GOATS AND TREE DEBARKING

C. E. Ridsdale

Goats with access to woodland do a considerable amount of debarking, particularly billies during the winter period. Their favourite trees seem to be holly, ash, elm, mountain ash, hazel, willow and yew. They usually avoid birch and oak. (Whitehead 1972 The Wild Goats of Britain & Ireland) If we look at the trees on Hollerday Hill, we can add as favourite trees Sweet Chestnut and Cherry Laurel, and a range of conifers.

Debarking on sweet chestnut (above) and cherry laurel (below)

The habit of regenerating with coppice shoots was utilized in sweet chestnut to strip the bark to make tannin for leather and regeneration for hop pole in other regions. The regeneration of cherry laurel is well known as many hoteliers have to cut it back regularly to the base.

Even small diameter branches of sycamore that have been completely debarked are still alive as can be seen from the photo above. Clearly the goats only take off the outer bark and do not penetrate the cambium.

Scar tissue on an ash tree near the conservation area - right the probable culprit.

The goat was culled in 2004. The tree has old scar tissue. Sometimes one needs to look at the woodland and not the trees, of the hundreds of trees on Hollerday Hill there are about 10 dead trees that possibly could be attributed to debarking. As the goats have had free access to the woodlands for many years since the first cull in 1997 according to the destruction hypothesis there should be hundreds of dying trees. They are not there, we have a normal woodland cycle where trees also compete for light and space and sometimes die.