Visitors urged to give new Avon Gorge goats time to settle in

​Visitors to Avon Gorge are being urged to give four young Kashmir goats that have joined an existing herd time and space to settle in.

The new billy goats have been brought into an area called the Gully to bolster the herd which plays an important role in eating invasive scrub and bramble as part of a conservation project to save the site’s rare plants and habitats.

The effort is part of an initiative to restore wildflower-rich grasslands in the Avon Gorge, run by the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project - a partnership of organisations including Bristol City Council, Bristol Zoological Society, Natural England, University of Bristol, the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Downs Committee, the National Trust and Forestry England.

People going to the Gorge are being encouraged to stay on the main paths, keep dogs on leads and not attempt to feed the goats. It is particularly important that people keep their distance from the goats while they get used to their new home.  

The four arrivals join two original Kashmirs who have lived in the Avon Gorge since 2011 and four Bagot goats who arrived in March this year.

Bristol City Council’s Downs supervisor, Ben Skuse, said: “The new goats have settled in well with the existing herd and are already doing a fantastic job of eating the invasive scrub. 

“We understand that there’s a lot of interest in the new goats but they have a vital conservation job to do, so please don’t approach them or feed them. 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.

“It is also important to please keep dogs on leads or preferably don’t take dogs into the enclosure at all.”

The goats have come from the Great Orme in North Wales and have been donated by Conwy County Council, which manages the Great Orme.

Bristol Zoological Society staff vet, Richard Saunders, checked the new goats on arrival. He said: “The goats had a long journey but were bright-eyed and healthy. 

“We checked them over and treated them for any internal and external parasites they might be carrying before they were released into a new environment.“

The herd is 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. 

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, shading out most of the grassland and killing off the majority of the rare plants and the goats are playing an important role in Bristol’s commitment to tackling the ecological emergency, making a vital contribution to the Gorge’s ecosystem.”

Dave Collingbourne, from Natural England, said: “The browsing of these primitive, feral goats has helped open the area up, giving rare plants 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 goats come in.”

Later in the year, the Avon Gorge and 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 onwww.avongorge.org.uk and on their Facebook page.

Main image by Fraser Wilkinson.

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Now’s your last chance to visit before the Zoo’s last day 03.09.22