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 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.
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.
Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesty Dorthe Madsen
The hedgehog below was not so lucky, its injuries were too severe for it to be saved.
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 here.