Sadness in the Valley

Colin E. Ridsdale (edited)

Unfortunately, the parasitic diseases are still latent in the Valley of Rocks. Neither the long cold winter nor the hottest June in some 35 years has eradicated the infection.

A number of goats did not survive the winter and many of the nannies got mastitis which led to problems feeding their kids.

Currently 78 goats were rounded-up and penned in the hockey field next to Mother Meldrum's café. Some 21 remained loose on the steep cliffs of Castle Rock and below the North Walk coastal path.

The captured goats were firstly tested for TB on Tuesday 29th June. A team headed by Peter Green, the veterinary surgeon for Surrey Wildlife Trust, carried this out. On Friday 2nd July he returned to check the results of the test. Happily, the results were all negative. Rachel Forster, of Market Vets, South Molton, who organized the vaccination for blue tongue and treated the goats for internal parasites, joined him.

Scenes behind the fence

Councilor Jill Mills  &
Mrs. E.Rodway (grazier)
Peter Green (playing Dracula)
& Councillor Bernard Peacock
Rachel Foster

Diana Lewis of North Devon Animal Ambulance assisted her. I was mostly impressed with the smoothness of the operation, due to the efficiency of many volunteers assisting with the catching and recording. James Adler, the manager of Surrey Wildlife grazing animals was also present and the town clerk came out on crutches.

Unfortunately, five nannies and two billies were so emaciated that they had to be humanely put to sleep, some other nannies were in a poor state but were still with kids and lactating. Comparing pictures of the goats in this roundup to previous years, their small size, and thin bodies are clearly visible. It is going to be a hard struggle to get the herd back in good health. Basically, it is impossible to move those which will remain here to a different grazing area, or isolate them outside of the valley bottom. It is there that they graze the grass at ground level picking up infection, rather than browse the higher heather, gorse and shrubs

Then someone decided to keep the goats, rumoured for early transport to Pirbright, penned for some 3 weeks, This resulted it a total chaos. On Monday 3rd the enclosures were modified to include a small section between the Hockey field and the cricket field. This area had grass about 1m high and was about 900 sq. metres allowing about 12 sq. metres per goat. Hay was brought in about a week later and at that time, about 7 sq. meters of shade netting was provided (for 72 goats). Over a following weekend goats were trapped between the two layers of fencing and the grazier was called out to release them. There was 2 cm of dirty water in the drinking trough due to a faulty ballcock. Checking the water level in the mobile tank, a overwhelming smell of diesel or heating fuel oil was detected. I doubt if any human smelling this would drink a glass of water from this tank. Basically these animals were abandoned from 11 am Friday to 8pm Monday or whenever somebody checked on the animals, nobody from the Council was apparently available over this period. Many members of the public, including myself, lodged official complaints to the RSPCA on the total disregard by the Council of animal welfare issues.

Scenes behind the fence

John Rodway Diana Lewis (back left) James Adler

Remarkably, the goats were released on the night of Saturday 10th July by person or persons unknown. Was it rustlers? No, - a few ear tagged animals were seen in the Valley, was it somebody concerned with animal welfare? Possibly – or was it someone from the Council itself who had got wind of a pending RSPCA/defra investigation of the situation?

When will the welfare of the goats become of some importance in the Valley management? It is to be hoped that, at last, before it is too late, the Council will come up with an acceptable management plan for the goats. Maintaining the fences would also help invasion into the town. The majority of the goats are getting through the ill maintained fences and not all walking over the flat cattle grid. Surely maintaining the fence is more sensible than culling the billies. The Council, in the last few years, have culled some sixty healthy animals for invading the town. However Hollerday Hill and the land down to Poet’s Corner is not common land but is owned by the Council and landowners are responsible for maintaining fences and damage caused by escaping animals.

The penned situation after a week (green is the side of the 7 sq. m. shade netting)

When will the Council move into the current millennium and get its act together? The majority of the hotels in the area mention the Lynton goats as an attraction. They are, together with the Exmoor Ponies, a plus point for today’s eco-tourism on which the towns economy depends.

As the Council is apparently incapable of managing the Valley of Rocks then perhaps the time has come to request Exmoor National Park to look into the possibility of an outside person to produce a total management plan, so that everyone can move forward.

Some 3 years ago it was agreed at a management meeting that climbing on the sea cliff routes should be prohibited, during the closed breeding season for birds. Even this non controversial point, has got no further than the Town Clerk's desk. Why cannot the Council be proud of its environmental heritage and protect it? It is a tourist asset.

The Ponies

Luckily the ponies are not infected by many goat parasites and are looking quite healthy, enjoying a sneaky nibble of the hay supplied to the goats as the fences were moved around. One evening in the valley, after dusk, I heard a rustling in the bracken and then a clip clop of hooves as they walked down the road to Castle Rock where they grazed in the light of the fading sunset, watched by 4 enthralled visitors.

Poets' Corner

Here there is some positive news, though not through Council actions. As the human shelter has not been cleaned and sanitized for two tourist seasons it has accumulated a thick layer of goats droppings which makes it quite smelly. Many tourists have complained (to no avail) and tend to avoid this disgusting shelter. This has created a quiet environment for a pair of swallows to build a nest and raise young. So the Council’s inactivity seems to have benefited bio-diversity.