By Rose Barrett
After several years in the planning, a group of 25 Old Irish Goats, are finally back on Howth Head!
Taken from a national herd in Mulranny, Co Mayo, the goats were installed in their new home on Howth Head on Wednesday last, September 8, as the first phase of the project got underway.
Fingal County Council (FCC) and the local Howth Special Amenity Area Order (SAA)) welcomed the re-introduction of goats to Howth Head, which is in the Dublin Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This ground-breaking conservation grazing project will last for three years, and saw FCC partner with the Old Irish Goat Society.
Melissa Jeuken has been appointed as the shepherd; along with using sheepdogs and traditional methods of management, Melissa will oversee the goat trial, the first of its kind in Ireland, which encompasses the Norwegian “no-fence” system which employs GPS tracking to define fenceless grazing areas.
However, Melissa assures the public that the goats will not affect visitors to the popular beauty spot.
“We are reminding the public to keep their dog on a lead and ask you to please not to feed the goats if you encounter them. You can and should keep visiting this incredible place and enjoying the walking routes and scenery that Howth has to offer,” said Melissa.
Seán Carolan, of the Old Irish Goat Society said: “The herder will move the goats on a daily basis from site to site and look after the breeding programme”.
There was great excitement locally with the return of the herd – after almost 80 years – to Howth Head, especially for many who remembered the goats on Howth Head previously and how they provided milk to the local community.
The Old Goats are an endangered, native breed of goat and they will play an important role in reducing the incidences of gorse fires, while also enhancing the biodiversity of the priority heathland habitats.
Earlier this year, Howth Head was subject to repeated outbreaks of gorse fires which necessitated the repeated attention of Dublin Fire Brigade, emergency fire services via land, foot and air.
The Old Irish goat has the ability to control the accumulation of gorse, especially after fires and due to their grazing behaviour and efficient digestive systems, adapt to feeding on harsher environments with low nutritive quality heathlands. They effectively offer a more economical and sustainable solution to managing the landscape.
Up until the 1940s, Howth Head was traditionally grazed by livestock and goats in particular. However, with the decline of traditional grazing, wildfires became more frequent, gorse and bracken growth expanded and the diversity and quality of the heathland declined.
“There is a clear link between the disappearance of livestock and the decline of the heathland on Howth” said Hans Visser, Biodiversity Officer with FCC. “By reinstating grazing with goats, we intend to restore the heathland and reduce the wildfire risk on Howth.”
Mayor of Fingal, Cllr Séana Ó Rodaigh and the Cathaoirleach of Mayo, Cllr Michael Smyth were present to witness the momentous occasion.
Mayor Ó Rodaigh commented that “This is a truly unique project. Fingal County Council has proposed a natural, sustainable solution to reducing wildfire risk that also benefits the animals themselves who belong in this beautiful habitat.”