October to January is a fun season full of festivities and revelry as we rally against the dying of the light and the gathering dark. After the year turns past Autumn equinox and the days begin to grow shorter we gather together and hold celebrations to mark events such as halloween and bonfire night (and later of course, winter solstice, Christmas and New Year); creating memories and stories to tell each other through the coming dark months of winter. However, as we enter the spirit of the season, our actions and choices could be turning us into nightmarish monsters for the real creatures of the dark.
I am of course, not talking about ghosts and ghouls, wicked witches or the undead…but the living much less scary bumps-in-the-dark; our nocturnal wildlife.
Autumn is an important time of the year for wildlife and, as the evenings draw in and our daily lives overlap with the darkness, it is also a great time to see those creatures that prefer the night-time world to the garish bright lights of day. Dusk at 5pm means that catching a glimpse of hedgehogs or bats for example, no longer means staying awake until the early hours of the morning as it would in mid-summer. Mammals aren’t the only creatures you might bump into; amphibians also prefer the damp nights to move around their territories gobbling up the last of the slugs and garden pests.
Currently, both mammal and amphibian are focussed on eating as much as possible to build up fat reserves to last the winter, but as the season progresses all of these creatures will begin to seek out safe refuges for hibernation.
The trouble is… much of what we love about our autumnal celebrations posses serious threats and danger to our much loved wildlife. At a time when many of theses species are already in decline,
But all is not doom and gloom, and there is no reason we can’t all enjoy the autumn without causing undue harm to our local haunters of the night.
So here are a few tips on protecting wildlife this October and November (and beyond)!
Trick or Treat?
As soon as the ‘back to school’ posters are taken down from shop windows, the shelves fill with pumpkins, plastic skeletons, costumes and glitter. By the first week of November, much of this ends up in the bin, or littering front doorsteps. Food waste and over use of plastic are two big issues in our modern culture, which we all need to urgently take steps to reduce.
- Go on a wand search – head out as a family to your local woodland or park after windy weather. A stick makes a perfect wand, especially if adorned with coloured wool, wooden beads, pine cones or feathers. And of course, unlike the plastic versions, every ‘wand’ will be totally unique!
- Ditch the glitter. How often have you picked up something with glitter on it, to then find everything else covered in glitter too? Glitter does not simply disappear when washed off in the shower the next morning, but persists in the environment as a micro-plastic. These tiny plastic fragments accumulate and cause harm to wildlife, and potentially can even end up in the human food chain!
Pumpkin for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner!
Many creature will make use of your pumpkin if you don’t fancy it! If you want to feed your pumpkin to the wild birds and animals in your garden after the event, make sure your use a removable reusable battery candle in your lantern – the wax from melted candles or tea lights will be toxic to the creatures that come to feast. Also, please do not leave your pumpkin in woods or parks, it is technically littering, could potentially be hazardous to pets such as dogs walked in the area, and can upset the carefully managed ecological balance of the area. The seeds may also grow, causing disruption to the local flora. Someone will have to come along and clear up your ‘mess’.
Why not try saving a few seeds to try and grow your own pumpkin plant next year (organic and zero transport miles!), enjoy the contents in a seasonal meal, then use the pumpkin lantern ‘shell’ as a natural bird feeder in your garden.
What goes up (and bang!) must come down…
A good firework display is guaranteed to draw an admiring chorus of ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s, from watchers caught up in the moment of colour, light and romance. It is worth remembering however that not everyone enjoys fireworks. Many dog owners, perhaps yourself included, dread the approach of November 5th as their four-legged family member cowers under the bed in fear. The effect can be much the same on wild animals (and indeed some people!).
Of course, what ever goes up must come down, and the remains of fireworks can pose a deadly litter in our streets and countryside.
- Organise or join a local litter pick to ensure litter and debris from spent fireworks is disposed of appropriately.
- Rather than having your own display, attend a safe and conscientiously organised licensed public display. This will result in fewer displays over all, and it’s a great way to support local community fundraising efforts.
- If you host your own party, choose fireworks for colour and display rather than loudest bangs.
Don’t let go!
The scariest sight I see is a bright spot of light bobbing apparently peacefully across the night sky; a sky lantern. If considered in logical terms, letting loose a burning object to fly free, with no control over where or when it lands is clearly NOT a sensible idea! Sky lanterns (also sometimes marketed as Chinese lanterns) are a very serious hazard, and should never be released.
- Fire – despite manufacturers claims, there are no guarantee that the flame will be completely extinguished and the flammable material cold, by the time the lantern comes back down to earth. Wildlife habitats, farm crops, industrial units and homes are all put at risk.
- Litter – sky lanterns are constructed using either a wire or bamboo skeleton to hold the paper balloon and candle. Once these materials land, they can ensnare or injure animals, or fragments can even be eaten by animals, all with fatal results. (Damage farm machinery, being mistaken for distress flares at sea, and spooking sensitive domestic animals such as horses, are also major issues.)
Time for a tidy up
Autumn is time for a working in the garden. Whether it is just an annual tidy up, or clearing up seasonal storm damage, it is a great excuse for a bonfire. There is something about the smell of bonfire smoke that connects us to the season in a way few other things can. Somehow, a bonfire often turns into quite an event, and gathering around the flames with friends and family, maybe even toasting marshmallows or cooking sausages and baked potatoes is a joy and a wonderful experience.
In an average sized garden, it can take a while to gather enough material for a bonfire, especially if you also use composting to deal with a lot of your garden waste. The temptation can be to allow the pile to grow over a few days or weeks until the day you are ready to light it. Now imagine you are a hedgehog…or a toad, newt, slow worm… as the temperatures plummet you are looking for a cosy safe place to rest, and perhaps later in the season to hibernate for the winter. A pile of leaves, branches, and vegetation looks just perfect and you crawl into the voids between the sticks and settle down to sleep.
Many creatures find bonfire heaps attractive places to shelter, and it could cost them their lives. Always lift and check under your bonfire, and light from one side only, to leave an escape route for any animals that might need it. Ideally, if at all possible, it is best practice to store the material elsewhere or move the heap to one side, so you can re-stack all the material just ahead of lighting your bonfire.
So there we are folks – my top tips to prevent halloween and bonfire night, and the autumn season becoming a terrifying fright-night for wildlife!
Shun the glitter, give your pumpkin an afterlife, try not to let fireworks haunt the morning after, don’t let go, and remember remember… to check for hedgehogs!