Bonfire Night is a great time for family and friends to get together, share some winter warming food and hot drinks, and enjoy some spectacular fireworks.
But for our wildlife, it’s a time of noise, damage, danger – or worse. Our gardens would benefit too, if we didn’t inflict fire and smoke onto them every 5th of November.
If you’re having a Bonfire Night party at your house, there are some things you can do to make sure it passes enjoyably and safely.
When to make your bonfire
Build it just before you light it, to minimise the risk of wildlife making a home inside. Creatures at risk include hedgehogs looking for a cosy place to hibernate, frogs, toads and newts. Double check for wildlife at the very last minute before lighting your bonfire – and use a torch so you can see into all the nooks and crannies. If you’ve already built yours, then move it to a debris-free area to give creatures the chance to escape.
If you find a hedgehog
Wearing gloves, carefully pick up the hedgehog and move it to a nice sheltered spot under a tree or hedge and well away from the bonfire.
Save some materials for the wildlife
Don’t use up all the deadwood and leaves for your fire. Remember, this is what birds and other wildlife use to make their nests and homes for winter hibernation. You can help them by building inviting woodpiles that they can use – but make sure these are a safe distance from the fire. In fact, this is a great ‘diversionary tactic’ to keep them away from the bonfire. Or why not position a hedgehog hutch with clean straw as an alternative home for visiting wildlife?
Where to site your bonfire & Catherine Wheels
An open space is best. If the fire is too close to trees and hedges, it will scare away nesting birds and other creatures. It also poses a risk of the fire spreading. Never pin a Catherine wheel to a tree because it’s potentially dangerous and it will also disturb birds. Use a fence post or stake instead, in an open area if possible and 1.5 to 2m above ground so everyone can see it safely. Move bird feeders and other wildlife food away from the bonfire site at least a week before.
How to light the fire to allow animals to flee
Light one side of the fire only, not all the way round. This will enable any animals inside to scurry to safety. Always have a plentiful supply of water to hand just in case of an accident to animal or human.
Put the fire out properly afterwards
The ashes can smoulder and remain dangerously hot for quite a long time afterwards, even if it looks as though the fire has gone out. The embers can sometimes remain hot for a day or longer and can reignite. Make sure you put it out completely by using water. Also be sure to clear away the remnants of your fireworks as these, too, can be a hazard to wildlife.
Take care of your furry friends
Keep your pets safely indoors on Bonfire Night and on nights before and after, when loud bangs might scare them into running off.
Avoid garden damage
The best way to avoid scorching your lawn is obvious: don’t build the fire on your lawn! Invest in a brazier or a firepit. Not only are they stylish, but they also ensure the fire is kept at a reasonably small size. Of course, this would also be better for wildlife. Set rockets off from a bucket filled with soft earth to prevent scorching the lawn. When it comes to avoiding wider damage, the RHS recommends leaving a space of 10m between a bonfire and structures such as fences and garden sheds. However, by keeping your bonfire small, this distance might not be quite so necessary. Bark and twigs are extremely vulnerable to radiant heat so common sense dictates you should keep fire well clear.
Don’t waste all that wood ash
Wood ash can be a great addition to the compost heap. Rich in potassium and trace minerals, it can be applied to fallow ground and dug in. As it has a liming effect, it is particularly useful in acidic soils.
Have fun & stay safe!
And remember, remember … to stay safe. Read Rospa’s advice before lighting any bonfires or fireworks – www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/fireworks-safety. For further advice on how to celebrate Bonfire Night safely and without breaking the law, visit www.fireservice.co.uk/safety/bonfires and www.bonfire-night-safety.co.uk. Alternatively, you could just attend a public event!