Bonfire Warning from Wildlife Charity

Press Release – 11th October 2011

A local animal welfare charity is urging people to think about the plight of hedgehogs during the bonfire season.

The Leatherhead-based Wildlife Aid Foundation says that if you are burning leaves or garden debris over the coming months, you should take extra care not to injure any hedgehogs or put them at risk.

You should be particularly careful if you are planning to build a big bonfire for Guy Fawkes Night.

The hedgehog – perhaps the most iconic British mammal – is dying out. The hedgehog population of the UK is falling rapidly and could face extinction.

The Wildlife Aid Foundation believes every effort must be made to protect those hedgehogs that remain. Autumn and winter can be a particularly dangerous time of year for these tiny animals.

“Burning garden rubbish or building a bonfire for November the 5th puts hedgehogs at great risk,” explains Wildlife Aid Foundation director Simon Cowell MBE. “I’m not saying ‘Don’t have bonfires’ – just that people should be extremely careful, and should always watch out for hedgehogs.”

He adds: “Bonfire Night is a big danger as hedgehogs will always curl up and nest inside any pile of leaves or garden debris if it looks warm and inviting. So please be vigilant. Do it with great care, not by sticking sharp rakes into the pile.

“Ideally, you should move or turn over the entire pile of leaves, just to be extra certain. And double check any bonfire just before you light it.”

For those hedgehogs that make it through the bonfire season, the bitter winter weather poses another risk to their lives. When hedgehogs hibernate their body temperature can fall to just a few degrees above freezing and their heart rate slows. They depend on their body fat to survive.

A hedgehog weighing less than 600 grams may not live through the winter if it is not helped.

The Wildlife Aid Foundation takes in hundreds of sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs every year and if they are under-weight the Foundation keeps them in its wildlife hospital in Leatherhead throughout the winter, giving them their only chance of survival.

“For the hedgehogs that we are ‘over-wintering’ here at the Wildlife Aid Foundation we need to feed them daily to ensure they build up enough body fat. The least we can do for our hedgehog patients is provide a hearty meal and a roof over their heads during the most severe cold weather. After all, life for the little hedgehog is tough enough as it is.

“For such tiny creatures, hedgehogs certainly eat a lot! Our little guys chomp their way through around 45 to 50 tins of dog food every single day!  Over the entire winter that’s 10,000 tins of food!

Garden dangers

Simon points out that the dangers to hedgehogs in our gardens are all year round. 

“With people having invaded and taken over the hedgehog’s natural habitats, there are nowadays plenty of new menaces to these little animals. Hedgehogs like long grass so they are at risk from careless lawn-mowing. A lawnmower or strimmer can kill.”

Ponds are another problem. “Hedgehogs can swim but they are not very strong and their endurance in water is not great – they will drown if they can’t get out of a garden pond, so please make sure you have a ‘ramp’ made from wood or stones to help them.

“Another thing is that hedgehogs eat slugs and snails, and can poison themselves if they eat slugs that have been killed with slug pellets. That’s another hazard for hedgehogs that people don’t tend to think about.”

The decline in the UK’s hedgehog population is very serious, says Simon.

“In 1950 there were estimated to be more than 30 million hedgehogs in Britain. Now, due mostly to the huge number of roads and cars we have in this country, the hedgehog population is down to about one million, and possibly a lot less.

“If we don’t intervene to help the hedgehog wherever and whenever we can, this most thoroughly British of all wild animals could be extinct in the next two decades – locally if not nationally.”