Wildlife experts in Co Kerry have expressed concern over "pumpkin dumping" in parks and forests.

A number of disused pumpkins are appearing across Killarney National Park since Halloween and are attracting small mammals.

Rangers attached to the Killarney National Park say disintegrating pumpkins are being left in the woodlands in the mistaken belief that this kind of natural disintegration will help the environment.

The park's wildlife rangers have come across a number of huge rotting pumpkins in the oak and yew forests in recent days.

Far from being of benefit to wild creatures, discarded Halloween pumpkins are actually a menace, particularly to smaller animals going into hibernation.

This week the Killarney National Park Education Centre has sounded a warning. Pumpkins should be chopped up and placed in compost bins or eaten but not left on the forest floor to rot, personnel say.

Chris Barron of Killarney National Park Education Centre said: "Pumpkins are not native to the Irish woodlands, disposing of pumpkins in woodlands this time of year, can have a very negative effect, making small mammals very ill."

Hedgehogs going into hibernation are particularly vulnerable. They will gorge themselves on the high fruit as they need to put on weight before their long winter sleep. However, if they eat a pumpkin they can get sick.

"This week hedgehogs will go into hibernation. If it becomes too unwell because of eating pumpkin, the mammal can lose much of its body weight and become dehydrated," he said.

Hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable and as with other European countries it is likely their numbers have declined in Ireland, he said.

Other small animals going into hibernation are also vulnerable and they are not good for the forest floor.

Pumpkin dumping in the wild "certainly doesn't help the environment", he said.

The best way for composting pumpkins in the garden is to smash the pumpkin into smaller pieces, cover its leaves, wait for a few weeks and spread the compost around the garden.

They can also be left chopped up on bird tables.