Nature on our doorsteps - Leaf recycling

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures.

While most of us enjoy the wonderful splash of autumn colours before the dark days of winter finally set in, some people see the colourful leaves settling on our gardens, streets, and parks as a nuisance to be cleared up.

Nature sees something different of course. Nothing is wasted in Nature and fallen leaves are a vital resource in the natural recycling process.

Millions of leaves are recycled every year by soil creatures compressor

Millions of leaves are recycled every year by creatures in the soil

This recycling is done by a wide range of ‘soil fauna’ that include earthworms, slugs, snails, beetle larvae, millipedes, springtails, small mites, and even tinier microbes such as bacteria and fungi.

These recyclers shred the fallen leaves into smaller pieces and feed on them.

They digest the organic matter and then release the broken-down nutrients back to the soil in their waste.

This makes the nutrients available for plants to use once again.

In addition, earthworms act like Nature’s plough.

Earthworms are Natures ploughs doing invaluable work in our soils compressor

Earthworms perform a mighty task as Nature’s plough

Their constant burrowing in the ground helps to turn the soil and bring air and water down below the surface to where plant roots need them most.

They also drag leaf fragments underground.

These fragments act like a soil conditioner by improving the organic content of the soil.

Soil is truly a living thing so maybe wherever we can, we should ‘leave the leaves’ and help keep our soils fertile and functioning well

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