Monty Don follows hedgehog along his garden path

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November 5 will see a sky filled with fireworks and gardens ablaze with bonfires – though few of us will stop to check for wildlife before celebrating Guy Fawkes night this week. Wildlife experts have warned nocturnal animals like hedgehogs are particularly at risk of being trapped in bonfires, urging households to give them ‘room to roam’ – but what else should you be doing to protect wildlife on bonfire night?

How to have a safe garden bonfire

Fire safety is crucial on bonfire night as many households hold firework displays and light up huge bonfires in gardens across the country.

While keeping safe from naked flames and gunpowder displays may seem easy, many garden mammals will struggle to escape the dangers this bonfire night.

Nocturnal species like hedgehogs will be widely affected by the extra-excitement of garden celebrations as last year’s lockdown extinguished the chance to celebrate properly.

Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife told “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 whilst celebrating Bonfire Night.”

Are bonfires dangerous for hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable to being trapped in garden bonfires as they may mistake bonfire log piles for shelter while roaming through the night.

The lovable creatures are 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.

Sean said: “In many gardens, hedgerows have been replaced by high fences with concrete gravel boards, which create impenetrable barriers preventing hedgehogs from reaching the spaces they need to forage for food.”

How to keep hedgehogs safe from bonfires

Sean said we can save hedgehogs on Bonfire Night by giving them “room to roam” using these simple yet effective techniques.

Build a hedgehog highway

Hedgehog highways are five inch gaps in fences that help prevent the accidental trapping of hedgehogs by allowing access between gardens.

Hedgehogs naturally roam through many different gardens whilst foraging for food, finding mates and seeking out shelter.

Creating this gap between fencing panels is a small step which can make a huge difference in saving this endangered species while keeping them out of harm’s way.

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Check your bonfire for wildlife

Once you have assembled your bonfire, use a torch to check the structure for hedgehogs or other mammals.

Act slowly and calmly if you spot one and keep a cardboard box with tall sides on hand if you do need to rescue a trapped hedgehog.

Sean advised: “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 dampen down the fire site with water, before releasing the hedgehog under a bush or near a log pile to ensure its safety.”

How to protect hedgehogs in the garden

Aside from protecting hedgehogs on Bonfire Night, there are plenty of things that you can do to support the hedgehog population all year round.

As we reach the final chapter of autumn, hedgehogs prepare to go into hibernation, so it’s especially important to make sure that you try to supplement their diet and provide suitable places to shelter.

There are many things you can do to preserve these wild mammals all year round, including:

  • Buying or building a hedgehog house – place in a shelter with camouflage leaves, compost and tree branches.
  • Leave meat-based cat or dog food and clean water outside just before dusk.
  • Use natural slug repellent like coffee, eggshells or vinegar instead of poisonous slug pellets.
  • Allow wild growth in your garden and leave piles of leaves and logs for nesting and to attract tasty insects.
  • Cover drains, holes and ponds

Top tips for a safe garden bonfire

Hosting a garden bonfire that is safe for both humans and garden wildlife is easily done with these simple tips:

  • Check your garden for hedgehogs before starting fireworks or lighting a bonfire
  • Build the fire clear of all buildings, sheds, fences and hedges
  • If you find a hedgehog trapped in the bonfire, move slowly and calmly in order to not alarm it
  • Rescue trapped hedgehogs and place in a cardboard box with lots of newspaper and relocate it away from any fires
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a bonfire
  • Never burn dangerous items such as aerosol cans, paint tins, foam furniture or batteries
  • Never put any fireworks, even spent or non-functioning ones, on a fire
  • Release reduced hedgehogs back into the garden after the fire is out and dampened

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