Keeping wildlife safe this Bonfire Night

Photo by Tom Marshall

Photo by Tom Marshall

Photo by Tom Marshall

Photo by Tom Marshall

Roaring heat, spitting sparks and shooting flames. Everybody enjoys a good bonfire and fireworks, especially on Guy Fawkes Night!

But it is important to remember the impacts of bonfire night on wildlife.

The bright lights and loud bangs of fireworks scare many animals, both domestic pets, livestock and other wildlife too! With ever increasing availability of fireworks for public purchase and busy working lives leading to a many celebrations; the disturbance to animals is not only on one night, but spread across weeks. This is not to say we cannot enjoy the festivities though. We recommend going to a larger organised and/or public event, or buying silent/quiet/animal friendly fireworks.

Fireworks are not the only danger to wildlife on bonfire night though. Bonfires are large piles of wood and sticks which look like great hiding places for all sorts of birds and small mammals, including hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are one of fastest declining species of mammals in Britain, mainly due to decreasing amount of suitable habitat. Habitats become unsuitable through use of pesticides in gardens, towns and farming practices killing off invertebrates and other food sources. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) manages nature reserves to ensure good quality habitats and food availability, as well as managing the reserves to ensure deadwood in woodlands that will decompose and provide a suitable place for invertebrates to live, which are food for hedgehogs and many other species.

You can help wildlife at home by following our handy tips.

Fragmentation is also an increasing problem for the hedgehog population, with fewer hedgerows, more roads and solid garden fences creating barriers and hazards. As well as working on our own nature reserves we also like to work with partners and neighbours to improve the wider living landscape and provide connections to allow species to move. One of these schemes is working in conjunction with partners and neighbours to maintain and re-implement hedgerows that connect nature reserves and other important habitats.

You can do similar at home by creating hedgehog highways in your garden and speaking to neighbours on your street to encourage a hedgehog friendly neighbourhood. More info here.

Bonfires piles make fantastic cover and hiding places for wildlife, and are particularly dangerous to hedgehogs who at this time of year are searching for suitable hibernation sites where they can overwinter. Log piles provide shelter against bad weather and cold temperatures. Due to the time it takes to build, many bonfires are built days beforehand; giving wildlife a chance to move in.

It is important to check bonfires for any sleeping wildlife before lighting!

We recommend building or rebuild your bonfire the night of burning. The act of taking apart should scare off wildlife and by doing it by hand gives slow moving animals a chance to make good their escape. This year is unusually mild, but in the unlikely event a hedgehog will already be hibernating, building by hand gives you the opportunity to find and rescue our prickly friends. If rebuilding is not an options, lift as much as possible and look inside and underneath with a torch looking for movement and signs of life.

Tips and tricks to keep Hedgehogs as safe as possible this Bonfire night

🦔 Build your bonfire on the same day that you light it.
🦔 Place chicken wire one metre high around the bottom while you're building it.
🦔 If you stored materials for your bonfire outdoors then move them to a different patch of ground.
🦔 Never build your bonfire on a pile of leaves as a hedgehog may be hiding underneath.
🦔 Check the entire bonfire for hedgehogs before lighting it. They tend to hide in the centre and around the bottom two feet.
🦔 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 hissing. This is the noise that hedgehogs make when they are disturbed.
🦔 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.

Ways you can further help hedgehogs have a safe hibernation is to provide them with alternative housing options. Either by providing a designated log pile, or building a specific house. Find out how to build your own hedgehog home here.

On rare occasions bonfires actually help wildlife, when local Conservation Officers need to deal with high volume of material with little room for habitat piles.

To join a volunteer work party that has a bonfire, or much needed other habitat management work click here.

Have a truly WILD November 5th – and every other day of the year!