‘Britain’s loneliest sheep’ rescued after more than 2 years stranded at the bottom of a cliff


As It Happens5:01‘Britain’s loneliest sheep’ rescued after more than 2 years stranded at the bottom of a cliff

A sheep that was stranded for more than two years at the bottom of a cliff in Scotland has been rescued from her life of solitude. But as she settles into her new home at a private farm park, not everyone is convinced she got the happy ending she deserves. 

Fiona — a.k.a. “Britain’s loneliest sheep” — first started making headlines last month when a kayaker spotted her stranded on the shores of Cromarty Firth in the Scottish highlands two years after a previous sighting in the same location. 

More than 50,000 people signed a petition calling for her rescue, but her owner, the coast guard and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) all deemed the operation too unsafe.

That’s when a group of five farmers, including YouTuber Graeme Parker, stepped in.

“We kind of hatched a kind of plan that really relied upon the resilience of farmers really to get there,” Parker told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

An all-terrain vehicle and ‘a huge hammock’

Parker and his fellow rescuers James Parker, Cammy Wilson, Als Couzens and Ally Williamson used a winch attached to an all-terrain vehicle to lower themselves down the 180-metre cliffside to the shore and cave system below.

“We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to find when we got there. All we had to go on was drone footage,” Parker said.

“When we got down there, sure enough, Fiona was … right in the middle of the cave in a little patch of sunlight that’s coming through a craggy hole in the ceiling of the cave.

He says it was like “a spotlight shining down upon her.”

A very fluffy sheep stands outside near some rocks.
A kayaker brought public attention to Fiona’s plight. She first spotted the sheep there two years ago. In October, she spotted Fiona again and realized she’d been stranded there the whole time. (Animal Rising)

The farmers were worried she’d be nervous and panic after so much time alone. But Parker says she seemed pleased to see them. 

She also appeared well fed, and in fact, is about 20 pounds overweight. Parker said it appears she’d been “eating well — as we probably all would if we were alone for two years.”

He says they strapped Fiona into “effectively, a huge hammock” to haul her back to the top of the cliff.

It’s not clear how she ended up down there in the first place.

“We think that as a lamb … she wandered partly down the hill and then must have fallen the rest of the way,” Parker said. “And obviously, it’s easier to get down somewhere with the help of gravity. Not quite so easy, as we found it, to get back up.”

Animal rights groups protest new home

Fiona’s original owner, Parker says, was weary from all the negative attention Fiona’s plight brought him. So now the ewe is settling in at her new home at Dalscone Farm Fun, a park and tourist attraction near the Scottish town of Dumfries. 

But not everyone thinks she should be there.

On Sunday, seven members of animal rights group Animal Rising held a protest outside Dalscone, calling for Fiona to be moved to a sanctuary instead of what it referred to as “a petting zoo.”

Six people stand next to a wall with the words Dalscone Farm Fun spraypainted on it in bright, bubbly colours. They are holding signs that read 'Free Fiona,' 'From Isolation to Exploitation,' and 'Sanctuary not spectacle.'
Members of Animal Rising protest outside Dalscone Farm Fun. The organization, which had been planning its own rescue attempt, says Fiona belongs at a sanctuary, not a ‘petting zoo.’ (Animal Rising )

In a press release, the organization said it had been co-ordinating its own rescue operation with the landowner, but “he went behind our back to make a spectacle of her instead.”

“We are of course grateful she is no longer stranded at the base of a cliff, but we are disappointed she is not safely in the peaceful sanctuary she deserves after two years of neglect and isolation,” Animal Rising told CBC in an email. 

Parker takes umbrage with that characterization.

“It’s effectively a farm where people can go and visit the animals, but they don’t go in amongst the animals, and it’s not a petting zoo,” he said.

Dalscone Farm owner Ben Best told CBC that Fiona is settling in well after a much-needed haircut.

“She could lose a few pounds, but overall she’s in fantastic condition,” Best said. “There’s no chance of her going to a sanctuary. She’s at her forever home at Dalscone and she’s extremely relaxed.”

He says a veterinarian has given Fiona an clean bill of health.

A freshly sheared sheep stands in an enclosure next to a large pile of wool.
Fiona got a much needed haircut after her arrival at Dalscone. (Als Couzens Designs)

The Scottish SPCA has also given her an all-clear. 

“The team brought the ewe up successfully and our inspector examined her,” it said in a statement to the BBC. “Thankfully the sheep is in good bodily condition.”

Parker says the farm will keep her away from the public for five or six months as she adjusts to being around people again.

“And then she will get a little bit of limelight when she’s ready for it,” he said. 

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