community projects

GOAT CONSERVATIONISTS

Goat Power – an unconventional method being used to help restore the famous rare and endangered plants around the Avon Gorge in Bristol, one of the UK’s most important botanical sites.

Since June 2011 and with active management from the Avon Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project, a herd of six feral male goats have been chomping away at all the invasive woody plants around the gorge. And thanks to the heroic effort of the six ‘hairy conservationists’, the first phase of this restoration has been a huge success. The wildflower-rich grassland is re-establishing and thriving, and the hostile scrub is under control.

Goats are nature’s weed whackers and have been used for their conservation grazing skills, or technically, browsing skills for centuries, and for good reason. Described as ‘biological control agents’, goats have evolved to adapt to a wider variety of plants in their diet which other animals avoid – leaves, shoots, vines, brambles, thistles, twigs and bark, generally all things woody, prickly and on occasion poisonous. They also prevent any chance of invasive plants going to seed by eating the flower heads and completely destroying the seeds within their incredibly efficient digestive tracts.

When it comes to clearing unwanted vegetation that strangles valuable trees and threatens important diversity in difficult terrain, their impressive tight-rope walking balance and nifty split hooves give them an all-access pass to places that humans and machines can’t reach. And to top off their ecosystem balancing ways, they leave a very helpful parting gift; their droppings are the ultimate fertiliser and contain adequate amounts of the nutrients for healthy plant growth, and their nitrogen-tinged urine helps balance the minerals in the soil.

So it’s no surprise that our hoofed friends are gaining popularity as an economical, sustainable and ecological alternative to the traditional use of heavy equipment and chemicals. This use of goats for targeted grazing jobs not only sends a strong conservation message to the community, it provides another viable solution to the senseless waste of billy goats in the UK.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE GOATS AND THE AVON GORGE AND DOWNS WILDLIFE PROJECT

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