SCOTTISH FARMERS are being urged to take steps to combat the potentially 'catastrophic' damage voles can cause to young woodlands.

Thin-barked broadleaved trees such as sycamore are particularly vulnerable to the fast-breeding rodents, which like to gnaw at the bark.

Protection measures include tree shelters or guards, thorough spot weeding, mowing and encouraging predators such as owls and kestrels – which can eat up to four voles a day – into the woodland.

The guidelines have been produced by the Scottish Government’s Farm Advisory Service programme, which is delivered by specialists from SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College.

Providing perching poles for kestrels and nesting boxes for owls is among the advice in a new technical note.

Both bank voles and field voles attack young trees, mostly during winter. Bark is gnawed from the roots and lower stem. While severe damage will girdle the tree and kill it, less severe damage can weaken the tree and allow fungal infections to enter the wood.

FAS has also published a technical note on the value of pruning, which can prevent the development of major structural defects as well as ensure that the majority of trees in a crop have the potential to produce high-quality timber.

Meanwhile, those looking to ensure their forest nurseries thrive can find out more about the range of plants and planting methods available by clicking here.

Senior woodlands consultant at SAC Consulting, Simon Jacyna, said: “It’s remarkable how destructive voles can be to broadleaved trees on grassy sites. Good maintenance is essential to minimise damage but, of course, this also helps the trees to grow strongly. It can be very rewarding though to see owls, and possibly even wildcats, hunting over the young woodlands and protecting the trees for you.”