Goats living in the wild in a herd in Northumberland, which provide an important link to the ancient domesticated goats, have been added to a list of rare breeds.

The Cheviot goat, whose population is centred around a feral herd in the Cheviot Hills and which is considered an “authentic remnant” of Britain’s original primitive goats, has been added to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) watchlist.

The Watchlist is the RBST’s annual report on the conservation status of the UK’s native cattle and horse breeds, highlighting which breeds are most at risk.

A Cheviot goat kid stands in ferns
A Cheviot goat kid. The RBST says there are an estimated 450 of this breed left

According to the trust, there are an estimated 450 Cheviot goats – including the feral herd and those kept by private breeders and for grazing programs – and just 86 females expected to produce offspring in 2023.

Therefore, the goat is added to the ‘feral population’ category on the list, recognizing the breed as a rare native feral population in support of its conservation.

Primitive goats have existed in Britain for thousands of years, ranging from those kept by farmers in the Bronze and Iron Ages to the herds on medieval estates, which were valued for their milk, meat, hide, hair and tallow.

These original primitive goats had become extinct as domesticated animals by the mid-20th century, as breeds were mixed to increase milk production. However, the bloodlines survived in a few old, isolated feral herds that had developed due to the animals’ tendency to escape, according to the RBST.

According to legend, the goats of the Cheviot Hills came into being when the monks of Lindisfarne left the monastery in 875AD. As they herded their livestock along the way, the goats were too aggressive to control and escaped, roaming the area, the charity said.

The College Valley Cheviots can be found in College Valley, Newton Tors and Yeavering Bell in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland. Today they remain a completely wild herd with minimal intervention.

Christopher Price, Director of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, said: “Cheviot goats are of great cultural and genetic importance and they are also excellent for natural grazing.

“They are a vital link to the UK’s original primitive goats, which have been relied upon by generation after generation, from the Bronze and Iron Ages, through the Middle Ages to the small farmers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

And he said: “Without the isolated feral College Valley Cheviot herd these genes would have been irretrievably lost.

“We are delighted to recognise the Cheviot goat on the RBST Watchlist and look forward to working with the British Primitive Goat Research Group and others to support the survival of this population well into the future.”

A Cheviot goat clambers over some rocks
The trust said breeding programmes could support the future of the goat (Handout/PA)

According to the trust, the Cheviot goat is hardy, with a thick coat, strong hooves and curved horns, and is ideally suited to wildlife grazing – the practice of using livestock to graze land in ways that specifically support wildlife and their habitats.

It was also indicated that breeding programs, monitoring the risks of inbreeding, increasing the number of keepers actively breeding the goats, preventing interbreeding with non-Cheviot bloodlines and limiting the risks of weather conditions and diseases can support the future of the goat.

Shirley Goodyer of the British Primitive Goat Research Group said: “We have long sought to maintain the genetic integrity of this historically well-documented herd, which exhibits all the phenotypic characteristics you would expect from our ancient British primitive goat.

“Recognition by the RBST will go a long way in raising awareness and highlighting the importance and value of this iconic breed.”