Experts warn against ‘recycling’ Halloween pumpkins in woodlands

31 October 2023
What was claimed

People should recycle Halloween pumpkins in woodlands or fields, as they are “safe” for “wildlife to eat”.

Our verdict

Experts advise against doing this. They warn it can cause wildlife to become unwell and damage ecosystems.

A Facebook post with thousands of shares recommends “recycling” pumpkins in woodland areas or fields after Halloween, and claims they are “safe” for “wildlife to eat”. However, woodland and animal safety organisations advise against this. 

The post, which has almost 4,000 shares, was originally shared in October 2022 but has been recirculating in recent days. Alongside a photo of a deer eating a pumpkin, it says: “Don’t throw away pumpkins after Halloween. Find woods or a field near you, smash them open and leave for the wildlife to eat. Pumpkin is safe for them and the seeds act as a natural dewormer. (Be sure to break them up so the deer don’t get their head stuck inside!)”

However, multiple woodland and wildlife experts have advised against doing this, including the Woodland Trust, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Forestry England, Shropshire-based Cuan Wildlife Rescue and the Aberdeen City Council Countryside Ranger Service. They’ve warned that pumpkins can actually be harmful to both the local ecosystem and native animals, including hedgehogs, foxes and badgers.  

Forestry England said on Facebook: “Halloween can be a scary time for wildlife, as pumpkins get dumped in the nation's forests […] Not only can they spread disease and make some species ill, but our team often find tealights left inside the flesh which could be ingested by animals.”

Aberdeen City Council Countryside Ranger Service also said the pumpkins can cause “severe diarrhoea in hedgehogs, which will lead to dehydration and even death”.

The Scottish SPCA said: “People often think they are helping wildlife by leaving pumpkins in wooded areas but this can actually be very harmful.

“As pumpkins aren’t a natural food source for most of our native wildlife, it has the potential to make animals like hedgehogs, foxes and badgers unwell.”

The Cuan Wildlife Trust explained: “As they [pumpkins] decompose they can also harbour all sorts of bacteria, fungi and viruses from the surroundings and other visiting animals, resulting in the spread of other diseases!

“Pumpkins take a long time to break down as they rot and so they also damage woodland ecosystems too!”

Moreover, the Woodland Trust said removing dumped pumpkins “costs time and money” which could be better spent on conservation work.  

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How should you dispose of pumpkins responsibly?

Organisations recommend disposing of pumpkins in food waste bins or compost heaps, or by burying them in gardens “for worms and other invertebrates to enjoy”. There may also be animal shelters, farms and zoos that are accepting pumpkin donations to use as animal feed, as the Facebook post also suggests. 

You can find more suggestions for recycling pumpkins, such as making soup or a bird feeder, on the Forestry England website

We’ve written about other instances where Facebook posts have given advice that is not recommended by experts, including what to do when a dog is overheating or trapped in a car. It’s important to double check whether recommendations come from official sources before sharing them online. 

Image courtesy of George Chernilevsky

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