Filed under: General
This article, by Conor Kelleher, will feature in the next edition of the magazine of the Irish Wildlife
Trust – http://www.iwt.ie
The Bilberry goat is an impressively large stocky animal with short legs
and a beautifully long silken shaggy coat. Their beards are long as is the
fringe of hair that covers some of the animals’ eyes. However, their most
impressive feature is their horns. These are heavy and long – very long!
During my visit I met several members of the BGHPT who have cared for
these animals on a daily basis for many y They are caretakers who take their
role very seriously and some are the descendents of parents and grandparents
who performed the same duties for the herd in their day. They ensure that the
goats are safe, have adequate water and supplement their grazing with
nuts. They also maintain the herd’s health with veterinary treatment.
Local historians believe that the goats were brought ashore by French
Huguenots who arrived in the city in 1693 but this is unproven and the
herd has been the subject of study by international goat specialists including
the British Feral Goat Research Group who inspected the herd in 2004. This
research group has over 40 years experience in the study of feral goats
and their findings on the Bilberry goats were remarkable. They stated that the
Bilberry animal “is a unique herd of feral goats unlike any other that we
have seen in Britain or Ireland”. They further state that the Bilberry
goats “appear to be based on cashmere or possibly Maltese bloodlines and yet
they do not seem to fully match any of the documented breeds”.
Another expert, Raymond Werner, an internationally renowned goat expert,
in a report in July 2006 on the Bilberry goat herd states: “that it fits the
type, for whatever reason, of the Cold Weather goat in general and the
Central Asian Pashmina Down Breed Group in particular, it remains,
therefore, a question mark in goat history that needs to be researched in
detail. There is every possibility that it may turn out to be a rare
breed, and for this reason alone, its preservation is imperative”.
Robert-Jan Prins, of the Landelijke Fokkersclub Nederlandse Landgeiten
(National Dutch Landrace Goat Society), stated of the herd that: “there
were no signs of weakness or inbreeding. As with every landrace, the place
where the animals are kept is critical for the survival of the breed. A location
as Bilberry Rock contains, even for a region, unique minerals. According
to the historical facts the herd has been on Bilberry Rock for many
generations (over 100 years).
Because of this it is undesirable to choose another location for starting
a conservation programme. The risk of disturbing an already unstable basis,
by mineral shortness or surplus or otherwise by stress, is irresponsible”.
The British Feral Goat Research Group further stated that “it is imperative
that the herd is safeguarded. The stress of rounding up and moving to
an alternative location could have disastrous consequences in view of
the small number of females”.
Bilberry Rock, on which the goats graze, is approximately 14 acres in size
and is under imminent threat from development. Part of this commonage was
recently sold by Waterford City Council for residential development
despite its own Action Area Plan envisioning the area of Bilberry Rock remaining
as a public open space. Should this be allowed then the future of the goat
herd is in serious jeopardy. In the past, the herd was much larger and had a
larger area in which to roam. Now only 28 remain and, with only eight
females, the herd has a much skewed sex ratio which increases the herd’s
The Bilberry Goat Herd Preservation Trust has launched a campaign and
petition to safeguard the future of this unique animal. They have written
to several Ministers of the Environment, including Mr. Martin Cullen, who
grew up next to Bilberry Rock, to date without success and have only received a
‘standard’ reply from the Taoiseach’s office referring the matter to Mr.
Dick Roche, T.D. The people of Waterford are fully behind the campaign to
safeguard the future of ‘their’ goats, currently, 17,000 people have
signed the petition which is remarkable – more signatures than the petition for a
cancer ward in Waterford’s Regional Hospital!
The herd is registered with the Department of Agriculture who fully
supports the present breeding programme and the retention of the herd on Bilberry
Rock as well as plans to develop the herd in the national interest.ss.
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