Visitors are being urged to play their part in preserving Avon Gorge’s wildlife after the arrival of four rare-breed goats boosted a conservation project to save the site’s rare plants and habitats.
Gorge users have been asked to stay on the main paths, keep their dogs under control or away from the area and avoid approaching or attempting to feed the quartet of Bagot goats that have now joined the herd in the area of the gorge known as the Gully.
Joining two older Kashmir goats already in place, the herd are making a vital contribution to the eco-system in the Gully, with their nibbling of invasive scrub and bramble allowing the opportunity for rare plants to flourish instead.
The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project - a partnership of organisations including Bristol City Council, Bristol Zoo Gardens, Natural England, University of Bristol, the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Downs Committee, Bristol Zoological Society, the National Trust and Forestry - are behind the initiative to restore wildflower-rich grasslands in the Avon Gorge.
The year-old Bagot goats arrived earlier this month from the Bristol-based ‘Street Goat’ project, which also runs herd conservation projects with the city council and South Gloucestershire authorities in other areas of the city.
The herd are monitored and cared for every day by Bristol City Council’s Downs team, and at weekends by volunteers from the Friends of the Downs and Avon Gorge, with Bristol Zoo Gardens also offering additional veterinary advice and care if required - but the public are also being encouraged to play their part by giving the goats a wide berth to avoid erosion and damage to their habitat.
Bristol City Council’s Downs supervisor, Ben Skuse, said: “The new goats have settled in very well. From the moment they arrived, they began eating the invasive scrub. The brown and white Bagots are smaller than the all-white Kashmir goats but they are only one year old so they will grow a little bigger, with their horns growing longer and thicker too.
“We understand that they look very cute but they have a vital conservation job to do, so please don’t approach them or feed them. It is also important to keep dogs on leads or preferably don’t take dogs into the enclosure at all. They have plenty of natural food and if you feed them they may become sick.
“The more scrub and bramble they eat, the more space they make for rare plants like the Bristol onion and Bristol rock-cress to flourish so we are asking any visitors to stay on the main paths throughout the Gully and not to stray up and down the steep slopes, which causes erosion and will disturb the goats and other wildlife.”
Becky Belfin, Bristol City Council Nature Conservation Officer, said: “The Avon Gorge is an internationally-important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). In fact, it’s one of the top three botanical sites in England - home to over 30 kinds of nationally rare and scarce plants, and rare animals that depend on them.
“Most of the rare plants grow together, in a habitat known as limestone grassland. Over hundreds of years these grasslands were grazed, keeping them open and largely free from trees. Grazing stopped in the 1920s and without nibbling mouths trees and scrub began to grow up, shading out most of the grassland and killing of the majority of the rare plants.”
Chris Westcott, from Natural England, said: “In June 2011, our six Kashmir goats arrived from the Great Orme. The browsing of these primitive, feral goats has helped opened the area up, giving rare plants like the Bristol onion and Bristol rock-cress, a chance to thrive and spread once again.
“Unfortunately, in recent years we lost two of our original goats due to dog attacks and two to old age. So have been looking for more animals to help with progressing the good habitat restoration work and this is where our new Bagot goats come in.”
Later in the year, the Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project will be running guided walks so that people can find out more about the goats and the special wildlife that they are helping to protect. Details will be published on the Avon Gorge website and their Facebook page.