2008: The Majestic Bilberry Goats Of Waterford

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When we think of preserving our heritage what usually springs to mind is historical buildings, cultural practices and national monuments, but what about our living, breathing heritage?

Waterford is privy to a unique living heritage in the form of Bilberry goats - a species that can be found nowhere else in the world and is the only goat to be classified as a protected species.

This gentle-natured, shaggy-haired species can only be found on the hills within Waterford city limits where the herd has been living for hundreds of years and yet they are feral - a wild roaming herd of goats living in an urban area.

Although the herd is now 40-strong, organiser of the Bilberry Goat Heritage Trust Martin Doyle says it has been a rocky road with the population dwindling to seven at one stage.

"The Bilberry goats had been living on a combination of many lands owned by many people which in total were valued at over €20m! There had been applications for housing estates and there were some who simply did not want the goats living there."

However, Doyle and many others committed to the cause were successful in being granted 12.5 acres of this land by Waterford City Council for the herd to live on undisturbed.

Alongside this, funding from the Heritage Council meant that a breeding programme could be implemented.

"The whole idea was to preserve the Bilberry goat population, not just for the city of Waterford but for the country because they are a very unique breed," says Doyle.

The Bilberry Goats Open Day runs from 24-31 August at Bilberry Rock, Waterford city and admission is free. This is the first time members of the public will get a chance to see the herd up close.

"Our goal with both the Bilberry Goat Heritage Trust and the open day itself is to reach out to adults and children and open their eyes to the notion of biodiversity," says Doyle.

"In my own experience I have witnessed children who have never seen a goat in their lives and think they are cows! These are kids as old as 12 or 13."

Green areas in cities and towns around Ireland are disappearing fast, says Doyle, and the Bilberry Goats are not just a piece of living heritage but a chance to preserve nature for future generations.

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