Hedgehog in autumn leaves

Save the Hedgehogs - don’t make a bonfire of your good intentions!

The end of October and the beginning of November in the UK host halloween and bonfire night in quick succession. While those of us with pets, especially ones of a nervous disposition, keep them inside, spare a thought for our wildlife, especially hedgehogs.

At this time of year in both the garden and allotment we may be looking at burning diseased debris, strimming the wilder bits, and ‘putting the garden to bed for the winter’. In the hedgehogs case going to bed is also what they will be thinking of doing. Hedgehogs prepare for the winter by feeding to put on weight to take them through the colder months and by looking for a place of safety to rest or to hibernate. What is an ideal habitat? Twigs and log piles, compost heaps, space under a shed, anywhere with a good amount of grass and leaf litter where they can bury themselves against the cold. There lies the problem. How do we protect them and allow them room to live in our gardens?


Whether you are clearing garden debris or specifically building a bonfire for family and friends then follow the following guidelines to protect your garden mammals particularly hedgehogs:

Check any grass and leaves that you may build a fire on as these are often nest sites for hedgehogs and other mammals.

Only build and light a bonfire the same day. Hedgehogs and other mammals, including pets, may find a pile of twigs, logs and branches the ideal place to sleep or hide. If you have a wood pile then move to a new location before setting it on fire. If you can’t move it - check underneath using a broom or blunt, not sharp, implement to lift the pile on all sides. Include the lowest two feet of the pile in your search. Hedgehogs will not runaway once a fire is going because their defense is to curl into a ball. Remove any hedgehogs you find and keep them safe away from the area in a closed and ventilated cardboard box.

Light the fire on one side. Keep the other side free of people to allow the escape of any mammals in that direction.

Hedgehogs are a gardener’s friend and are in decline in the UK. Recent surveys indicate that while in urban areas their numbers may be stable those in rural areas are further in decline. They are nocturnal animals so you are less likely to see them in the day unless they are ill or, in the summer months, feeding with a nest of hoglets nearby. They feed on beetles, worms, slugs and snails and some larvae. Shelter is provided by areas of wildflower, longer grass, leaf litter and hedgerows. They often roam about a mile overnight to forage which is why Hedgehog highways and leaving accessible routes for them has been highlighted in recent years.

Many gardeners are becoming more aware of the cost of chemicals, such as pesticides and slug pellets in reducing wildlife biodiversity. The effects of the chemicals target not only the slugs, snails and other pests but indirectly a host of creatures such as birds, frogs and toads, hedgehogs and other mammals which feed on them. Many of these are the very ones we need to keep to help limit our snail and slug populations!

Less well known hazards in the garden and farm, particularly for hedgehogs, are the use of barbed wire and pea and bean netting, which can entangle them, poorly designed ponds and cattle grids with no escape route, and the use of mechanical aids such as strimmers and lawn mowers to clear natural habitats.

You can read more about how you can protect the wildlife in your garden by visiting protection charities such as the 

British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

People’s Trust for endangered Species (PTES) https://ptes.org/campaigns/hedgehogs/

Hedgehog Street https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/bonfire-night-hedgehog-safety/

The Wildlife Trusts https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-provide-water-wildlife

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