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BONFIRE night might be fun for all the family, but not for hedgehogs or other small animals who have decided to make that inviting pile of leaves and old branches their winter home.
Each year many perish after their refuge suddenly becomes a blazing inferno and this year a Worcestershire rescue service is urging bonfire builders to take extra care to protect the county’s wildlife.
The ideal solution is for bonfires not to be built until the day they are lit, because the longer they stand, the more chance there is of a hedgehog snuffling into them and settling down. Also, of course, it will prevent the bonfire getting soaked if it rains the night before.
Viv Smith, who runs Malvern Hedgehog Rescue from her home in Matthais Close, said: “If material is stored on open ground before a bonfire, it’s crucial to dismantle it and move it to another spot just before lighting.
“Ensure the bonfire is moved to clear ground – never on top of a pile of leaves because there could be a hedgehog underneath it – and not too close to pampas grass either, which can ignite very easily and is another favourite spot where hedgehogs will hide.”
If a large bonfire has to be built in advance, protect it while 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 over; hedgehogs are good climbers.
Also hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of a bonfire, so check you don’t have one in residence by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom.
Never use a spade or fork because these can hurt them. Using a torch will help and listen for a hissing sound – the noise a hedgehog makes when disturbed.
Mrs Smith said: “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 or old towelling. Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box because hedgehogs are great climbers.
Ideally, wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to keep them calm.
“Hedgehogs are easily stressed.
Also, gloves protect your hands from their spines. Put the box in a safe place such as a shed or a garage, well away from the festivities. In case you have missed anything light the fire from one side only. Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release any hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs.”
Å For more information contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society on 01584 890801 or go to britishhedgehogs.org.uk.