Scientists have discovered goats at Thorndon Country Park in Essex are the descendants of a very rare medieval breed which was thought to be extinct.
DNA tests have confirmed that the Cheviot goats’ lineage dates back through more than 1,000 years of history.
The herd at Thorndon Country Park is thought to be the largest in the country. Experts estimate the total UK Cheviot population is as few as 500 to 1,000 goats.
The goats were brought to Essex from Northumberland after emergency rehoming was required.
Place Services’ Essex Grazing Project now cares for them as part of its work to support sites that require grazing to support scarce wildlife or to help conserve historic landscapes.
Councillor Simon Walsh, Cabinet Member for the Environment said: “We’re not kidding – DNA tests have proved that these goats date back to before 1066.
"We’re delighted to have a piece of history right here in our county.
"The Essex Grazing Project is an excellent project helping to prevent this rare UK breed from becoming extinct, with the added advantage that these goats proving to be more effective than machinery at controlling woody vegetation.
"It’s win/win and obviously something we’re happy to bleat about."
When Queen Victoria came to the throne, England had a native goat breed called the English goat but factors including large scale importation of foreign goat stock and improved dairy goat farming led to England’s native goat breed becoming extinct in domestication and only found in the wild.The studies suggest that the Cheviot goats are an identical match to the Old English Goat, the remains of which have been recovered from several medieval archaeological sites in London.
The goats work alongside Red Poll cows to graze an area of species–rich grassland and are highly effective at chomping their way through tough bramble.
With their rare breed status confirmed, Place Services now hope to successfully breed the animals in order to increase their numbers as well as introducing them to other sites that require a conservation grazing service in Essex and further afield.There has already been interest from Basildon Council, with 10 goats recently introduced at Wat Tyler Country Park.