Nature on our doorsteps: Recycling in nature
Autumn colours along the Killininny Road

Nature on our doorsteps: Recycling in nature

Every year, hundreds of tonnes of leaves fall from our trees over a relatively short period of time, scattering billions of leaves everywhere.

While those along roads and footpaths are mostly swept up by us, leaves that drop in woodlands, along hedgerows, and in quieter parts of parks and gardens are left to decay naturally wherever they fall.

By mid-December, we hardly notice the small piles of crispy brown leaves that remain in undisturbed corners.

This is the result of nature’s own recyclers, the armies of worms, woodlice, slugs, mushrooms, moulds, microbes, and the many other creatures that live in the soil.

As they slowly feed on organic matter, these living things return vital nutrients to the soil in their own waste.

Mushrooms are the most obvious, popping up in lawns, woodlands, and leaf piles.

Clumps of mushrooms in a grass verge often mark the remains of a rotting tree stump

The mushroom we see is only the fungus’s fruiting body. Most of the fungus is underground or deep inside rotting wood and leaves, busily breaking down the organic matter into individual minerals and nutrients.

Fungi share these broken-down minerals and nutrients with trees. In return, the fungus receives sugars from the trees.

Then in autumn, by dropping their leaves, trees return minerals and nutrients back to the fungi once again.

This completes just one of nature’s many delicate cycles of inter-dependence and recycling in the natural world.

By Rosaleen Dwyer