By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 4 November 2016.
This year Bonfire Night falls on a Saturday and you may be having a party. You know we’re keen on wildlife so you won’t be surprised we’re reminding you to check your bonfire for wildlife before lighting it, and to be careful where you light your fireworks. Use the ashes in the garden as any potassium they have is good for flowers and fruit.
Protect wildlife from death or injury when you have a bonfire
We’re talking about hedgehogs, of course, but also toads, frogs, newts, rabbits, mice, voles, slow worms …
- Stack material until you’re ready to build the fire on the day. If it’s already built, move it to a clear area before lighting so any wildlife that has moved in can escape.
- Move bird feeders and other wildlife food away from the bonfire site at least a week before.
- Divert toads, frogs and newts away from the bonfire by creating small piles of leaves and logs as alternative shelter. Place a hedgehog house or simple hutch with clean and fresh straw as an alternative home for any visiting wildlife.
- Check, check and check again before lighting the fire. Use broom handles to lift the bonfire up to check for wildlife inside. Use torches to check underneath and listen carefully for any signs of life.
- If you do find any hibernating hedgehogs at the bottom or in the middle of your prepared bonfire, pick them up (using gloves) and move them somewhere sheltered, such as under shrubs.
- Light the bonfire at one side rather than all round so that any animals or birds have a chance to escape.
- Light bonfires and fireworks away from overhanging trees, bushes and hedgerows to minimise disturbance of birds in nest boxes and animals. Don’t pin Catherine wheels to trees; attach them to fence posts or stakes in the ground instead.
- Have a bucket of water available in case you need to put out the fire or an animal on fire.
- Know who to call if you find an injured wildlife casualty.
- Make sure the bonfire is out, or safe, before leaving it – a large bonfire will produce a pile of ash that could be hot and dangerous to wildlife for days afterwards.
- Don’t leave dead fireworks or litter around as cans and bottles can trap small mammals or get stuck on their noses.
What to do with bonfire ash or ash from wood burning stoves
Depending on what’s been burnt, wood ash can contain useful amounts of potassium (necessary for flowers and fruit) and trace elements. Protect it from rain, though, as these are easily leached out by rain.
Wood ash is useful to add to very acid soils as it has a liming effect.
I add mine in small amounts to the compost heap but it can be added directly to the ground in the winter. Don’t use it on fruit, roses or rhododendrons, though, as they all do best in a slightly acid soil. Don’t use it where potatoes are to be grown, either, as it can encourage potato scab. Useful information from the Royal Horticultural Society here.
Have a great Bonfire Night!