Every year we receive lots of phone calls with hedgehogs suffering appalling injuries from bonfires. Hedgehogs will nest inside an unlit bonfire any time of the year, but these structures serve as an excellent habitat during the colder Autumn and Winter months and Hedgehogs will hibernate inside an unlit bonfire.
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Recommendations for bonfires with hedgehogs and other wildlife in mind:
Ideally and recommended, bonfires should be built and burnt on the same day leaving little time for any wildlife (particularly hedgehogs) moving in to create a new nest / habitat.
Another option is to move the entire bonfire a few meters away just before lighting it. This will ensure any wildlife such as hedgehogs that have found the unlit bonfire, and decided it a suitable home will be seen before the bonfire is lit.
Another option is to put up a fence or a barrier around the bonfire beforehand using chicken wire (not plastic netting) at least 1m high, or a pile of old tyres. This will prevent wildlife such as hedgehogs from entering the area where the bonfire is being prepared to be burnt.
If none of the recommend options highlighted above to protect wildlife are followed when making a bonfire, a last resort (but not ideal) would be to simply check the bonfire before lighting it. Hedgehogs tend to hide in the centre and bottom two feet of the bonfire, check by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole or broom. Never use a spade or fork as these can stab them. Using a torch will help to see and listen for a hissing sound, as this is the noise they make when disturbed.
It would also be beneficial for the hedgehogs if these tips regarding safety for wildlife and bonfires were highlighted to local event organisers and groups. It is worth noting that amphibians, reptiles and even pets also like to hide in structures like bonfires.
What to do if a hedgehog is found unharmed in an unlit bonfire?
If hedgehogs are found, take as much of the nest as you can and place them in a high-sided cardboard or plastic box with plenty of newspaper/old towelling. Ensure there are air holes in the lid and that the lid is secured firmly to the box, as hedgehogs are great climbers. Wear garden gloves so as not to get human smells on them and to keep them calm as hedgehogs are easily stressed and also protects your hands from their spikes. Put the box in a safe quiet place such as a shed or garage well away from the bonfire, offer specialist hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food and water. Once the bonfire is totally dampened down, release the hedgehog under a hedge, bush or behind a stack of logs.
Hornbeam Wood Hedgehog Sanctuary (http://www.hwhs.org.uk)
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