Bagot goats are no longer gruff.

Bagot goat pair Lullington Heath

The Bagot goat, a magnificent black-and-white beast with a distinguished history, is in danger of becoming extinct — the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) classifies it as ‘endangered’ (fewer than 200 breeding females) — having been passed over for more commercially viable breeds.

However, the Bagot, which has its own society (www.bagotgoats.co.uk) with, until her death in 2014, Lady Nancy Bagot as its president, is also fortunate to have a dedicated champion who is energetically promoting the goat’s unfussy attitude to eating scrub.

Lucy White, a legal secretary and rare-breeds enthusiast from Norfolk, has set up Browsing Bagots (http://browsingbagots.co.uk), which aims to ensure the goat’s future through its potential for conservation grazing—the clearing of the scrub and coarse grass which, if unchecked, will swamp lush green grass, herbs and wild flowers. Her idea is to place ‘bachelor herds’ of entire males with landowners and conservation bodies so that bloodlines can be continued for use in the RBST’s gene bank; already, she’s organised small herds to clear a Suffolk Wildlife Trust site and a private woodland area in the Brecon Beacons.

The Bagot has never been developed for milk or meat production — it’s mostly been a decorative parkland animal and males are usually castrated to be pets — but it’s hardy and agile and does know how to munch brambles on steep, impenetrable scrubland. ‘We love them,’ says Mrs White, who owns three adult goats and two kids. ‘They’re quite wild, like deer, so when you do build a relationship with them, it’s special.’

Her main challenge is logistics — the cost of transport and the long distances between owners — but she reports: ‘Breeders are starting not to castrate the males now that there is this use for them, so I hope this might improve the breed’s status.’

The distinctive, long-haired, long-horned Bagot may have arrived in Britain in the 14th century, possibly coming from Portugal during the Crusades with John of Gaunt’s returning army. Another theory is that Richard II gave a herd to Sir John Bagot as reward for providing good sport in the hunting field; the breed was first recorded at his Staffordshire estate, in 1389, and the goats feature in the family’s coat of arms.

Conservation grazing is becoming a useful weapon in the fight to save rare-breed domestic animals. Exmoor ponies, which don’t mind eating gorse and rough grass, can be found further afield, grazing the Sussex High Weald and Yorkshire’s Howardian Hills, and the National Trust’s Welsh black and belted Galloway cattle are being used to improve limestone grassland in the Cotswolds.