The Valley of Rocks lies about 10 minutes walk from the centre of Lynton, on the North Devon coast and within Exmoor National Park. It is a dry, U-shaped valley, of origin as yet unknown, and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Site of Special Geological Interest. The sides are boulder strewn, some of the larger stones being remnants of Neolithic stone circles. The habitat is coastal heath. We do not know how long goats have been in the Valley of Rocks but it is reasonable to assume that Neolithic peoples living in the valley some 6000 years ago would have kept goats of the same breed which graze the valley today. The Doomsday Book records 75 goats in the Manor of Lyntonia.
We also know that goats were removed from the valley in the mid l9th century and that white goats, believed to have come from the Royal Herd at Sandringham were released into the valley in 1897. These survived as a small herd until the severe winter of 1947 which decimated numbers and the herd eventually died out during the very cold winters of the early 1960′s. The current herd originated in December 1976 when three feral goats were released into the valley. They came from the College Valley herd, based in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland.
The herd flourished, it being necessary to cull surplus stock from time to time over the years, although the intention has always been to manage it as a gene bank and relocate surplus animals in other suitable areas. This was notably achieved in October, 1990, when a group was taken to Lundy Island, Bristol channel, to revitalise a failing feral herd there, and again in October, 1992, when another group was released onto chalk downland being invaded by scrub on the Isle Of Wight The latter introduction formed a part of a land management scheme.
From time to time surplus goats are re-homed into conservation projects. In 1998 we were helped by members of the Mammal Conservation Trust to round-up the herd and 33 goats were taken to Surrey where they are now helping to reclaim birch invaded heath land. Another 13 animals were placed into three separate breeding projects in Cornwall, Kent and Enfield. In 1999 four adult billies were caught up, again with the assistance of the Mammal Conservation Trust, using tranquilliser darts and were sent to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk where they are now reclaiming heath land invaded by pine and blackthorn scrub.
For further information go to www.lyntongoats.org.uk
The Lynton Feral Goat Preservation Society was formed in July 1997 by a group of local people dedicated to the welfare and preservation of a small herd of wild goats that graze the Valley of Rocks near Lynton.