The 31st of October! A date that stirs many different feelings in the minds of men. For some, it causes excitement, with the idea of parties and gatherings spinning round their heads, whilst for others, it is a time to turn the lights off and pretend you’re not home, avoiding any irritating knocks on the door. What is it? Halloween! And of course, to me, my Nan’s birthday. The very fact that she shared a birthday with this date being the cementing reason in my mind (along with the little green witch in the kitchen) that she must of course be a witch! A very nice and loving witch, but a witch all the same. But I digress! So, it’s Halloween. There are parties, celebrations and individuals dressed as all kinds of vampires and ghouls, walking the streets till late. But Halloween also causes something else. It causes many to go out into their gardens, collecting leaves, twigs and dry grass. Wait, what? Does it? Well of course it does! Because not only does the 31st of October mark Halloween, but it marks the end of October and the beginning of November. And what comes with November? Bonfire night! But before we all get too excited and start building our bonfires and lighting them without a second to lose, spare a very concerned thought for a little creature who does not view your pile of twigs and leaves as a fire site, but sees them as a rather perfect hibernation sight. Spare a thought for a hedgehog.
That’s right, unfortunately bonfire night is a precarious time for not only hedgehogs, but also for toads and newts, who may take your built bonfire as a shelter or hibernation site. Now, nobody is trying to ruin the fun of others and demand that bonfires should be outlawed and force everyone to stay at home on our traditional bonfire night, but there are things we can do to protect our wildlife at this time of year. The first suggestion? Build your bonfire on the day you intend to light it. Sounds simple, but this is enough to ensure that no little creatures have had time since building to make themselves quite literally, at home. But what if you don’t have time on the day?! What if your bonfire takes work and effort and needs to be prepared at least a few days in advance? What then? Well, in cases such as these, the best option is protection. Using something such as chicken wire to surround the base of your bonfire, preventing animals from getting in. Now, surprisingly to some, hedgehogs are very talented climbers and the wire should be at least 1m high, held in place firmly and sloping outwards, creating a difficult angle for hedgehogs to climb up. Practice these simple ideas and you may stop a hedgehog from seeing your bonfire as a hospitable home.
Still concerned? Then check your bonfire. Hedgehogs are likely to stay in the centre or the bottom 2 feet of the bonfire, so use something like a broom (not a fork!) to gently lift up sections of the bonfire and inspect inside with a torch. Seeing nothing? Then listen. Listen for any hissing noises as this will alert you to a disturbed hedgehog. So, no hedgehog? Yay! Let the festivities begin! But what about if you find one, what then? Well, keep him or her safe. Wearing something such as garden gloves (they don’t want that nasty human smell on them) gently and carefully remove them and as much of their nest as you can. Place them in something such as a tall cardboard box which has a secure lid and air holes and put the box in a safe place like your shed to keep them away from the loud noises and smells that are associated with bonfire night.
So, you’ve saved a hedgehog! But what then? Well, with bonfire night over and your bonfire completely cooled and dampened down, you can release him back into your garden, under a hedge or by a pile of logs. Remember to check your bonfire is totally cool as hedgehogs are very susceptible to burns, which can lead to severe injury and death.
In the UK, our hedgehog numbers are already falling, so be sure to take some time out of your festivities to protect Mrs Tiggywinkle!
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