is found in there then take as much of the nest as you can along with the hog and place them in a high-sided cardboard or plastic box with plenty of newspaper/old towels. Ensure that there are sufficient air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers and escape artists. Wear garden gloves so as not to get any human smells on them and to keep them really calm as hedgehogs are easily stressed – the gloves will also protect your hands from their prickly spikes. Put the box in a safe quiet place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities and offer specialist hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food and water. Once the festivities are over and the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs in the same area.”
Official organised fireworks displays are a far safer option for both humans and animals!
For more information on helping hedgehogs please see www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk