Hayley Matthews: Bonfires and hedgehogs a prickly subject for me

It can be an incredibly exciting time with all the fireworks, bonfires and sparklers about. The Edinburgh skyline lights up with colourful fireworks jumping in to the air from Arthur's Seat as they sprinkle light over the city.

Friday, 2nd November 2018, 5:00 am
Look out for hedgehogs hiding in your bonfires
Look out for hedgehogs hiding in your bonfires

Many families will be making ­bonfires and having a good old time watching the wood crackle in the flames. However, Bonfire Night is a night I always fear. Not because of the noise from the fireworks keeping ­children awake. It’s not even about the noise scaring the cats. No, I’m ­massively concerned for wildlife at this time of year, and, in particular, hedgehogs.

A few years ago whilst working with STV, I did some filming with the SSPCA at their Alloa animal hospital where they have a special hedgehog unit. We filmed with one of the vets who told us about the importance of checking that there are no hedgehogs snuggling in your bonfire before you light it. They get many injured hedgehogs in for treatment who have severe burns and injuries due to bonfires. I ­specifically remember the vet recalling a traumatic childhood memory where she was standing round a ­bonfire as a child with all her family. They lived in a very green area with lots of bushes, trees and foliage so there was naturally going to be a lot of wildlife around.

She recounted the horror of the night to me, describing the bonfire being lit and within minutes loud screaming noises could be heard coming from it. All of a sudden she saw rabbits running out burnt from the blaze, hedgehogs slowly emerging from the ball of fire and other wildlife jumping out of the flames. She said it was without a doubt, the worst thing she’s ever seen and I could see the scar it had left on her memory. She was devastated.

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She urged me to always check for wildlife when making a bonfire and gave these tips, many of which the woodland Trust also recommends. Firstly, choose the right place for your bonfire. Build it in an open space well away from trees and hedges.

Don’t make a bonfire days in advance as wildlife may go and settle in it. Leave it to as close to the time of the bonfire to gather your leaves and twigs. That way you’re not setting a nest of wildlife on fire along with your bonfire.

Always check for wildlife before lighting your bonfire, making sure there are no hedgehogs, rabbits or other small creatures settled in amongst the foliage.

Don’t burn all their nesting materials. Many animals start to hibernate at this time of year so make sure you don’t clear out all the supplies that they need to build themselves a cosy winter home. Let’s face it, you would be raging if they destroyed your ­electric blanket and fluffy socks – well, think of the leaves as their hot water bottles and fluffy PJs.

Finally, put the fire out properly. It’s also advisable that we all take care with fireworks and keep pets indoors.

I don’t mean to sound like a spoilsport but after spending an afternoon at the animal hospital, seeing all the hedgehogs which had been burnt because of human carelessness, or ­seeing others that were incredibly underweight due to lack of access to food, made me really want to spread the word so that we can avoid doing any more damage.

We can leave the hedgehogs some cat food at the other end of the garden to guide them away from our bonfires. So be vigilant on the 5th by being responsible and keeping an eye out for the wee creatures with which we share our gardens.