Dumping the pumpkin can harm wildlife

01 November 2022 by Tom Townsend
blog author

​Halloween is having a profound effect on the environment in terms of costumes – and, more surprisingly, pumpkins.

Not only are UK households buying ghoulish garments that don’t conform to protecting the environment (83 per cent of Hallowe’en costumes use non-recyclable oil-based plastics, causing around 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste, according to environmental group Hubbub) but pumpkin disposal is also causing problems.

This week both Forestry England and the Woodland Trust are urging Hallowe’en revellers to dispose of pumpkins responsibly and NOT dump them in the woods.

Many people think that taking their pumpkins to their local forest will help feed the wildlife, but it causes great damage and with a total of around eight million pumpkins being carved, it is vital that the public finds alternative ways of departing with their beloved autumnal fruit.

The Woodland Trust, the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity, explains why leaving pumpkins in woodland causes more damage than good.

Paul Bunton, Engagement and Communication Officer at Woodland Trust, said: “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.

“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.”

Woodland Trust noted the pumpkin problem is increasing due to supermarkets selling them cheaply and the pumpkin-picking craze which more families are engaging in. 

Paul added: "Thousands of tonnes of pumpkin gets thrown away in the UK after Hallowe’en each year, so it would be great if we could all put that to better use. 

“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!” 

Kate Wollen, Assistant Ecologist, Forestry England said: “We see many posts on social media encouraging people to leave pumpkins in the woods for wildlife to eat, but please do not do this. Pumpkins are not natural to the woodland and while some wildlife may enjoy a tasty snack it can make others, such as hedgehogs, very poorly.

“Feeding pumpkins, or any other food in the forest, to birds, foxes, badgers, deer, and boar can make them unwell and can spread disease. Pumpkins are also often decorated and have things such as candles in them. Animals eating the pumpkins could then eat a foreign object and this could kill them.”

Five sustainable alternatives to chucking your pumpkin in the woods:

1.     Pie’s the limit

It is startling how many people don’t make use of the flesh inside a pumpkin, because they are unsure whether it is edible. This versatile member of the winter squash family can be used in soups or pies and is a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium and phosphorus

2.     Keep it in the garden

Add it to your compost heap for richer soil (pumpkins are 90 per cent water so they are a great composting material, adding a great source of nitrogen and moisture). 

3.     Pamper yourself

Apply that fleshy fruit enriched with vitamin A and C on your face for a moment of wellbeing and ultimate skin nourishment.

4.     Plump up the birds

While the hedgehogs won’t thank you (pumpkins upset their stomachs), our feathered friends will. Make a bird feeder out of the outer skin by cutting off a chunk, piercing a hole to thread some wire through and hang it from a tree. Then fill/spread with bird feed but discard once the pumpkin begins to rot.

5.     Pass the pumpkin

Some organisations will welcome unwanted pumpkins, such as community gardens, farms, zoos and animal shelters so phone around and see who’s in need.

Tom Townsend, Principal Consultant – Food & Beverage, for Sustainable Business at Acre UK, said: “Whilst the disposal of pumpkins feels like a minor issue, it is another example of how well-intentioned actions can have a detrimental effect on nature. As is often the case, good consumer education will be key to driving positive behaviour change.”

Tom focuses on mid-senior level Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability appointments across Europe. Previously, Tom focused on senior appointments within Procurement & Supply Chain, with a particular expertise in Consumer Goods across the DACH markets Tom joined Acre to continue the company’s international growth. He holds a first-class degree in Mathematics. 

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