Chief executive of the Society Fay Vass says that bonfires look like a five star hotel to hedgehogs looking for shelter.
She said: “The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) has come up with a four-point plan to help end this horrific and unnecessary suffering.
“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!
“If a large bonfire must be built in advance, protect it whilst 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, as hedgehogs are good climbers. A ring of old tyres around the base stacked a few high can also work.
“If, whilst building, a bonfire is left unattended for however short a time, it’s imperative to check for hedgehogs and other animals including family pets, or even young children, before lighting. Hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and base of the bonfire, check the bottom metre or so by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can cause terrible injuries. Using a torch will help and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed.
“When lighting, do so from only one side so there is an escape route for anything you may have missed.
“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 hedgehogs are found, take as much of the nest as you can and place them in a high-sided cardboard or plastic 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. It also 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. That night once the embers are totally dampened down, release the hedgehog in the same area, under a hedge or behind a stack of logs with its original nesting materials.”
“Going to an official organised fireworks display is a far safer option for both humans and animals.”
For more information please see www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk.