Rabbit numbers in Britain are increasing by approximately 2% per year and the potential for damage to young trees is now very high in some areas.
Damage to trees is either by browsing or bark-stripping caused by the rabbit feeding. Browsing is the most common form of damage on young trees of all species and can occur up to a height 540 mm in normal conditions, higher over lying snow. Bark-stripping to the base of pole-stage trees (also up to 540 mm) is much less common.
Rabbits can remove the bark entirely around tree trunks and stems, effectively ringbarking or girdling them. This will usually be fatal for the tree.
If the rabbits eat only partly round the trunk, the tree may survive but may be more susceptible to disease and fungi, and become weak and unstable.
Signs of rabbit damage to trees include:
• cut and eat accessible shoots
• ringbarking up to 50 cm
• sharp-angled knife-like cuts across small stems/branches
• removed portion often eaten
• damaged trees up to 100 cm diameter but mainly 0–10 years old
• most vegetation in area around burrow often grazed very low with round droppings present
Browsing can happen on all tree species but ash and beech are most vulnerable.