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 here.

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Hibernating hedgehog – dead or alive?

hibernating hedgehog
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How can you tell if a hedgehog is hibernating? This is a question I am frequently asked by my foster carers, a network of special people who support me with looking after rehabilitated hedgehogs over the Winter period. These hedgehogs missed the deadline for release before the weather turned cold and, if they are well enough and heavy enough (absolute minimum of 650g), they will be allowed to hibernate in captivity.

Hibernation is not like sleeping. The hedgehog won’t be roused by touch or by noise. Hibernation is a state of torpor, where the core body temperature has dropped, the heart rate and breathing have slowed right down and normal activity has stopped. A hibernating hedgehog will be completely rolled up into a tight ball with no face visible.

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Lucky, a hibernating hedgehog, just before his weight check

You can tell that the hedgehog is hibernating and not dead by the fact that it will ‘ripple’ when touched very gently. It may also emit a little ‘snore’! Hedgehogs also generally don’t die curled up….

Video of a hibernating hedgehog

Please don’t read this post and think you should go around disturbing the hibernating wild hedgehogs in your garden to check on them. I only check on these hedgehogs during hibernation because they have been poorly. Weight checks every few weeks will alert me to any potential problems and they can be woken up again if they have lost too much weight. I use a special calculator from a wildlife rescue to assess whether their weight loss in hibernation is acceptable or not. Waking up a hibernating hedgehog is also a specialist task, so please do not try this yourself.

The best advice is not to disturb a hedgehog in hibernation. Take care when gardening in Winter. Don’t be tempted to tidy up piles of leaves or logs – they may be home to a hibernating hedgehog. If you do accidentally disturb one, cover it back up straight away – unless there is a chance that you have caused injury e.g. with a fork. In that case, you must take it straight to a hedgehog rescue.

If you disturb a hedgehog that has hibernated in a completely unsuitable spot – such as inside a garage that is normally left closed – then you will need to very carefully relocate the hedgehog. You should move it to inside a wooden hedgehog house filled with plenty of hay. You will need to site it properly to give the hedgehog a good chance. It takes a long time for a hedgehog to waken from hibernation so it will likely stay curled up whilst you relocate it. Don’t relocate it to a completely new area – hedgehogs know all the best places for nesting and food in their area. You will seriously disadvantage a hedgehog by relocating it to a completely different area.

Hibernation is also not a continuous state. Hedgehogs will wake up during periods of milder weather for a quick snack or sometimes even to move their hibernaculum if the warmer spell lasts for a few days. I always leave out a bowl of water in the garden and a little food year round to help hedgehogs that have briefly woken from hibernation.

With a little luck, hedgehogs that were healthy when they hibernated will wake in the Spring. The exact timing depends upon the temperature and can be as early as March or as late as May. They will emerge hungry so Spring is a great time to put out hedgehog feeders and make sure that you can give them a hearty breakfast when they emerge….

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. My hospital is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about me and my work here and also how to support my work.

I make silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife to raise funds for my hedgehog hospital. You can visit my online jewellery shop here.