Watch out for wildlife on bonfire night – that’s the message from Isle of Wight Hedgehog Rescue (IWHR) in Seaview, who are asking people to build bonfires on the day they are to be lit to save hedgehogs and other wildlife from appalling suffering.
Building fires on the day will not only save wildlife from burning to death but will also stop the bonfire from getting soaked if it rains the night before. Jacquie Wilson of IWRH said: “Fortunately so far we’ve never had a badly burned hedgehog brought to us here on the Isle of Wight and we’d like to keep it that way, so please, everybody, be very, very careful with your bonfires. With the lack of organised displays this year there are likely to be even more bonfires lit at home, so it is more important than ever to be careful.”
Bonfire material should be moved to clear ground just before lighting. Never put it on top of a pile of leaves as a hedgehog may be hiding underneath. If you must build your bonfire in advance, erect chicken wire around it, holding it in place with stakes. The wire should slope outwards at an angle to make it difficult to climb, as hedgehogs are surprisingly good climbers. Light the fire from one side, keeping people away from the unlit side so that any hedgehogs can hopefully escape.
If a bonfire is left unattended while being built, even for a short time, check for hedgehogs and other animals before lighting. Hedgehogs hide in the centre and bottom of piles of wood, so gently lift the material section by section with a wooden pole. Never use a spade or garden fork as these can stab them. Listen for a hissing sound, the noise hedgehogs make when disturbed.
If you do find hedgehogs, collect as much of the nest as you can and place it, with them, in a high-sided box with plenty of newspaper or old towels. Put air holes in the lid and make sure it is secure as hedgehogs can make quite amazing escapes. Wear garden gloves to protect your hands and avoid getting human smells on them which will make them stressed. Put the box in a safe, quiet place and provide meaty cat or dog food and water until the bonfire is finished, then release the animals under a hedge or near a stack of logs.
In July the hedgehog was placed on the Red List for British Mammals, meaning it is now officially at risk of extinction, but every other mammal on the list has more legal protection. Eighty-four Islanders have signed a national petition asking the government to address the issue, but two weeks ago the government said there are no plans to give hedgehogs further legal protection. You can sign the petition at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/550379.
Isle of Wight Hedgehog Rescue are on Facebook @saveourhedgehogs or call them on 613145.