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Issue 24 - Getting your goat

Scotland Magazine Issue 24
January 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Getting your goat

The primitive goat is becoming a rare sight. Graham Holliday gives hints as to where to see one

The wild, feral or officially named British primitive goat arrived in Scotland with the very first neolithic farmers. The shaggy haired species ruled with a cloven hoof until the late 18th century when Swiss and Nubian breeds were introduced

It was once widespread in the United Kingdom and found in more than 200 locations. However, by the 1950s, the development of softwood plantations on former hill farms reduced the amount of suitable habitat.

By 1990 there were just 45 known goat habitats supporting a population of about 4000 goats. However, the number of true British primitive goats now numbers about 1500.

They’re a colourful sight on the Scottish hills. Some goats have long hair, others short, but each has a unique colouration. They rut between August and December and this is the best time to see them. The kids are born in January.

“Loch Lomond saw the rut commence in early August this year, whereas other locations did not start until September,” says Tracy Livingstone a goat researcher with the British Feral Goat Research Group.

“The females are pregnant for 150 days and give birth at the worst time of year. It is survival of the fittest with the main predators at birth being foxes and large birds such as crows, and birds of prey, which hunt the weak kids.”

It’s so hazardous that up to one third of kids die within the first few days.

Galloway Forest Park, near Newton Stewart, is Britain’s largest forest park. It’s run by the Forestry Commission and has goat herds on the hills and a wild goat park.

It’s probably the best place in Scotland to see goats up close and personal. Tracy Livingstone guides visitors.

“Our group delivers weekly talks to the public during the summer months at this site, and you can get very close to the goats. Also, Inversnaid on Loch Lomond has a lovely little herd of goats that live within the RSPB reserve.

"You can spot them quite easily, especially if you are walking the West Highland Way."

Mull of Kintyre, the island of Colonsay and the Grey Mare’s Tail nature reserve also have herds. Peregrines, ring ouzels and mountain hares can also be found among the hills surrounding the Grey Mare’s Tail nature reserve.

Wild goats are naturally inquisitive, but it is best to remain quiet, limit your movements and crouch down or sit on the ground when in close proximity. They also has some interesting ways of remembering repeat visitors.

“Goats recognise you by shape, not colour,” explains Livingstone. “If you visit a herd regularly make sure you wear the same clothing and use a similar sound that they can relate to you as non-threatening.”

Goats are receptive to noises, but you may want to take a carrot or two along as well.

“I make a sneezing noise, which the goats recognise me for. I also use a whistle which they know means fresh vegetables are available if they come and see me.”


Where to see wild goats:

Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve
Moffat Valley
Tel: 01683 222714

Galloway Forest Park
Dumfries & Galloway
Tel: 01671 402420 /gallowayforestpark

RSPB Inversnaid is open all year and is home to a herd of wild goats. You can also see redstart, pied flycatchers, buzzards and black grouse.
Tel: 0141 5764100

Tracy Livingstone guides people throughout Scotland.
Tel: 07855 914 272
More information:


Low Kirkbride is an organic working farm with a herd of pedigree Belted Galloways. Located just ten miles north of Dumfries. It’s within striking distance of the Grey Mare ‘s Tail Nature Reserve. B&B £20 per person per night Mrs.
Zan Kirk.
Low Kirkbride Farm
Dumfries & Galloway
Tel: +44 (0) 13 87 82 02 58.

Large holiday house
Comprising three comfortable cottages of varying sizes close to Galloway Forest Park. There are three farms on this hilly estate along with sheep and cattle. Rentals from £178 per week.
Rusko Holidays Gatehouse of Fleet Castle Douglas
Tel: +44(0)1557 814 215

The Granary B&B is situated in six acres of garden and pasture. It’s close to RSPB Inversnaid, Flanders Moss nature reserve and Loch Lomond National Park. From £23 per person per night.
West Moss-Side
Thornhill Stirling
Tel: +44 (0)1786 850310