All our newly planted trees are wire-guarded against the rabbit pest, they certainly need to be since rabbits find the tender bark of young apple trees rather toothsome. The guards have been doing their job well, and whilst we can't keep the nibbling nuisances from getting into the orchard, at least we can be sure that our precious cider apple trees are safe from harm. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for every tree in the orchard.
The big Bramley Apple is safe enough. Razor sharp incisors are no match for the tough bark of this old tree, and any soft new growth is located well above speculative nibbling height. Unfortunately, the James Grieve has not fared so well.
This rather sorry-looking specimen is a text-book example of how not to look after an apple tree. It's very poorly anchored, leans alarmingly, and is liable to rock gently in a stiff breeze. There are signs of rot and bark-loss in several places, and to be honest it's probably living on borrowed time. Despite all this it crops prolifically, producing a bumper harvest of disease-free, sweet, juicy and delicious apples every September. So precocious is it's cropping that it needs to be heavily thinned out to prevent over-cropping. Whenever I'm working in the orchard I cast a fond, paternal eye over the James Grieve, and vow to leave it in for just one more year.
This week a more careful examination has revealed that one of the lower branches has been almost totally stripped of bark, the underlying wood riddled with rabbit-sized tooth marks. It's a grisly sight, made worse by the wet conditions which make the damage look like some kind of voracious bark-eating disease is creeping up the branch. The only decision I need to make now is whether to prune out the damage, remove all the rot, prop the tree up against the wind, and erect a rabbit-proof fence around it... or grub the tree up and replace it with something new and possibly cidery... Tough call!