Posted 21st Sep 2015
Shugborough in Staffordshire has called on some very rare support to help maintain one of the most internationally significant features on its famous estate
In a move that could revitalise the future for an ancient breed, Shugborough – the UK’s only complete working historic estate – has turned to a herd of Bagot goats for a new environmentally-friendly conservation initiative.
Shugborough has moved its small flock of Bagots into the derelict East Walled Garden in a bid to not only save the breed by finding it a whole new purpose, but to also actively conserve this important feature of the estate.
Internationally recognised, the Walled Garden was originally built in 1805 by acclaimed architect Samuel Wyatt using the very latest technology, including steam-heated greenhouses and chimney-heated walls.
It became a visitor attraction in its own right, with landed gentry travelling from across the country to see the ground-breaking way in which gardening was done at Shugborough, while young gardeners would offer their services for free in order to train for a year on the prestigious project.
Today it is once again a visitor attraction featuring the Estate’s famous pineapple pits, which grew the fruit year round, as well as a stove-heated mushroom tunnel – although the garden lay derelict for over a century.
But maintaining the garden is an expensive and labour-intensive task, and its survival is under serious threat from invasive weeds and saplings, with the added hazard that modern day tools could cause additional damage. The use of machinery has also had to be ruled out, due to the bat roosts on this part of the estate.
And that’s where the rare breed Bagot goats have come in… quite literally.
A critically endangered breed themselves – only 100-200 breeding females are left in the world – their origin has been traced to medieval times at nearby Blithfield Hall in Staffordshire. Shugborough’s group of 24 has the purest genetics left, and are so important that they are owned by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and are entrusted to the care of the Shugborough Estate because its welfare standards are so high.
They have become rare because they have no commercial purpose: their meat is poor quality as is their milk and fleece. But everything that makes Bagots dreadful for commercial purposes makes them perfect for conservation grazing: they are small and light-footed, meaning they can graze lightly around archaeology.
They are also such an old breed that they will eat a wide range of weeds and saplings that more modern breeds would not consider; and their dung will attract invertebrates such as the dung beetle – which, in turn, will increase biodiversity and birdlife in the area. Even the bats will be happy as they make much less noise than a strimmer!
Finally, they will become yet another attraction for visitors who will be able to see this near extinct rare breed at work as they preserve and uncover more and more of the archaeology in the area.
One of the few farms in the UK with Rare Breed Status, Shugborough is hoping that its new goat-powered conservation move could prove a blueprint for the future and encourage other sites to use the Bagot herd in the same way.
For full details and more information, visit www.shugborough.org.uk.