Bonfire piles, made up of dry wood and leaves, look like the perfect hibernation spot for hedgehogs, so BHPS have come up with a four-point plan for people to follow:
Bonfires should not be built until the day they are to be lit. This will not only save wildlife from burning to death but will also stop the bonfire from getting soaked should it rain the night before!
If a large bonfire must 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! A ring of old tyres around the base stacked a few high can also work.
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, or even young children, before lighting. Hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and base of the bonfire, check the bottom metre or so by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can cause terrible injuries. Using a torch will help and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed.
When lighting, do so from only one side so there is an escape route for anything you may have missed.
“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,” says Fay Voss, chief executive of BHPS.
“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 hedgehogs are found, take as much of the nest as you can and place them in a high-sided cardboard or plastic box with plenty of newspaper/old towelling. Make sure to wear gloves to keep human smells to a minimum and to protect your hands.
Ensure there are air holes in the lid and the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers.
Put the box in a safe quiet place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities, offer specialist hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food and water.
Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog in the same area under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs.
If you find an injured hedgehog, the BHPS recommends following steps 1, 2 and 3 above, then calling them on 01584 890 801 for further advice and the numbers of local contacts.