Further to the previous blog – Severe Animal Damage to a Poplar
The most likely explanation of the damage caused to the Poplar is by way of a lightning strike. A quick search on Google provides images consistent with the damage and the stripping of the bark vertically is a recognised visible sympton of such an occurence.
”the mechanical and structural damage to a tree may be very slight to the point of being almost unnoticeable, or it may be extensive as though a bomb had exploded from within the tree (the damage is believed to be caused by the electrical discharge of the lightning – up to 100 million volts at thousands of amperes – which vaporizes the water inside the tree, creating superheated steam which explodes when it exceeds the structural strength of the wood). A very common physical indicator of a lightning event is the classic vertical stripping where bark, and sometimes the wood beneath, is torn from the trunk or major scaffold limbs. This stripping may skip around or it may be continuous most of the way up the tree. In addition, it may rise straight up vertically or it may spiral around the trunk like a candy cane. With some lightning events, bark can be violently blown off the tree in circumferential sections partially or completely around the trunk or limb(s). This stripping physically interrupts the vascular tissues that conduct fluids up and down in the tree’s living cambial structures under the bark.” Patrick Weicherding.
This is thus the most sensible explanation of the damage to the poplar. There is further research that suggests that the healthier a tree is and particularly if having a shallow root system that is in moist fertile soil lessens the damage caused. This would certainly account for the damage to the Poplar, which is more than capable of surviving and is showing signs of flushing already.
There is also at play a difference between the UK and Continental weather patterns that mean that lightning strikes are more often displaced over a larger area in continental situations. Hence the reason that examining US, German and Italian research is more relevant to the French situation. There is little French research available on the internet.
Neville Fay of Treework UK has written this excellent article explaining ancient tree morphology as a result of historic lightning strikes – Lightning Strikes and Trees – The possible role of lightning in the tree evolution and biodiversity.
This leaves the paw print, which I cannot explain away very easily and welcome any suggestion. In the meantime I am assuming it is little more than a large feral cat, (which are common here), with abnormally large paws.