Since bonfires are often lit on Samhain (Halloween) not to mention we are rushing towards Bonfire Night here in the UK, I thought I would put up a post about hedgehog safety and hedgehogs in general!
[ When to build a bonfire ]
Please make sure you only build a bonfire on the day you intend to light it. If you want to gather the wood, fine, but if possible stack the pieces vertically somewhere to reduce the chances of hedgehogs taking a nap inside.
Then, rebuild the bonfire in a different location on the day you want to light it.
Hedgehogs love to sleep in stacks of wood, they chose these as nesting areas and will burrow into the twigs and leaves.
Sadly many are killed or suffer horrific injuries when people build bonfires and then days later, light them. These animals suffer horrendously when a little patience and human planning to protect them is all that’s needed.
Also, don’t build your bonfire on leaf litter, build it on bare earth.
[ Already built your bonfire? ]
If you have built a bonfire, please check it VERY carefully for hedgehogs – they are not always easy to spot… hence why it is recommended not to build the bonfire until the day of lighting.
Hedgehogs hide in the middle and bottom two feet of the bonfire, so take the time to lift the bonfire in sections, using a broom or similar to gently poke around. NEVER use a sharp instrument such as a spade or garden fork as these can injure the hedgehog.
Make sure you keep a torch with you for searching and listen for the hedgehog. They have a tendency to hiss when they are disturbed and startled.
If you discover a hedgehog in the bonfire, grab it (remember to wear gloves) and try and get as much of its nest material as possible. Keep the hedgehog safe and after the festivities are over, the fire has been extinguished fully, release the hedgehog back into the area under a nearby bush.
[ Big Public bonfires ]
Sometimes large public bonfires are built up in advance. In this case take the time to surround the bonfire with chicken wire as a fence. It needs to be at least a metre high and should be staked in place. Hedgehogs are pretty good climbers so make sure the fence is angled to deter climbing.
If you are not the one organising the public bonfire, check out who is and ask them what they are doing to protect hedgehogs? Public awareness is important.
[ Others at risk ]
Hedgehogs are not the only ones at risk. Other wildlife can hide in bonfires as can family pets and even children who have been playing. ALWAYS check your bonfire thoroughly and as mentioned build it only on the day. It is truly not worth the risk, not to!
[ Rescuing Hedgehogs ]
I have rescued a fair number of animals in my time and worked in an animal shelter. Here are somethings to think about:
Hedgehogs are nocturnal so if you see one wandering around during the day it is probably in trouble.
Always wear gardening gloves when handling hedgehogs as their prickles can hurt. Scoop them up gently and put them in a box lined with newspaper. Add some crumbled balls of newspaper in a heap to give them somewhere to hide. They like to hide and this will reduce the hedgehog’s stress.
Like all wild animals, they are easily stressed when handled by humans or held captive, even when it’s necessary such as when they are injured.
If you are rescuing a hedgehog that is injured or found wandering during the day remember to get it into a box quickly – if the box has a lid make sure their are plenty of air holes (good size holes).
Keep the hedgehog in a quiet, darkened room and don’t disturb him too much.
Contact your local wildlife rescue centre (if you can find one that specialises in hedgehogs even better). If you do not have a local wildlife rescue, contact your local vet immediately and take the animal in. The experts need to look over the animal and are in the best position to help.
If you can take the animal to the shelter immediately then do not feed it or give it water – if the vets need to do anything or give it any medication food and water could affect what can be done.
However, if for some reason you cannot get to a shelter/vets immediately then make sure the hedgehog has fresh water (preferably in a non-tip bowl). NEVER GIVE A HEDGEHOG MILK!!!
You can also give it a little cat or dog food (meat flavours only, no fish and NOT the gravy kind), remember to use a shallow bowl or plate. If you have mealworms that you feed the birds, you can give them some (but only in VERY small quantities).
Burn Injuries – if the worst happens and you encounter a burnt hedgehog from the bonfire, apply a clean, cold, wet towel and take it immediately to the vets!
[ Heat ]
If the hedgehog is cold then you can add a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to the box. Make sure the towel is thick enough that the heat from the bottle won’t injure the hedgehog.
Preferably have a box big enough to have a hot water bottle on one side only so if the animal gets too warm it can move off it.
[ Links to help ]
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I hope you found this useful. Have you ever had to come to the rescue of a hedgehog in need? Share your experiences in the comments below 🙂