Goats settle in for their winter’s work at Riddlesdown Quarry

There are goats in Croydon. No kidding.

New home: the Downlands Trust turn out their goats at Riddlesdown this week

That was the announcement made by City Commons yesterday, as goats were turned out to graze at Riddlesdown Quarry.

City Commons is the part of the City of London Corporation which manages large tracts of open space in and around Croydon, including parts of Coulsdon, Kenley, parts of Sanderstead, all the way towards Purley, much of which has now been given status as the South London Downs National Nature Reserve.

Working together with the Downlands Trust, cattle, sheep and goats are being used to graze down the open spaces, to maintain and enhance the natural habitat.

As soon as they were dropped off this week, the goats were straight to work with eating the overgrown vegetation and scrub to help maintain the delicate chalk grassland wildflowers.

“Thankfully for the dedicated livestock volunteers who keep an eye on them daily, the goats are using NoFence collars, which will help to pinpoint their exact location,” Ciity Commons said of the Riddlesdown goats.

The Downlands Trust delivers an extensive conservation grazing programme at 24 locations across Surrey and what it calls “the adjoining urban fringe areas of Croydon and Sutton”, including sites in Banstead, Caterham, Chipstead, New Addington and Woldingham, where the most recent figures show that they graze a total of 200 sheep, 12 cattle and 14 goats.

Working the chalk face: the goats will over-winter at Riddlesdown, chomping their way through even the toughest vegetation. Photos: City Commons

The quarry is part of the Riddlesdown Site of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSI, and has a staggering amount of rare plants including greater yellow-rattle, round-leaved wintergreen and common rockrose, all supported by the thin quarry soils and grassland managed through grazing.

Riddlesdown Quarry’s unusual geological structure was recognised as long ago as the 17th century. Caleb Evans, who founded the Geologists’ Association of London in 1857, studied the limestone formations of this area extensively and wrote the first scientific work by an Englishman of the fossils and limestone structures in a paper On some Sections of Chalk between Croydon and Oxted.

Today, the quarry is considered to be the best remaining example of its kind in London. In the 18th century locals simply helped themselves to the chalk. In 1820, the quarry was mined commercially by the Riddlesdown Lime Works, with chalk heated in kilns. When labour was short during the Second World War, prisoners of war assisted in production, which in later years was run by the Blue Circle Cement Company.

The commercial quarry closed in 1967, when the City of London Corporation bought the site.

The area of meadowland at the summit of the quarry is part of the Sanderstead to Whyteleafe Countryside Area and is jointly owned by Tandridge council, Croydon and the Whitgift Foundation. It supports rare wildflowers like the bee orchid, yellow rattle and horseshoe vetch. Ground-nesting skylarks are found there in the spring and summer, a rare habitat for them as modern farming practices reduce their potential nesting sites.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in City Commons, Coulsdon, Croydon parks, Environment, Kenley, Nature Notes, New Addington, Old Coulsdon, Purley, Sanderstead, South London Downs NNR, Whitgift Foundation, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Goats settle in for their winter’s work at Riddlesdown Quarry

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    It looks likely to be a tough winter this year for many and not just because the holly berries are out or the leaves are still on the trees…

    But due to the City of London and the Downlands Trust we get to see the wildlife out and about and one can forget about the manure we are being monsooned with by the Local Administrators.

    So a BIG thank you to both and all the Volunteers assisting in this program.

  2. Christopher Myers says:

    Gosh they look horny

  3. Lewis White says:

    Go(a)t to it, horned hoofed ones ! Champions at chompin’ ! Goats are mountin’ the chalk-face mountain !

    I remember the last few years of operation of the chalk pit.

    It is amazing that the once largely bare chalk rock is now a safe refuge for rare wild plants and scarce birds, and lizards, slow worms, and maybe even the occasional adder.

    Of course, a pit like this would never get planning permission now, and would be dubbed by most a “scar on the landscape”. The view of the escarpment of the North Downs of Surrey from the Weald and towns like Dorking and Reigate is made more interesting,( or “scarred” depending on one’s aesthetic sense) by several such chalkpits from Guildford to Oxted, while in our area, the Riddlesdown and the Marlpit Lane chalkpit at Coulsdon, and a smaller pit near the Purley Oaks depot occupy valley-side sites of the Bourne valley.

    They all shine out brilliant white from miles away, and can look like the backdrop to some medieval landscape in a Breughel painting.

    Interesting how nature recolonises the former working pits, and brings a romantic note of sub-tropical disorder with trees colonising the less sheer lower slopes, as well as the wild flowers to the grassy shoulders. The very steepest faces deter all but the occasional moss or thin grass that get “burnt up” in the heat of summer.

    The difficult and often “glossed over” issue with grazing for enriching the botanical diversity, and safeguarding rareties like native orchids is that grazing can actually fail to deliver the benefits that are hoped for. Grazing can be carried out for too long, or for too short a period, or timed badly so that the rare plants are grazed off just as they come into flower and seed. So very wrong !

    I hope that those overseeing the grazing and the overall management of the site avoid these pitfalls…….. (sorry about the pun)

    Have botanical surveys of the land to be grazed already been carried out by independent botanists with all-round chalk downland experience to act as a”baseline” , against which future surveys can be assessed ? And will these surveys be done every few years– and will grazing regimes be adjusted to maximise the diversity and in particular, help the rareties to thrive? I really hope so.

    These rareties are absent from the vast majority of the landscape which is farmed or mown or wooded or built over and gardened. They depend largely on waste places and preserved areas of downland such as Farthing Downs and Happy Valley–and of course, Riddlesdown.

    • Hi Lewis, I am Alex, a freelance photographer. I am planning to start working on a new photographic project about the conversion of some of the old quarries in nature reserves in Surrey. At the moment I am at the first phase of the project, that means, doing some research in order to see if there is enough material to start working on it. Meanwhile I came across the article about the goats in Riddlesdown. I read your comment and the way you described the visual effects produced by some of these places is almost poetic and denotes a tendency to beauty. I thought it would have been interesting to get in touch with you for a chat, you might be able to help me in my search for interesting views of the quarries. If you think is possible please get in touch, my website is: http://www.alexcecca.com, you can have a look at some of my works. My email address is: alessandrocecca@yahoo.it.

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