The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has warned that an unknown number of hedgehogs die each year in bonfires that have not properly been checked.
To save the lives of hedgehogs and other wildlife, who use pre-built bonfires for shelter, they urge that bonfires not be built until the day of the event.
Fay Vass, the chief executive of the Preservation Society, says: “Piles of bonfire material look like five star hotels to a hedgehog in search of a hibernation site. It is crucial to dismantle and move bonfire material that has been stored in advance on open ground. 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.”
She adds: “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. Wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to minimise stress caused to the hedgehog, also, it protects your hands from their spikes. Put the box is a safe place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities, as fireworks can terrify them, and offer them meaty cat or dog food and fresh water to drink. Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs with more food and water.”
The society suggests, also, that the bonfire, if built in advance, should be protected by putting metre-high chicken wire enclosing it and sloping outwards to make it difficult for animals to climb.
Listening for hissing sounds while checking the bonfire, by gently lifting the bonfire with a pole or broom, before lighting it is also an indication that a hedgehog is within.