Leave the Leaves for Wildlife
By Paula Doherty
Edgmond Wildlife Group
If you have a garden, you’ll be familiar with the task of clearing up the leaves in autumn. Does it sometimes occur to you not to bother?
Well, you might not be onto such a bad thing: although it is true that leaving them to rot on the lawn will kill your grass, there is actually no harm, and arguably a lot of benefit, to leaving them piled up in the corners or under hedges where they have a tendency to gather naturally.
These days, concern about insect decline is making us rethink how we garden and at this time of year the big question is what to do with the fallen leaves. Before they become compost or leaf mould, fallen leaves can serve as a habitat for hundreds of creatures, from tiny gnats, spiders, woodlice and worms to hibernating frogs, newts and toads.
Small mammals are likely to enjoy the security of a leaf pile and our old friend the hedgehog just loves a pile of dry leaves in a quiet sheltered corner! Birds will also peck through leaf piles searching for tasty worms and grubs. When leaf piles are left undisturbed beyond winter, they tend to be inhabited by detritivores, such as beetles and woodlice, who feed on the decaying matter.
Whole leaves hold more air pockets, and wet, stuck-together leaves are a dream world for tiny creatures, so it’s best not to shred. This year I’m going to pile leaves in a quiet corner of the garden in the hope that they will provide a sanctuary for my local wildlife. The pile will rot down eventually and provide wonderful leaf mould for the soil.
If you do remove all of your fallen leaves, there will be less wildlife in and around your garden meaning there will be fewer birds too. A leaf layer several inches deep is a natural thing in any area where trees and shrubs naturally grow, whether that’s the local woodlands or your own garden. The leaf layer is its own ecosystem and is an essential part of a healthy garden. If you’re not convinced – just look at your soil and compare it to the luscious stuff you will find in any woodland!
Obviously, if you leave leaves on the lawn, then the grass will die, and leaves need to be moved from paths and drives. But think before you throw them out! Leaves rot down to provide free mulch to help suppress weeds and retain moisture, as well as providing a natural fertiliser. Plus, here’s an idea I read recently – if leaves on your lawn are a problem – reduce the size of your lawn which is an ecological dead-zone that supports almost no living things. How about leaving an area uncut and leafy to provide a fantastic habitat for next year’s insects!
So, if you’re looking out of your window in the coming weeks and months, feeling guilty about not tidying up your garden, don’t! Consider rather how much good you’ll be doing for all that wildlife over the winter.