Please save a hedgehog from your bonfire

Please save a hedgehog from your bonfire

Hedgehog in autumn leaves by Tom Marshall

How to check your wood pile for hiding hogs - and how to get them out safely.

It's that time of year again: the clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in, and it's time to make a huge bonfire to warm up.

However these huge piles of wood are also the exact kind of place where our beloved hedgehogs love to hide and hibernate for the winter.

If you build your bonfire in advance and leave it for a day or more, there is a real chance that one of your local hedgehogs will burrow inside to hide, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Stock image of a bonfire. Picture: Janne Karaste/ Wikimedia Commons

Stock image of a bonfire. Picture: Janne Karaste/ Wikimedia Commons

The reason that it's all the more worrying is that the number of hedgehogs in the UK has declined alarmingly in recent years.

In 1995 there were calculated to be around 1.5 million hedgehogs across the county - it is now estimated there are fewer than 500,000.

The biggest single threat to these wonderful little mammals is believed to be habitat loss: largely because many farmers have moved from pastoral to arable crops and increasing their field sizes by removing the hedgerows where hedgehogs live.

People using pesticides in gardens and farms kills many of the creatures hedgehogs need for food and may also poison them directly. Tens of thousands more are also killed on British roads each year.

Hedgehogs are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, and last year the Mammal Society's Red List for British Mammals ranked them as Vulnerable to Extinction.

Hedgehogs do, however, survive well in gardens, particularly when food is put out for them, and while rural populations have plummeted it is estimated that many urban populations have increased significantly in recent years.

That is why it would be all the more tragic if we were to accidentally hurt any hedgehogs by setting light to a big pile of logs in our garden where they have taken shelter.

 

What can we do to help?

A girl wearing gardening gloves to hold a hedgehog in her garden. Picture: Jane Bolton

A girl wearing gardening gloves to hold a hedgehog in her garden. Picture: Jane Bolton

In order to avoid harming any hedgehogs, there are some easy things you can do:

  • Build your bonfire on the day you want to burn it, so hedgehogs don't have any time to sneak inside.
  • Always place the bonfire on open ground – never on a pile of leaves as a hedgehog may be hiding underneath.
  • Place chicken wire one metre high, at an outward angle, all the way around the bottom while you're building it.
  • If you have already made your bonfire, the safest way to be sure there are no hogs inside is to move all the material to a new spot before lighting it.
  • If this is not possible, you can check the different sections of your pile using a broom pole (not a fork or spade as this could hurt any animals taking refuge).
  • One more alternative is to use a torch to look for hedgehogs and listen out for the hissing sound they make when they are disturbed.
  • Always light your bonfire from one corner, rather than in the centre, in order to give hedgehogs a chance to escape if they need to.

If you do find a hedgehog, pick it up wearing a pair of thick gloves such as a gardening gloves and move it to a safe location.

If you find an injured hedgehog, contact the RSPCA (rspca.org.uk or 0300 1234 999) or Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Buckinghamshire (sttiggywinkles.org.uk or 01844 292292).

You can also help hedgehogs year-round by leaving out food for them: either meat-based cat or dog food, cat biscuits or special hedgehog food. You can also leave out water in a bowl.

 

More ways you can help hedgehogs:

 

Stay up-to-date with our work

Sign up below to receive the latest news from BBOWT, tips about how you can help wildlife, plus information on how you can get involved.

Sign up to our newsletter