Fires, Hedgehogs and Food

by Matt

Nothing beats a clearance fire. There’s an area of the woodland that I keep open in order to burn through non-compostables and invasive weeds destined for an inglorious disposal. In the weeks leading up to the recent garden opening (last Sunday) I’d amassed an enormous stack of sycamore limbs and bindweed, having cleared through the garden, and celebrated the end of a frantic month by setting them alight!

When burning material that’s been stacked and left for some time it’s always important to consider what may have set up home in the interim. Frogs, mice and even hedgehogs are among many unfortunate fatalities of domestic garden bonfires. In fact the Autumn garden-clearance fire has played a large part in the diminishing of hedgehogs numbers in particular; the damp and protective mass of leaves and cuttings being an ideal place for hibernation. So it’s good, especially when burning through a very large stack, to light an initial smaller fire to one side and add the rest bit by bit, allowing creatures to either make their way out or to be revealed in time and moved to a better place.

Another important consideration when burning cleared wood is that of distributing dead wood. No matter how large or small the garden, dead wood is essential for it’s ecological development and diversity. I try to strike a balance between the amount I burn and the amount I scatter; under shrubs, the bases of trees or just along the pathways.

As the bulk burned through I buried a couple of potatoes wrapped in foil in the ash (as is bonfire custom), stuffed with chives and butter. When they were ready, an hour or so later, we ate them by the fire in the dark. A field mouse came out from the undergrowth and moved around us on the hunt for some food.