Check your bonfire for hedgehogs before lighting it!

Are you having a bonfire this weekend for Bonfire Night? If you are and have been collecting wood in a pile, think about any small mammals that may be hiding inside it.


Hedgehogs start to look for hibernation spots in early November, as soon as temperatures drop below 16c. They, and many field mice, will probably already have made winter nests in the pile, thinking they will be safe and sheltered for the winter. If you don't check the heap, they will not be safe or sheltered.


The Wildlife Trust recommends that bonfire piles are checked for hibernating mammals before being lit. This is not difficult to do; the wood pile is simply dismantled and then put back together again before lighting, allowing any sheltering mammals to escape. The same day is best, but the day before will do. Better still, store the material for burning in a different place to where it will be lit and build the bonfire on the day.


Many mammals will run away when uncovered, but the hedgehog's instinct is to curl into a ball.  To deal with this, a smaller pile of wood and leaves can be put nearby so that any hedgehogs found can be moved there instead.


Rebuilding the heap on the day of burning would also be an interesting opportunity to record the number and type of mammals found, giving you some idea of how small creatures are faring in your area.


Update - November 8th 2007


Last Saturday, we dismantled and rebuilt the bonfire heap at our local pub. We didn't find the hedgehogs we expected, possibly because the autumn has been so mild and they're not hibernating yet, but we did find a lot of frogs and toads, which we relocated to a big compost heap. The frogs and toads had dug themselves in right down at the very bottom of the heap - this means that when you take your bonfire heap apart, you really do need to check right to the bottom of it.


If you do find frogs or toads in your heap, you can put them near to a compost heap or a rock pile so they can tuck themselves in again and stay safe for the winter.


If your bonfire is left unchecked, these creatures will be unable to escape and will burn to death. This would be very sad and completely unnecessary.
Toad in a hole

One of the toads we found under the bonfire heap

Copyright Miranda Hodgson 2007




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