The penalty for allowing goats to stray on to government land on St Helena could rise to £250 – from a mere 25 pence.
That’s a thousand-fold increase.
The “more meaningful” maximum fine is being considered because of the damage goats do to the island’s fragile environment.
A committee has also advised that the penalty should be extended to cover sheep, which also roam free on St Helena.
At present, the fine can be imposed for each animal, for each day it is found roaming on Crown land.
The island’s executive council is also asked to change its law on dogs and cats so they can be included in the three-year census of animals, next due in November 2012.
The fine for failing to provide details for the census could rise from £1 per animal to £100 per animal, if the recommendations are adopted. The penalty for not declaring cats and dogs would be the same.
Including cats in the census is seen as a way to judge the success of a neutering drive. Pets and feral cats are now known to be the worst killers of the island’s unique but endangered wirebird.
Unwanted animals have become a significant problem.
On Ascension, a campaign to eradicate feral cats has seen seabird numbers rise dramatically.
Goats have been blamed for ravaging much of St Helena’s landscape ever since they were introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th Century.
The depradation over following centuries was so bad that the historian Philip Gosse described them as “these horned and four-legged locusts”.
The internet writer John Grimshaw tells the story of The Great Wood Wall, built in the 18th Century to try to keep goats and swine from grubbing up the East India Company’s trees. It failed.
He quotes Alfred Russel Wallace, who wrote in 1880 that goats were “the greatest of all foes to trees, because they eat off the young seedlings, and thus prevent the natural restoration of the forest.”
The loss of trees has been blamed for reduced rainfall and soil erosion, which have badly affected crop-growing.
The changes to the Dogs and Cats Ordinance 2012 and the Agriculture & Livestock Improvement Ordinance 2012 have been recommended by the island’s Natural Resources, Development and Environment Committee
A government statement said: “The proposed change amends the current penalties into meaningful penalties. The upgrading of penalty fees is likely to deter offences.”