Trackers go high-tech to follow wild goats

SATELLITE technology is being used to track a herd of wild goats in north Northumberland in an effort to understand where they roam and help protect farmland and conservation areas.

Using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) loggers, experts from Newcastle University are hoping to map the movement of England’s most northerly population of wild goats.

Roaming the wilds of the Cheviot Hills, the goats are known to congregate around Yeavering Bell, the site of an Iron Age hillfort.

The area in which the goats are found contains open moorland, woodland and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as well as being flanked by farmland.

As such, the area is a potential site of conflict between the goats, conservationists and farmers.

The project is being led by Dr Richard Bevan and Dr Pete Garson from the University’s School of Biology, and supported by Northumberland National Park and local landowners and farmers.

The aim is to find out more about where the goats are foraging and therefore, just how much damage the goats might be causing.

Dr Bevan said: “At the moment the goats are barely tolerated.

“Because the goats have no protection, if landowners decide that they don’t want them, then they are within their rights to remove them.

“This poses a real threat to this small, genetically unique population.

“The aim of this project is to understand exactly how far the goats roam and how they use the local landscape, as well as recording when, where and how long they spend eating so we can advise on any future management of the goats.”

The Cheviot herd is made up of between 100 and 150 individuals, believed to be descended from the original goats introduced by the first farmers of the Neolithic period.

Initially, the GPS collars have been fitted to six goats and the aim is to move these collars around different individuals every three to six months, ensuring a mix of male and female, young and old.

Dr Bevan said: “The sensors in these collars are not only able to track the goats but also give us postural data which shows how they are moving.”

“For example, when they stop travelling we can see whether they lay down and rest or bend their heads to feed.

“This builds up a very accurate picture of their behaviour and should indicate to us how much they are to blame for damage to crops or trees and how we might prevent it.

“Ultimately, the aim is to find a way for nature, man and goat to live together happily.”