Last September the council signed an ESA agreement, at the same time accepting the advice of various bodies involved with the project that a fence should be erected between the Valley of Rocks and Lynton town so that this valuable SSSI could be properly grazed. After months of consultations the route of the proposed fence had been agreed, details about mesh size and height discussed and decided, estimates had been invited. Funding had been raised for 80% of the costs. Everyone at Friends of the Goats was delighted. Complaints from local residents about straying goats (all of them perfectly understandable) would hopefully come to an end. With conservation grazing being the preferred option of so many experts, the valley was all set to be managed in a way appropriate for the 21st century. And all those thousands of visitors who come to the area to see the goats wouldn’t be disappointed either.

At the Full Council meeting on 31st March the council suddenly and inexplicably voted not to proceed with the fence, with the ESA agreement, and then voted to reduce the goat numbers to 30. It was suggested they would re-home as many as possible, but have already gone on record as saying it is far from easy to find homes for these goats. (In fact, that was their excuse for shooting rather than re-homing the 12 goats they again inexplicably decided to dispatch in July last year).

Not surprising then that at the following Full Council Meeting on 28th April councillors found themselves face to face with an unusually large audience - local residents, visitors, and others concerned about conservation and animal welfare issues - all of who wanted to get some straight answers.

Though the council could have turned this into a perfect PR exercise, they chose not to. Instead of moving the meeting upstairs to a larger hall they decided to remain in their usual room, which meant that the few extra seats were soon taken, everyone else either sitting on the floor, standing in the doorway, many crammed into the outer hall and even out on the steps of the town hall.

Roland Gold - who sadly resigned from the council shortly before the meeting but who, after spending months on the project, remains concerned and involved - started by presenting a petition of over 800 signatures asking the council to reconsider its decision. The general public can ask questions for 15 minutes , and there were plenty of people only too anxious to do so!. Unfortunately, most of the rest the crowd had to strain to hear them, and many of those not actually in the room just didn’t get a chance to speak.

Though it seemed the majority of those present wanted the goats to be left alone, and urged the council to at least try the fence idea, there was a good positive feeling rather than one of hostility - at least to start with. A number of points made were applauded, others were cheered. Once again the council missed an opportunity to at least explain why it voted the way it did. Most questions were simply dismissed. Replies - when they were given - tended to be evasive, or even hostile. And once the 15 minutes was up we were all unceremoniously dismissed and the doors firmly shut behind us.

Personally I didn’t feel we had gained any better understanding of the council’s mind set, which is a shame. With such a big and attentive audience, including a number of representatives from the media, this would have been a perfect chance for the council to set things straight. Certainly it was encouraging to see how many people not only felt concern about the fate of the goats, but had also fully grasped the rather complex situation regarding the ESA, the fencing, the need for nor just many more goats in an area the experts agree is badly UNDER grazed, but also for the addition of other livestock to deal with vegetation the goats will not touch.

Maybe one day soon the council too will understand just what an opportunity it is missing to do something good and positive for ALL the people of Lynton and Lynmouth - those who love the goats, those who are simply pleased they provide pleasure for tourists, and yes, even those who hate them!. This could be the start of a whole new era, with this council being the one that goes down in history as having the foresight, imagination and courage to try something different. Removing goats - either by shooting, sending them for slaughter, or relocating them - is not the answer; it hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work now.

There is to be another meeting to discuss the matter on 25th May. The public can attend but not speak.

Jan Hunt
5th May 2005