Feral, or wild goats are believed to have been introduced to the British Isles by stone-age farmers, and have been living here for well over 1,000 years.
Argyll is Britain’s goat capital, with nearly 40 tribes (groups), and an average of around 30 animals in each. Goats were introduced for a variety or reasons, including their milk and for their hair, but some estates introduced them to help safeguard sheep stocks – their more aggressive nature, and ability to access more precipitous ground meant they would graze on cliff edges, and defend these areas from sheep, which were less agile and more prone to falling to their death.
Unlike deer, wild goats do not shed their antlers, and it is possible to age them by counting the growth rings on their horns.
Wild goats have few natural predators, with only fox and eagle likely to take the occasional kid (young goat). The greatest threat to our 4,000 or so wild goats is from man. There is pressure from forestry (where goats are culled to minimise grazing damage), from sport (there has been some interest in the past in shooting goats for their horns – as a trophy); and from commercial interests as goats can fetch a handsome price for their hair.
Sheep are a common site on the islands. Many of those you will see are the Scottish black-faced variety, a breed that is hardy and well suited to life on remote hillsides.
The sheep are tended by farmers who move them to and from the islands in boats. Occasionally sheep may fall over cliffs and die, but the food is not wasted – they are likely to be taken as carrion by the many ravens, eagles and other raptors that share this island habitat.