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 19 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.
Last autumn, our team of over 50 people proved more than capable of rounding up over 30 rather smelly goats for their health inspection - an important conservation task in our seasonal calendar.
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 more helpers than ever before, including 28 volunteers and 14 National Trust staff from the mainland. We also had extra assistance from the BBC Countryfile team who filmed the event and even helped to trim the goat's hooves.
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 is 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, homemade 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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