Burnt hedgehogs – watch out for wildlife in your bonfire

Hedgehog bonfire poster
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Don’t toast anything but marshmallows on your bonfire this Bonfire Night.

Sadly, every year wildlife dies a cruel and painful death by being burnt in bonfires. It isn’t just bonfires built for Bonfire Night on November 5 but also those created to burn garden waste at any time of year.

Hedgehog nest in pile of leaves

Hedgehog often nest in a loose pile of Autumn leaves – a bit like those created for bonfires

Piles of twigs, logs and Autumn leaves are the perfect hibernation spot for hedgehogs and other wildlife, such as frogs and toads. Bonfire Night falls right at the time when all these creatures are seeking a snug home for the Winter. The middle of a bonfire pile is the ideal spot – out of the wind and the rain.

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To prevent this needless suffering, please consider whether you need a bonfire at all. A pile of twigs and leaves is a perfect home for wildlife year round and makes a great garden feature.

If you must create a bonfire, build it on the day it is going to be lit. Create a pile and then move it to the bonfire site on the day itself. Choose a site that is clear of leaves and other vegetation where you are sure there are no creatures already hibernating.

If you have no choice but to build your bonfire in advance, check thoroughly with bright torches and watch for movement and listen for noises. Hedgehogs will be in the bottom 2 feet of the bonfire. They will often dig down into the ground beneath it. Ideally a team of people should check to cover all sides of the bonfire. Only ever light the bonfire from one side – giving wildlife a chance to escape from the other sides. Whilst it helps, this way of checking is not as good as creating the bonfire on the day. If a hedgehog is hibernating, it will not stir….

If you find a hedgehog, capture it and keep it safe and away from noise in a high sided box. You can find more info on how to look after it here. Only release the hedgehog back when the bonfires are finished and you are certain that the embers have gone cold.

Even with checks, some hedgehogs are unlucky. Below is a hedgehog that was found in a bonfire and all the spines on its back have been singed. This hedgehog did survive but it took many months of treatment for it to recover and the spines to re-grow.

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Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesty Dorthe Madsen

The hedgehog below was not so lucky, its injuries were too severe for it to be saved.

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Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesy Dru Burdon

So, remember, whilst you might be having fun on Bonfire Night, it is not so fun for wildlife that may be living in your bonfire. Always always check and ideally make your bonfire on the days itself. Please don’t create a needless wildlife casualty.

You can help to spread the word about checking bonfires. Get in touch with people organising bonfire parties in your area and ask them to check for wildlife. You can also download awareness posters here to put up at work, school and in your neighbourhood – look in the ‘information’ section.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about how to support my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.com

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Disturbed nest, orphaned hoglet

Hedgehog nest in pile of leaves
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Summer means orphan season and a flurry of calls about abandoned hoglets.

Hedgehog nests are not strong and sturdy, they are frequently just a pile of leaves, in long grass or underneath a large plant. Underneath sheds and decking are also favourite spots.

I received a call after this nest was disturbed by someone raking leaves in their garden.

If a nest is disturbed, mum may kill or abandon the hoglets. Sadly mum did not return for one of the two hoglets.

The best way to prevent this happening is to avoid disturbing a nest in the first place. Learn to love your grass long. Cherish piles of leaves. Put off dismantling the shed.

If you do accidentally disturb a nest, cover it back up straight away.  DO NOT touch the hoglets. Wait and see if mum returns. She may return to the nest or may return and move the nest and babies to another site.

If she does not return and the hoglets are ‘peeping’ or are venturing out of the nest, then they will be in need of rescue.

There is a great page here where you can listen to the sound that hoglets make when they are in distress or hungry (as well as other fascinating hedgehog noises!)

You will find more information about how to find a hedgehog rescue here.

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Hedgehog nest in a pile of leaves

Every year I rescue hoglets that have been abandoned or where something else has happened to mum – she could have been killed on a road or be injured or sick.

Hand rearing hoglets is expert work and you should always seek expert advice from a. hedgehog rescue. It is not something to take on without any experience.

This little hoglet is around 11 days old. It can curl up but its eyes are not yet open. It will need hand feeding by syringe until it is able to eat by itself. They are fed a lactose-free formula and will then be gradually weaned onto a puppy mousse when their teeth emerge.

Baby hoglet in hand June 2016

Orphaned hoglet about 11 days old. Her eyes are still closed.

Once it can feed on its own, human contact will be reduced. The aim is for the hoglets to be released back to the wild once they are a suitable age and weight for release.

Pair of baby hoglets by Little Silver Hedgehog

Whole litters may need to be rescued if something has happened to mum

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. I have rehabilitated over 350 hedgehogs since 2012. I also work hard to raise awareness of the plight of hedgehogs and how you can help them. My work is entirely self funded. You can support my work by donating or supporting my jewellery, which raises funds for the rescue work.

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