Our annual goat round-up on Ventnor Downs
Just like our goats, you have to be hardy to join the annual goat round-up here on Ventnor Downs. This autumnal Isle of Wight challenge, that this year took place on Thursday 17 October, sees National Trust rangers and volunteers fighting their way through ten foot high gorse, bracken and bramble bushes to give our goats their annual health check.
This autumn, in the pouring rain, our brave team of over 100 volunteers and staff suceeded in rounding up 48 rather smelly goats, including 14 kids, for their health inspection - an important conservation task in our seasonal calendar. We even managed to find nine goats that eluded us last year.
Helping nature naturally
Every year, our Old English feral goats are guided into temporary pens on Ventnor Downs for their health check. We look at their teeth, give their hooves a clip, treat any health problems and catalogue them. We also tag and record any new kids (baby goats), then release the herd back on to the downs.
The goats preserve the special chalk grassland on Ventnor Downs. They’ve been here since 1993, acting as a natural control of the regrowth and spread of scrub and trees, especially holm oaks. These trees were introduced several centuries ago from the Mediterranean but they threaten the native downland habitat, smothering yellow horseshoe vetch - the main foodplant for Adonis blue butterfly caterpillars.
As well as providing food for the goats, the oaks also give them shelter. In turn, the animals maintain a healthy balance of grassland, scrub and trees on the downs, and help to conserve this rare habitat.
The goats are very elusive, so it takes a big team of volunteers and staff to walk across the downs in a chain, flushing them out from trees and scrub, towards a pen. Last year we had over 70 volunteers, as well as National Trust staff from the mainland. Despite valiant efforts by the team, including crawling on hands and knees through bramble bushes, some of the goats still managed to evade us.
Helping to protect our places
So why do so many people want to help on a potentially wet and windy day in autumn? Well for some it's the adrenalin driven thrill of the chase, and plenty of exercise in the fresh morning air. But for all involved, it offers the chance to participate in essential conservation work, as part of a wider team, to preserve this beautiful environment. And of course, at the end of it all, you finally get to see those wily goats…….. and eat lots of well-earned, cake.
" As a family we wanted to get involved with a conservation charity and gain some new skills. The goat round-up has been perfect for that, and it's been really good fun too."
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