With Halloween looming the Woodland Trust has issued an urgent plea to witches, wizards and spooks everywhere not to endanger wildlife by dumping pumpkins in woodland.
The UK’s largest woodland conservation charity has spotted a worrying trend in recent years for Halloween pumpkins to be taken to the nearest wood and left, in a well-meaning but misguided attempt, to provide food for birds and woodland creatures.
“A myth seems to have built up that leaving pumpkins in woods helps wildlife. People think they’re doing a good thing by not binning them in landfill and instead leaving them for nature” explained Paul Bunton, Engagement and Communication Officer at Woodland Trust.
“But pumpkin flesh can be dangerous for hedgehogs, attracts colonies of rats and also has a really detrimental effect on woodland soils, plants and fungi. We can’t leave dumped pumpkins to rot so we end up with an orange mushy mess to deal with at many of our sites.”
The Woodland Trust has tips on its website on how spooky leftovers can be best used, including making a pumpkin birdfeeder for the garden, which should be kept high off the ground well away from hedgehogs.
Trevor Weeks from East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service echoed the Trust’s concern over the risk to hedgehogs because, like other wildlife “they are opportunistic eaters and they spend autumn and early winter building up their fat reserves for hibernation”.
“As a result, hedgehogs can gorge themselves on easily available food like dumped pumpkins,” Weeks added. “Although not toxic to them the fleshy fibrous fruit can cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea as they are not designed to eat large quantities of fruit.
“This can lead to them becoming bloated and dangerously dehydrated which in turn can be fatal. At this time of year, they can’t afford to become ill, or they may not survive the winter hibernation.”
According to the Trust, which owns and cares for more than 1,000 free-to-visit woods across the UK, the pumpkin problem seems to be starting earlier and earlier, with supermarkets flooded with cheap pumpkins for sale and pumpkin-picking growing in popularity as a family activity in the run-up to Halloween.
Paul continued: “Thousands of tonnes of pumpkin gets thrown away in the UK after Halloween each year, so it would be great if we could all put that to better use.”
He added: “Jack-o-lanterns can be good for wildlife in small quantities in gardens, but not woodland or other countryside. We are urging people everywhere to make soup, make a birdfeeder for your garden, but please don’t make a mess of the countryside!”
The Woodland Trust’s Love Your Woods campaign encourages people to enjoy their visit while helping protect woods and nature for the future.
Visitors can play their part by following some simple advice, including staying fire-free, staying on paths, taking dog mess and litter home and protecting wildlife by keeping dogs close.