Bonfires are hedgehog hotels. Especially those built in advance. Bonfires should not be built until the day they are to be lit. Try to check your bonfire for wildlife before lighting your bonfire – move the bonfire, disturb it to try and shoo any animals out. A bonfire is essentially a big pile of wood that underneath is nice and cosy – making it a 5* hotel for any wildlife looking for a nice hibernation spot, particularly hedgehogs.
To prevent hedgehogs and other wildlife from getting injured or killed by lit bonfires, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) recommends that bonfires should not be built until the day you plan on lighting them. This will not only save wildlife from burning to death, but will also prevent the bonfire (wood) from getting wet if it rains the night(s) before! By moving the pile to be burnt to a new place on the day you are going to set it alight, everyone can help save some lives (especially the lives of nocturnal species who will have left your bonfire by the time you come to light it in the evening).
Putting chicken wire around the edge of your bonfire may help prevent wildlife getting in to the bonfire in the first place. Hedgehogs like to hide in the centre, and bottom two feet, of the bonfire – you can check for them by gently lifting the bonfire section by section with a pole/ stick/ broom. Never use a shovel/ spade/ fork as these can stab and injure wildlife. Shining a torch will help – listen for a hissing sound, as hedgehogs make this noise when they are disturbed.
Hibernating hedgehogs are particularly at risk – hedgehogs are not able to wake up quickly from hibernation so they may be unable to quickly escape the bonfire if disturbed, before it is lit. Ensure you leave plenty of time for escape, and double check for any wildlife before lighting your bonfire. If you do find a hedgehog in your bonfire and it hasn’t woken up, you can move it to safety; by wearing thick gloves you will prevent your human smell getting on to the hedgehog and the nest, which can cause stress. Try to pick up as much of the nest as you can, place the hedgehog in a box or a similar wooded spot, with lots of warm leaves and other natural warm items. An old towel can be used if necessary to ensure the hedgehog keeps warm. If in doubt about what to do, contact a professional.
Checking for wildlife only takes a minute to do, but can save many wildlife species from being burnt alive. Hedgehogs as a species are already in decline; take a minute to help turn that around.