Hundreds of almond and apple trees in Kashmir have been damaged beyond revival in the last few weeks. Porcupines have shredded the barks off the trees from the stumps to lower branches, leaving farmers and horticulture experts flummoxed. Trees that had taken 20 years to grow to full size will steadily decay after this attack. Farmers are set to suffer a collective loss running into lakhs.
South Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian and Budgam are worst-hit by porcupine attacks. Farmers with almond and apple orchards have been left crestfallen after the barks of full-grown trees have been stripped off by porcupines.
South Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian and Budgam are worst hit by porcupine attacks. (Photo: Reuters)
The distressed farmers have consulted experts at the J&K Horticulture Department. Not much, unfortunately, can be done to save the trees that have been extensively damaged. Horticulture experts say that if porcupines remove the bark around the trunk or a branch in a girdling motion, it can lead to irreversible damage to the tree. Horticulture experts have advised farmers that they must take preventive measures to guard against porcupine attacks by putting wire meshes around the stumps of the trees that have not been attacked yet or layering them with pepper.
According to experts at the JK Horticulture Department, if the porcupine manages to strip the bark of the tree trunk or the branch in a girdling pattern, then the trunk or branch will be killed from that point up or out. This will weaken the tree and make it more vulnerable to damage from diseases, insects and birds.
The loss of trees is severe for farmers because it takes up to 15 years for a tree to mature and reach the size of the damaged trees. Farmers say that even hybrid trees will take at least 10 years to bear fruit.
Almond and apple farmers have also approached wildlife experts to seek a solution to this problem. The wildlife experts have advised that exclusion by fencing is the most effective method to prevent damage from porcupines.
Farmers are now resorting to wire fencing around the trees to avoid damage by these thorny rodents and give protection to their prized fruit-bearing trees and also the young trees. Experts have advised the farmers it is important to monitor these rodents because they can physically damage the tree or even girdle it if left unattended for too long.
Experts say porcupines prefer to eat the nutritious inner tree bark or phloem. To get to the phloem, they remove the bark all the way down to the inner layer of the tree, where the wood begins.
If the bark is stripped all the way into the inner layer, that part of the tree will die and can damage the rest of the tree. Farmers say that some of their trees have been saved because the wounds caused to the trees are small. The horticulture experts have assured them that the small wounds may eventually heal after new tissue grows back from the edges of the wound.