A British Hedgehog Preservation (BHPS) spokesman said: “To save hedgehogs and other wildlife from appalling suffering we urge that bonfires should not be built until the day they are to be lit.
“This will not only save wildlife from burning to death but will also stop the bonfire from getting soaked should it rain the night before.”
Fay Vass, chief executive of BHPS, added: “If material is stored on open ground in advance of having a bonfire, it’s crucial to dismantle it and move it to another spot just before lighting.
“Ensure it’s moved to clear ground - never on top of a pile of leaves as there could be a hedgehog underneath, and not too close to pampas grass which can ignite very easily and is another favourite spot for hedgehogs to hide under.”
If a large bonfire has to be built in advance, protect it while building by putting 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, as hedgehogs are good climbers, says the BHPS.
Fay added: “If, whilst building, a bonfire is left unattended, for however short a time; it’s imperative to check for young children, hedgehogs and other animals, including family pets, before lighting. As hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of the bonfire, check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom.
“Never use a spade or fork as these can stab them. Using a torch will help and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed.
“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/old towelling. “Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers. Ideally, wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to keep them calm as hedgehogs are easily stressed. Also, it protects your hands from their spikes.
“Put the box in a safe place such as a shed or garage well away from the festivities and offer the hedgehog some meaty cat or dog food and water. “In case you have missed anything light the fire from one side only. Once the embers are totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs with its original nesting materials.”
For more information: www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk.