Gruff justice for Asbo goats

The people of Lynton are waging war against their begonia-eating, cemetery-defiling, cricket-pitch-ruining invaders
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Some Devon locals have lost count of the times they have drawn back their curtains to be confronted by yellow teeth, unfashionable beards and wild eyes - to say nothing of the 3ft horns.

Some Devon locals have lost count of the times they have drawn back their curtains to be confronted by yellow teeth, unfashionable beards and wild eyes - to say nothing of the 3ft horns.

But the days of the hoofed visitors may soon be over. From this week, the wild goats of thecoastal town of Lynton may be looking down a marksman's barrel.

Around for centuries - the Domesday Book recorded 75 in the Manor of Lyntonia - the goats attract tourists from as far as Australia to the Valley of the Rocks. But wild grass is no longer enough: increasing numbers are taking the 10-minute saunter into town and gorging on residents' begonias.

Two months ago, 25 dined on the garden of the Victoria Lodge B&B in Lynton. They even rest their shaggy rears on the bowling green and cricket pitch.

A number have now mysteriously disappeared. A couple of locals are said to have taken the matter into their own hands and shot one entering their property. There is even talk of some having been goatnapped, taken up the motorway and turned into curry. A sign in one villager's window read: "If you can't beat them, eat them." Below was a picture of a goat's head on a plate, flanked by a knife and fork.

The feral animals, which graze the valley's steep sides, have been subjected to regular culls over the years. Last year, a marksman under the orders of the town council, which owns the valley and is responsible for the animals when they are on its land, popped off 13 without telling residents.

The prospect of yet another cull - there are believed to be around 80 goats - has divided the village. The council last month rescinded its decision to install fencing and cattle grids, despite most of the cost being covered by a grant from Defra, English Nature and Exmoor National Park Authority. One councillor resigned in protest. Members and their families have received a death threat and the town clerk was threatened with castration. The animals' fate will be decided at a meeting on Wednesday.

One of the strongest objectors to the presence of the goats in town is Derek Bishop, who earlier this year suffered "14 invasions in 10 days". Sick of the animals using his garden as an appetiser on their way to the village, Mr Bishop erected an electric fence, to no avail.

"I'm furious. They undo an enormous amount of hard work and it's depressing for my wife, who places a lot of store by her garden. I find it insulting that these animals trespass," said Mr Bishop, 73. Of a nibbled shrub he said forlornly: "I had hoped it would be toxic."

Mr Bishop, who is also chairman of the cricket club, is equally aggrieved at the goats rutting on the outfield and defecating in front of the pavilion. The cricket ground, he pointed out, twice nearly won the Wisden award for the prettiest in England.

Stephanie Kingston of Exmoor Flowers in Lynton said a number of her customers had seen funerary tributes munched to nothing. "There is a funeral this week and I know what will happen to those flowers. There should be an 8ft wall around the cemetery. But I don't want to lose the goats; they're part of our heritage," she said.

At least five graves are now surrounded by metal wiring to protect them from nibbling teeth. Janie Rolfe, 47, whose father is buried in the cemetery, said her mother has had to resort to putting plastic flowers on his grave. "My dad loved animals so I keep saying he's having a good laugh. My mum has tried to plant a few real ones in between the plastic ones to try to outsmart them."

But it is not just plant life that is making them lick their lips. Around £100-worth of children's clothing was consumed from the washing line of Helen King, the manager of Exmoor Yum Yums, a fudge and gift shop. "They're an asset to the village and are lovely creatures, but something has to be done," she said. "They've also chewed through the children's paddling pool."

One outspoken defender of the animals is the town's chemist, Paul Badham. By his till was a petition with about 1,000 signatures. "There's already enough killing in the world," said Mr Badham, 52. "If you don't want to live here move to Manchester. It's like moving next to an airport and complaining about the planes."

Geoff Dwyer, the town clerk, said a referendum may be held to decide the matter. "There is no guarantee that a fence and cattle grids will keep the goats in. If we fence the valley today with 80 goats, what do we do next year when they have bred? The preferred option is relocation." Another, he said, was "humane destruction". Horns will no doubt be locked on Wednesday.