Remember, remember, the fifth of November 

By Charlie Jordin

Guy Fawkes night, bonfire night, fireworks night – whatever you call it, 5 November has a long and loud history in England. Read on to find out how you can support your local community and avoid endangering wildlife.

It originally began as a celebration of the thwarted gunpowder plot to blow up Parliament back in 1605 but has since become a tradition that you either love or loathe. 

A photo of a crowd of people gathering around a bonfire
November 5 is the perfect opportunity to gather around the bonfire | Klara Kulikova

Fireworks: community matters 

Instead of buying your own fireworks, you can save money, meet friends and support your local community by going to your local firework or bonfire celebrations. For children and grown-up children, 5 November is often a cherished date in the calendar – it’s a time to wrap up warm and come together as a neighbourhood. There’s even traditional food and snacks for the occasion (locally-sourced sausages, anyone?). 

A photo of someone holding a hotdog with ketchup and mustard
Locally-sourced sausages are the perfect snack for the occasion | Matt Seymour

In Sussex, 5 November has been a key part of village life for generations. The Lewes bonfire and fireworks are the best known and sometimes controversial – but many Sussex villages have their own bonfire societies. Meanwhile, in the Devon town of Ottery St Mary the streets are transformed into a river of fire with flaming barrels of tar carried through the streets. This remarkable tradition highlights the rich history of the occasion; the role of ‘barrel roller’ is often handed down from generation to generation with much pride.  

Man carrying flaming barrel
A man carries a burning barrel of tar through Ottery St Mary in Devon during the annual celebrations

This year it’s important to check your local news and social channels for events beforehand, however, as many events have been cancelled due to coronavirus.  

Fireworks at home 

If you’re having your own firework display at home, make sure you let them off in an open space and aimed away from trees. Fireworks can damage habitats for trees and can cause panicked birds to abandon their nests. Avoid areas where farm animals or wildlife live and opt for equally impressive low-noise fireworks. 

Finally, be sure to let your neighbours know ahead of time so they can prepare if they have children, pets or livestock. There are legal restrictions on the times you can let off fireworks so do be aware of the rules. 

Bonfires: look out for wildlife 

Check bonfires for wildlife before and during your build and, most importantly, before you light it. A pile of wood is the perfect setting for a hedgehog hideout so be extra mindful if you’re setting up a bonfire in the middle of the day and lighting it hours later at night. Look out for toads, newts and frogs too. Use a torch and listen out for hissing, the sound a hedgehog makes when it’s scared.  

A close-up of a hedgehog in a garden
Bonfires can look inviting to hedgehogs, who are looking for somewhere warm over winter | Alexas Fotos

Don’t use any tools like a rake or broom as this could injure a creature. And make sure you keep a hose nearby in case of an emergency. 

Thinking of our furry friends 

In all the celebrations and awe of 5 November, it’s sadly not an enjoyable holiday for our pets. The sudden loud noises and bright lights can cause anxiety, confusion and fear. 

A puppy fast asleep in its owners arms
This puppy clearly appreciates being comforted during the fireworks | Freestocks

Tips for pet owners 

  • Keep windows and curtains tightly shut. 
  • Make sure your home is secure and pets are indoors, and don’t forget the cat flap – it’s common for pets to run away on 5 November. 
  • Play music or turn on the radio to drown out the sound of fireworks. 
  • A common behaviour is for pets to hide, so make sure they can do so safely – for example, under an armchair or their favourite blanket. Don’t try and pry them out of their hiding spot as this might cause further stress. 
  • Comfort your pet if they need it, but bear in mind some pets might want to be left alone. 
  • Don’t punish your pet for being scared – they won’t understand what they’ve done wrong. 

The Dogs Trust has some handy tips on looking after your dog and Battersea has some useful advice for cats too. The British Horse Society have put together guidance for keeping horses safe and calm. 

 

A photo of colourful fireworks against a dark sky
Bianca Saybe

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