Goat catchers wanted for Ventnor Downs round up

You have to be hardy to join the annual goat round-up on Ventnor Downs – just like the goats.

This autumnal Isle of Wight challenge takes place on Thursday (October 11) at 9.30am.

National Trust rangers and volunteers fight their way through ten foot high gorse, bracken and bramble bushes to give the feral Ventnor Down’s Old English goats their annual health check.

Last autumn, a team of over 90 people proved more than capable of rounding up over 30 rather smelly goats for their health inspection – an important conservation task in the National Trust’s seasonal calendar.

This year they need lots of volunteers to help again.

The goats about to receive their health check – National Trust

Every year, the Old English feral goats are guided into temporary pens on Ventnor Downs for their annual health check.

They look at their teeth, give their hooves a clip, treat any health problems and catalogue them.

They also tag and record any new kids (baby goats), then release the herd back on to the downs.

The goats preserve the special chalk grassland on Ventnor Downs.

Ventnor Downs in autumn – National Trust

They’ve been here since 1993, acting as a natural control of the regrowth and spread of scrub and trees, especially holm oaks.

These trees were introduced several centuries ago from the Mediterranean but they threaten the native downland habitat, smothering yellow horseshoe vetch – the main food plant for Adonis blue butterfly caterpillars.

As well as providing food for the goats, the oaks also give them shelter.

In turn, the animals maintain a healthy balance of grassland, scrub and trees on the downs, and help to conserve this rare habitat.

Feral goats make the dash – National Trust

A spokesman for the National Trust said: “The goats are very elusive, so it takes a big team of volunteers and staff to walk across the downs in a chain, flushing them out from trees and scrub, towards a pen. Last year we had more helpers than ever before, including over 70 volunteers and National Trust staff from the mainland.”

So why do so many people want to help on a potentially wet and windy day in autumn?

“Well for some it is the adrenalin driven thrill of the chase, and plenty of exercise in the fresh morning air,” added the spokesman.

“But for all involved, it offers the chance to participate in essential conservation work, as part of a wider team to preserve this beautiful environment. And of course, at the end of it all, you finally get to see those wily goats…….. and eat lots of well-earned, homemade cake.”

Times and exact location will be confirmed on confirmation of your intention to participate, though it is likely to be around 9am and last for three or four hours (depending on the goats).

Coombe Bottom, Ventnor – National Trust

Whilst this is a fantastic experience, it is important to stress that you need to be physically fit and fairly agile.

You will be herding our goats along uneven ground and of course, weather conditions can vary. Goats will be checked for any health issues, tagged, and have a little chat with them before letting them all go again.

It’s about 2 kilometres on steep slopes with uneven ground and patches of bramble, bracken and gorse.

The idea is to maintain a constant unbroken line of people to ensure that the goats don’t break back again.

Recommended clothing: leather walking boots with good grip, thorn proof trousers or at least jeans, thorn proof jacket / water proof if wet, a stout stick for walking support and helping you through bramble patches, garden gloves to protect your hands from thorn scratches. Please bring your own lunch. There will be refreshments, including home-made National Trust biscuits and cold drinks.

If you’re able bodied and interested, please call 01983 741020 and they’ll let you know what to bring and where to meet and send you a volunteer sign up form.