The Woodland Trust – the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity – has recently identified a worrying trend for Halloween pumpkins to be discarded in the nearest woods, in a well-meaning yet misguided attempt to provide food for birds and other woodland animals.
“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,” said Paul Bunton, an engagement and communications 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.”
According to the experts, hedgehogs are particularly endangered by such practices, since they are highly opportunistic eaters that spend the autumn and early winter building up fat reserves they need for hibernation.
“As a result, hedgehogs can gorge themselves on easily available food like dumped pumpkins. Although not toxic to them, the fleshy fibrous fruit can cause stomach upsets and diarrhea, as they are not designed to eat large quantities of fruit,” explained Trevor Weeks, from the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service.
“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.”
In order to avoid such situations, the Woodland Trust advises Halloween revelers to make pumpkin bird feeders in their own gardens with the leftovers, instead of discarding them in the woods. However, these feeders should be kept high off the ground so hedgehogs cannot reach them.
“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, birdfeeders for your garden, but please don’t make a mess of the countryside!” Bunton concluded.
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