Posted 31st Oct 2014
With Bonfire Night fast approaching, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) urges that bonfires should not be built until the day they are to be lit to save hedgehogs and other wildlife from appalling suffering. Here's how you can help hedgy this winter
Building bonfires in advance will not only save wildlife from burning to death but will also stop the bonfire from getting soaked should it rain the night before. Fay Vass, Chief Executive of BHPS, said: 'If material is stored on open ground in advance of having a bonfire, it’s crucial to dismantle it and move it to another spot just before lighting. Ensure it’s moved to clear ground – never on top of a pile of leaves as there could be a hedgehog underneath – and not too close to pampas grass which can ignite very easily and is another favourite spot for hedgehogs to hide under.'
If a large bonfire has to be built in advance, protect it whilst building by putting some chicken wire one metre high all the way
around the bottom. This should be held in place with stakes and the wire should slope outwards at an angle to make it difficult to climb, as hedgehogs are good climbers!
If, whilst building, a bonfire is left unattended, for however short a time; it’s imperative to check for hedgehogs and other animals, including family pets, before lighting. As hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of the bonfire, check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can stab them. Using a torch will help and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise hedgehogs make when disturbed.
Fay added: 'If hedgehogs are found, take as much of the nest as you can and place them in a high-sided cardboard box with plenty of newspaper/old towelling. Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers. Ideally, wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to keep them calm as hedgehogs are easily stressed. Put the box in a safe place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities, offer specialist hedgehog food or meaty pet food and water. Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs. In case you have missed anything light the fire from one side only and keep people away from the unlit side so that any hedgehogs can hopefully escape in peace.'
Of course, going to an official organised fireworks display is a far safer option for both humans and animals. For free advice and information on hedgehogs, contact the BHPS on 01584 890 801 or visit their website at www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk
Top tips for keeping hedgehogs safe this autumn & winter
- Make sure hedgehogs have access into and out of your garden. A 5” square gap will open up a perhaps long used hedgehog highway that us humans have blocked with fences or walls. Hedgehogs travel up to a mile in a night so need access to plenty of gardens.
- Keep a corner of your garden wild to offer shelter, protection and natural food for hedgehogs and other wildlife. Encourage wildlife into your garden, but you should never just move one in from another area, as it may well have a nest of dependent young that needs it.
- Avoid using pesticides and slug pellets in your garden. Not only can these harm hedgehogs but they can also damage their food chain. Use organic methods instead.
- Provide a shallow dish of fresh water for all wildlife, and food such as meat-based pet food or unsweetened muesli for hedgehogs, especially during long dry spells.
- Make or buy a hedgehog home. This offers a hibernation site safe from predators in the winter. It may also be used as a nesting box for a mother and her hoglets in the warmer months. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society can provide a leaflet on building a hedgehog home. See www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk or send an A5 sae to Hedgehog House, (Hedgehog Homes), Dhustone, Ludlow, SY8 3PL.
- Check areas thoroughly for hedgehogs and other wildlife before strimming or mowing. Keep pea netting 22-30cm off the ground so hedgehogs can pass under, and plants will grow to the netting.
- Dispose of litter responsibly. Every year hedgehogs are injured by litter and starve to death by getting trapped in discarded rubbish.
- Hedgehogs are good swimmers but can become trapped in ponds or pools with sheer sides. Keep water levels topped up, provide a gently sloping edge if possible or place half submerged rocks in the water as an escape for them.
- Cattle grids can be a problem as hedgehogs fall in and become trapped. A simple ramp placed in the grid will save lives. The surface should be rough to enable the escapee to gain a foothold.
Feature courtesy of BHPS. Images courtesy of Serena Shore, Dean Harkness & Alex Sharp