Autumn News

Colin E. Ridsdale

It would seem that the White Lady has extended her blessings over the Valley. After all of the troubles this last year, and problems with the roundups and weather the remaining goats appear to be picking up, hopefully on the way to recovery. Walking along North Walk there are now no trace of scouring by sick goats, and no goats with “dirty bottoms” were seen. A few emaciated goats may still be loose.

Courtesy John McGowan

One morning the delightful panorama above was seen. 51 goats all on the valley slopes of Rugged Jack. Walking further back along North Walk coastal path a further 15 goats were seen, hence, a total of 66 on one day. It always has been difficult to estimate the exact number of animals in the valley. This was well known from the counts from Raymond Werner, who has been studying the goats since 1975. Many unexplained fluctuations occur as animals move outside of the fence. They have been even been seen in Lynton. The estimates of the number of animals vary between 75 and 90. 6 animals have been removed by a well executed rifle cull, probably if any others are seen a second attempt will be made before the winter.

It may be possible that supplementary feeding would help the animals through the winter period, although this is prohibited without consent of Natural England and Exmoor National Park. However, the field next to Mother Meldrum's (Hockey Field) could be used as this is outside the ESA grazing agreement. Hopefully, a sustainable Management plan will now be produced for the goats which, to date, has never been produced.

Other good news is that Exmoor National Park have repaired the fencing in the top corner of the picnic area. Their workforce has done a very good job on this. The fence was vandalised during the music festival several strands of wire being cut and it had grown slack over the years. The pig wire is now also clipped to and extra wire and the top two wires are also under tension giving a full operational 4 ft height. Additional new posts have been added. This was one of the weak sections of the perimeter fence and one of the main points of exit en route to the cemetery.

Let us hope that the Council will also do their bit on the fence over Hollerday Hill where the goats enter the woodland for shelter and then move on into the town.

The major aim of the grazing agreement is to restore the coastal heath vegetation. This was classified in 1999 as being senile. Whilst invasive elements such as rhododendrons and sycamore have been targeted the core business has been neglected. In some places 60-70% is dead or half-dead. Heather is a colonising species and seeds cannot germinate in the mossy cover – hence the traditional swaling (burning) of moorland. Urgent action is needed to rejuvenate the heather, removing the bracken alone will not help. In some areas the valley has a grey hue.

The ponies, in contrast to the goats, seem to be very healthy and show now sign of malnutrition even though they share a common  grazing area.