[thanks to Dougal for the snow track picture]
You don’t have to be able to read the tracks. When we get to Pond Cottage, the signs of deer and rabbit are all round the garden. Deep snow protected the plants from frost but gave the animals a leg up above the tree guards. Apples, hollies, junipers and yew are all stripped bare. “I thought yew was poisonous,” says Ray.
A few hours later we get the answer. A dead deer is lying on the path not far from the yew. It was sniffed out by the friendly lurcher that comes for a daily walk through the woods and Mr Lurch (his friendly owner) points it out to us.
I’m sad about the yew, it has been growing well for the last 10 years or so. The idea was to make a focal point at the end of the bird cherry lane and thanks to the run of mild winters the tree has been making good progress.
But I am sad about the deer too. Real foresters would not agree – deer cause a lot of damage – but the roe deer are a magical sight running through the trees on a winter evening (and once we found young twins curled up together in the long grass in the clearing which is enough to melt anyone’s heart). Until this year they haven’t caused us much trouble. They must have been really hungry to attack the yew. According to the DEFRA website death follows within two to three hours – animals are often found lying beside the yew or yew clippings – and it sounds a miserable way to die. But then, so is starvation.
On the other hand I am mad about the fruit trees. For the last few years we have had fantastic crops of apples, we’re even getting quite good at making juice (if pretty useless at cider). But the rabbits (the droppings give them away) managed to climb above the tree guards and munch their way round every tree. This happened to one flowering cherry the last time we had heavy snow and amazingly, despite being ring barked, the tree survived but we don’t have much hope for the fruit trees. Interestingly I just found a comment on Yahoo answers from a vet claiming that rabbits might be poisoned by the cyanide found in the bark of apple trees.
Taxine and taxol in yews, cyanide in apple trees; it’s a wonder trees ever die!
Ray buried the deer under the larch trees where the daffodils are just ready to burst through the ground. Larch, by the way, is full of medicinal and disinfecting properties but daffodils are poisonous in a half hearted kind of way – the bulbs cause stomach upsets if you mistake them for onions. Rabbits don’t.