Norfolk Wildlife Trust recently took loan of nineteen Bagot goats from North Norfolk District Council. This rare breed is being employed at Cranwich Camp, a site managed by NWT (although there is no public access currently).
The former British Army camp is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and forms part of the Breckland’s Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The heath and grassland reserve holds seven red data book species, including the nationally scarce oblique striped moth.
Rabbits help to maintain the diverse flora and disturbed ground, however the addition of the Bagot goats will aid the restoration of the heathland areas, helping to develop a more varied structure to the vegetation.
The goats’ hardy nature and ability to forage in rough scrub make them excellent conservation grazing animals. The breed spent many centuries as semi-wild stock so has a nervous character; this also tends to lend itself to conservation work as they are more self-reliant and unlikely to approach people.
They are a unique-looking breed with long hair and distinctive colouring of black forequarters and a white rear, and both sexes have large curving horns. As the animals are ‘organic’ their dung is free from toxins and medication allowing invertebrates such as dung beetles to thrive.
They are also an astonishingly old English breed; records suggest that in 1380 King Richard the second gave a herd to Sir John Bagot the owner of the Blithfield Estate in Staffordshire, where they still appear on the family's coat of arms.
DNA profiling suggests the breed originated in Portugal – however others strongly believe they came to Britain with returning knights from the crusades in North Africa. The main herd roamed freely on the grounds of the Blithfield Hall estate, but others were bred and kept across the Staffordshire area.
Six hundred years of isolation has now made it an important heritage bred, but they very nearly disappeared and at one time were reduced to only a hundred individuals. Now the breed is on the increase and entering another chapter of its long history – for in conjunction with heritage breed cattle, Shetland sheep and Dartmoor ponies, they join an excellent wildlife conservation team on Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserves.