This year, there are more at home bonfires expected than ever before, and even if you’ve been building them for years, it’s key to know how to make these events run as safely as possible.
Have confidence in knowing you’re not only having fun celebrating Bonfire Night, but you’re making sure animals and humans are kept safe and sound.
One of the biggest wildlife issues with bonfires in the UK is the issue of hedgehogs hiding in the wood. This lovely mammal see the log piles as the perfect place to shelter in our gardens and then gets caught in the fire once it's lit. In fact, there are now thought to be fewer than a million hedgehogs left in Great Britain.
‘Made from natural materials like wood and compost and full of small nooks and crannies to crawl into, it’s unsurprising that hedgehogs can easily mistake bonfires for habitats,’ says Sean McMenemy, garden wildlife expert and director of Ark Wildlife. ‘With more back garden bonfires taking place this November there’s an even greater threat to hedgehogs than usual, so we all need to be vigilant. It’s certainly possible to have a wildlife friendly bonfire night if the right precautions are taken!’
Make your bonfire wildlife-friendly
It’s more than possible to have a fun-filled Bonfire Night while keeping animals safe this year. Sean recommends delaying building the fire until the day of, leaving less time for hedgehogs or other small creatures to find their way in. If you do need to build in advance, add a perimeter of chicken wire.
Start your bonfire on open ground rather than a pile of leaves, as tiny hedgehogs may be hiding in the foliage. Then, always make sure to check a bonfire as thoroughly as possible before lighting, using a broom rather than gardening tools which might cause more harm. For hedgehogs specifically, ‘use a torch to look in the pile and listen for a hissing sound which the mammal makes when distressed,’ says Sean.
If you do find a prickly friend hiding in your bonfire, pick it up while wearing a pair of gardening gloves, place in a high sided cardboard box and then release back into the wild once the fire has been safely put out.
Keep humans safe and happy
It’s not just critters who can be put in danger from a bonfire, so it’s important to build and maintain a safe fire. Just like hedgehogs, small children might run and hide in a bonfire, so make sure everyone is accounted for, and double-check the pile once more before lighting.
The London Fire Brigade offers a few, simple to action, suggestions for how to keep things running safely. ‘Build the fire clear of all buildings, sheds, fences and hedges. Once you’re ready to light, never use flammable liquids to start a bonfire and never burn dangerous items such as aerosol cans, paint tins, foam furniture or batteries.’ Similarly, never put any fireworks, even spent or non-functioning ones, on a fire.
‘Always keep a bucket of water or a hosepipe nearby, and don’t leave bonfires unattended. An adult should supervise it until it has burnt out. If it has to be left, damp it down with plenty of water.’