Skip navigation.

What's in your bonfire heap?

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 29 Oct 2010 at 02:33 PM

Remember when farmers used to burn the stubble of the previous crop before the practice was regulated in 1993? This is an enduring memory of childhood, of something that is no more - going past in the car and seeing the fields all black and smouldering and the smoke drifting across the road. It was always exciting to see the line of fire as it crept across the field and when you saw the smoke on the horizon someone would always say ‘They’re burning the stubble’. Traditionally, a lot of burning goes on in autumn. Fallen leaves, plant debris, old wood, it all goes onto a big heap and is fired up.

It was a popular event, where friends, family and neighbours gathered to watch the flames; potatoes and chestnuts would be placed amongst the glowing embers at the fire’s edge to slowly bake and be fumbled out with sticks, probably burnt on one side but still delicious; anyway, it was dark and you couldn’t really see the burnt bits in the orange glow of the flames, so they didn’t matter.

Bonfires don’t occur in the number that they used to, and the smoke from stubble burning is a thing of the past, but every year a few heaps are made. Often they’re built in advance and when that happens, many of the local hedgehogs, frogs and toads must think ‘Cool, that looks like just the place for winter!’ and in they go and get comfortable.



Toad found hibernating under a bonfire heap


We all know what happens next. Only it doesn’t have to, you can change that future. Go ahead and stack up all the stuff for burning but, on the big day, take a couple of hours to pull the heap apart and rebuild it a little distance away. If it’s to be a communal fire get children, friends and neighbours together; bring a couple of buckets to transfer the refugees and find a place of safety for them elsewhere, like a new compost heap, or a pile of leaves or logs that isn’t intended for the fire. Most of the creatures you find will be firmly tucked in at the bottom of the pile so make sure to check right down to the ground.



 A frog found under a bonfire heap


When it’s all ready and is finally lit, there will be no questions or doubt, just a good honest party - the flames will seem brighter, the flying sparks more magical and the small beings you’ve relocated will be safely drifting off to sleep again in the cool and dark.


asj said:

Another brilliant blog, Miranda, and extremely topical.  These days people seem to have bonfires on halloween as well as guy fawkes night (unfortunately), so good on you for drawing attention to this.

on 29 Oct 2010 at 03:07 PM

spade monkey said:

Excellent blog - frogs and toads have got enough troubles without getting incinerated in their winter quarters.

It doesn't take long to do, especially if you involve a few people - if a pub near you is having a bonfire party, go and check out if the landlord will let you mount a rescue operation. Maybe you won't find anybody in the pile... but you might.


on 29 Oct 2010 at 03:49 PM

richardpeeej said:

A really interesting article Miranda that reminds everyone to check the bonfire pile before lighting it up.

on 29 Oct 2010 at 08:07 PM

Anthony said:

We don't have enough room for a bonfire but reading that it is a wake up call to always check before lighting it. The toad and frog will greatly appreciate you checking!!

on 31 Oct 2010 at 10:46 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, everyone! The bonfire heap I wrote about there contained many frogs and toads and it was a real relief to know that they'd been moved to a safe place before the fire was lit. The thought of watching that pile burn whilst wondering how many small animals are roasting to death inside it is horrible.

on 31 Oct 2010 at 12:32 PM