PCN interviews James Wilson, Environmental Protection Manger at North Norfolk District Council, regarding the unusual use of goats in rodent control….
- Tell me about the state of the land prior to the goats arriving? Can you describe the extent of the issue?
An area of cliff above Cromer promenade had not been maintained for a number of years and had become full of mature bushes, small trees and the Alexander plant. This large undisturbed habitat with excellent food sources proved a perfect environment for rats to breed.The growing rat population came to light when individual animals started to move to the top and bottom of the cliffs, into public access areas, to forage in waste bins and pick up dropped food items.
- How long had the rodent issue been present on the land?
We started to receive complaints from members of the public regarding rat sightings in 2014; these were infrequent but increased the following year. The unmaintained land offered the rats a large, safe and rich environment with a natural food source in the form of the Alexander plant and a soil and rock foundation that could accommodate large burrows. It appears more to have been opportunity rather than need that brought the rats into the public areas.
- Who came up with the idea to introduce the goats? Why goats?
Our Animal Control Assistant, Mark Frosdick, came up with the idea during a meeting to decide how to progress the issue. It was necessary to balance the need to reduce the rats’ potential habitat and remove the Alexander plant as a food source, against the ongoing costs to the Council. With tourism being a key economic driver for the town, Cromer could not continue to have a rat problem.Goats were seen as a hardy animal that would graze on the vegetation on the site and would cope with the steep terrain easily.
- Have you tried other methods previously? Why didn’t they work?
The Council cut back the vegetation on a section of the cliffs in 2015 in order to tackle the problem immediately; this was followed up with a burrow-baiting programme within the previously overgrown area. Although relatively effective, the cost of this one-off project was in excess of £12,000 and as a small rat population returned to the area over the next months, it was obvious mechanical clearance was not a financially sustainable solution.
- How was the plan implemented?
The Council researched a breed of goat that would suit our needs and became aware of a project run by Suffolk Wildlife Trust using Bagot goats – a hardy goat perfect for the type of grazing we needed and also a rare breed species. We visited the project to learn about the capabilities and needs of the Bagot. The visit to SWT’s site indicated the Bagot would be a good species to use and an area of Cromer cliff was identified for a trial project with funding approved to fence off the area.The goats where sourced from two locations: The Dinosaur Park in Weston Longville, Norfolk and Levens Hall Estate, Cumbria. We chose whole billy goats for the trial and purchased eight goats in total. They were grazed at another location before being put on the cliffs in order to give them time to settle in with our team and bucket train them.
- How successful have the goats been?
The goats have exceeded our expectations: not only have they maintained the vegetation on the cliff, keeping it down and removing the Alexander plant and other food source species, the Council received no rat complaints through the summer of 2016 in the area being grazed.We have received significant regional TV and newspaper coverage of the goats and they have become a Cromer tourist attraction, with people including a visit to see the goats during their trips to the town. Local businesses have reported an increase in footfall along the promenade area due specifically to the goats, and they have even been known to draw a crowd!
- Why do you think it has been effective?
The breed of goat chosen was highly suited to the job of work and the terrain. They were incredibly effective at clearing the vegetation which in turn removed the food source and shelter for any rat population. The fact that there is also public curiosity in the use of animals in habitat management has meant a keen interest from the local population, visitors and the media.
- How are you monitoring activity and success?
The goats were initially on-site from early June to late August. During this period we monitored rat activity and complaints.There were no visible signs of rat activity in the locality and the Council did not receive any complaints during this period. The site was visited a minimum of once-a-day to check on the welfare of the goats, ensuring consistent monitoring of the location.The goats cleared the vegetation more rapidly than expected and so were moved off the site to other grazing land earlier than the project target date.
- What is your long term plan for the plot of land? Do you think the goats will continue to be a success?
The goats have now been moved off to winter grazing land but will be back next year. The success of this project has meant we have requested additional funding to extend the original fenced site to the whole cliff area on the Western end of the promenade, allowing the whole area to be grazed for a longer period. If this is approved, it is likely we would increase the goat herd in order to graze a larger area effectively.
- What has the impact been on the local environment?
We have not had to use mechanical cutters or rat bait on the site since the project started. This means our pest control methodology for this site meets the CRRU guidelines on the use of bait in the environment.It is also hoped grazing will allow other natural species of plant to grow back on site. Due to the grazing and then regrowth of the vegetation it is hoped this will enhance the root network of the plants and help maintain the stability of the cliffs.