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November 5 bonfires - wildlife experts urge homeowners to look out for hedgehogs

Tips on how to rescue the prickly creatures safely

Geraldine Gardner

Geraldine Gardner

geraldine.gardner@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886684

Wildlife experts urge homeowners to look out for hedgehogs during bonfire season

WITH a record number of back garden bonfire celebrations predicted to take place around November 5, wildlife experts are urging the public to check their bonfires for wildlife before lighting. 

Hedgehogs are in particular danger as bonfire log piles are seen by them as ideal places for shelter - unfortunately the native British mammals regularly fall foul of unchecked bonfires and are killed because of it.

Hedgehogs were recently named on The Mammal Societies Red List of endangered mammals which makes the warning for bonfire night more crucial than ever. Since 2007, numbers of wild hedgehogs in the UK have halved, and there are now thought to be fewer than a million left in the UK. 

Garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife Sean McMenemy says: “Hedgehogs are a welcome sight in any garden, as they help keep control of pests like snails, slugs and other insects. But in the UK these beautiful and valuable creatures are disappearing at an alarming rate. With their natural habitats being destroyed by urbanisation, our gardens are a crucial place of safety for hedgehogs, so it’s important that people do everything they can to protect them. 

"Bonfires appear to hedgehogs to be ideal places for shelter. Made from natural materials like wood and compost and full of small nooks and crannies to crawl into, it’s unsurprising that hedgehogs can easily mistake them for habitats. With more back garden bonfires taking place this November there’s an even greater threat to hedgehogs than usual, so we all need to be vigilant. It’s certainly possible to have a wildlife friendly bonfire night if the right precautions are taken!”

Top tips on how to have a wildlife-friendly bonfire this year

  • Don’t build it until the same day that you will light it. The longer it’s left for, the more likely that a hedgehog will find its way into your bonfire.
  • If you need to build your bonfire in advance, make sure you place chicken wire one metre high all the way around the bottom. This should be placed at an outward angle to make it more difficult for hedgehogs to climb.
    If you have stored materials for your bonfire outdoors before building it, move them to a different patch of ground before you start.
  • Always place the bonfire on open ground – never on a pile of leaves as a hedgehog may be hiding underneath.
    Always check the entire bonfire for hedgehogs before lighting it. Remember that they tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet in particular.
  • When checking, lift parts of the bonfire section by section using a pole or broom. Do not use a fork, spade or rake as this may injure a hedgehog.
  • Use a torch to look inside the bonfire and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise that hedgehogs make when they are disturbed or distressed.
  • Always light your bonfire from one corner, rather than in the centre, in order to give hedgehogs a chance to escape if they need to.

If you do find a hedgehog, it’s important to move slowly and calmly in order not to alarm it. Even if the bonfire is lit, if you have followed the steps above you should be able to rescue the hedgehog. 

With a pair of gardening gloves, pick it up (along with any nest material it may have been sitting in) and place it in a high-sided cardboard box. Ensure this contains plenty of newspaper, and relocate the box to a safe and suitable location that is far from any fires. Wait until the bonfire is over and and dampen down the fire site with water before releasing the hedgehog under a bush or a log pile to ensure its safety.

Click here for more information about Ark Wildlife

You can find more information on how to look after hedgehogs at British Hedgehog Preservation Society
 or The Wildlife Trusts or The Mammal Society

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