North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has added a breeding herd of Bagots to its staff roll. The herd is used to graze the cliff at the popular seaside resort of Cromer and the animals have come to be known as “the goats on a slope”.

The idea to use goats was put forward by animal control officer Mark Frosdick who “recruited” the first Bagots. He explains: “Back in 2015 we were having a problem with rat infestation on the cliff and litter getting embedded in the grass and snagged on bushes. We tried mechanical clearing, but it cost the Council £11,000 just to deal with one small section and it was going to cost even more to deal with the next section, so I suggested we try goats. I had had previous experience of using goats for conservation grazing, so I felt confident that this would be a more effective, and much lower cost, solution.”

Mark did further research by visiting Suffolk Wildlife Trust,
which was already conservation grazing with goats, and the Trust went on to support NNDC in the introduction of the Bagots. The first eight goats arrived in April 2016, two from the Dinosaur Park and Lenwade in Norfolk and six from Levens Hall in Cumbria where they are raised as a semi-feral parkland breed.

Drawing up the job specification for the new operatives, Mark put Bagots at the top of the wishlist because of the fact that they combine being a rare breed with the qualities needed to do the cliffside work. He says: “We wanted hardy. Domesticated goats wouldn’t have suited because they would probably give up at the first sign of a storm. We needed a hardy breed that wouldn’t have to be moved off the cliff at the first hint of a north wind. My visit to Suffolk Wildlife Trust sealed the deal when I saw the work their Bagots were doing. There was also
the added appeal of being able to make a positive contribution to the conservation of a rare breed by giving it a job to do.”

Ten of the original Bagots have now been sold to Suffolk Wildlife Trust to make way for a new breeding herd which arrived from Somerset in 2018. NNDC has also loaned out 15 billies to Norfolk Wildlife Trust for conservation grazing and other organisations are starting to come on board. The goats move off the cliff at Cromer during some of the winter months, but they remain firmly on the council payroll, grazing other sites, including a heathland SSSI.

At Cromer, the goats have proved well up to the job they were recruited for. North Norfolk Wildlife Trust has surveyed the cliff and found it clear of troublesome brambles, with indigenous plants thriving and a kestrel has been spotted hunting the cliff face. Mark says: “I predicted two things when I proposed using goats to graze the cliff: that they would get rid of the unwanted vegetation and that they would become a tourist attraction.”

Both predictions have come true. Although there was some local resistance at the outset, primarily because of concerns that the goats would cause erosion, they are now a hit with locals and tourists alike. Mark says: “They must be the most photographed goats in the world. Local people also help us keep an eye on them. We have signs on the enclosure with a number to contact if there are any health or welfare concerns and it gets used regularly. Usually there isn’t actually a problem, but the fact that the calls are made shows that people have really taken the Bagots to their hearts.”

In fact, the Bagots have proved so popular that they now have their own range of merchandise. The ‘Goats on a Slope’ range includes mugs, tea-towels, ceramic fridge magnets, mounted prints, postcards, key rings and coasters, all featuring original artwork by Ian Richardson, a NNDC employee. Profits go towards upkeep of the goats, adding to the substantial cost savings that the Bagots have achieved by carrying out their habitat-management duties. They have also, this year, led to NNDC being shortlisted as finalists in two APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) categories; Best Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship Initiative and Best Innovation
or Demand Management Initiative for their cost-effective vegetation management and the subsequent launch of the themed merchandise.