Colin E. Ridsdale

Whilst February is known for the snowdrops flowering in Snowdrop Valley, here in Lynton, it is associated with a burst of golden flowers of the gorse

Goats grazing with Devil's Chimney in the background

The goats often stand on their hind legs to get at the tasty young shoots which are highly nutritious and in bygone days were collected and crushed as a winter feed for livestock. This might explain the historical high value of the Grazing Rights of the Valley.

Humans also appreciated the gorse flowers. They were gathered to make gorse wine, really mead, and also gathered to make a yellow dye. The flower buds were pickled and used in place of capers in many recipes, particularly salads. Even today the Monks of Caldy Island, Pembrokeshire make gorse flower perfume.

Gorse is natural tinder and was formerly used for firing baker's ovens and probably for starting up the local lime kilns. This makes fire a hazard in the Valley. This week a large rubbish container burnt out in the Valley car park, probably caused by a visiting group who were seen barbecuing on the coastal path with disposal barbecues. Luckily the fire did not spread.

On these sunny gorse clad slopes you will mostly see billies and nannies without kids.

These are usually to be seen high on the slopes of Ragged Jack. Often one hears the high pitched bleat of the young kids before one sees them.

Currently this is the main nursery area together with the steep coastal slopes.

Unfortunately, people seem to have an affixation to get out of their car and go rushing up the scree slopes disturbing the goats and damaging the scree slopes, often with disregard to their own safety. - walking down a sliding scree slope carrying a toddler in your arms is asking for an accident.

Often the goats and kids are difficult to see camouflaged on the screes or in the vegetation, their ears often give away the position of the kids resting in the vegetation.

A few nannies do venture down to the valley bottom, particularly on warm sunny afternoons. Sometimes one's heart stands still as they do tend to, jump and run erratically, even across the road. There is still a problem of cars speeding through the Valley - and still no speed checks or speed bumps. This problem affects tourists with children, the elderly and less able who wish to walk from the car park to the North Walk Coastal Path. There is no easy access connection which is urgently needed. The volume of traffic to Lee Abbey has increased some 300% with their continued expansion in the last years. The pedestrian facilities dates from the 1930's.and are not up to modern safety standards.

The kids that venture down to the valley bottom remain close to their mothers who keep a close eye on their offspring. It is a difficult time for the nannies, particularly with visitors with dogs not under control. So whilst the Council still refuses to put up signs to this effect - makes sure your dog is under control, nobody wants their dog to be responsible for the death of a young kid goat, so take a kind reminder follow, the Law & Country Code and keep you dog on a lead or under close control.

Tourists walking coastal North Walk Path, which is quite cold, when in the shadow, at this time of year, are likely to see kids on the seaward slopes, along the footpath or up on the rocks of the landward slopes.

However, if you see a goat in the following stance near her kid you are too close MOVE BACK and respect her motherly instincts, she is protecting her offspring.

This appears to be a beautiful tranquil spring scene but this is far from the case as even now these nannies are still at threat. The last cull decimated the structure of the billy population down to below the number considered minimal by the Council's international goat expert. The Council still refuse to issue any details of this "secret" cull -so we can only assume that the worst scenario was true. Why is it so difficult to do the job properly and openly and above board? Or perhaps the Council cannot afford this course of action?

At the Parish meeting of 2007 the previous Mayor and the Town Clerk requested. "The goats should be reduced and managed on an annual basis, the numbers of goats to be decided by the Council" As the billy population is minimal the nannies and kids are all that remain to be "managed" A polite word for culled by shooting?

The problem with shooting the goats is that it is a random target selection, what comes into the sights of the marksman's rifle dies - one can hardly call this management.

Whilst the Grazing Animals Project suggests that a stock book be kept the Council has never requested this from their advisor, a photo record is possible. The marksman could at least select particular goats- instead of shooting the wrong goats as has happened in the past. The last cull was not even discussed at the Valley Management Meetings and the Council's Goat Advisor was also not even consulted.

In this modern millennium, this form of management is not acceptable as an annual event and we consider contraceptive implants a humane solution.

Under the new Animal Welfare Act we consider that the Council is breaking the Law by not having a vet in attendance at such culls. Secondly it is not acceptable to have such culls without the presence of an independent witness as the Town Clerk has a proven conflict of interest.

The sad news from this year is that a visitor found a wounded nanny with a dislocated hip, the causing premature still birth of twins, and a vet was called in to have the animals humanely destroyed. We thank the animal welfare societies for their response in this and the following case and also for paying the vets bill. The Council still have problems of accepting their animal welfare responsibilities.

A second visitor brought a new born kid in to Mother Meldrum's Cafe, thereby condemning it to be rejected by its mother. Before assistance arrived arrive from Bideford the same people picked up the kid and left- possibly returning it to where it was found. Despite extensive searches it could not be found, its fate is unknown. This illustrates the need for leaflets or the placing of interpretation panels where they are needed, not just outside the Town Hall.

So help stop these ill planned culls and support a humane way of controlling the goat numbers. If the numbers need to be reduced then this should be humanely done by a vet, as part of a planned management plan. Remember the Valley of Rocks is not just for the people of Lynton & Lynmouth, it is part of the National Coastal Heritage of the Nation. Many eco-tourists come to enjoy this and tourism is one of the major money earners for the community and also of the surrounding areas.