There are fresh hopes Britain’s lonliest sheep won’t be lonely this Christmas at least as a crack team of Scottish marine experts is gearing up for a daring rescue mission.
The ewe, which was photographed standing forlornly on a rock at the bottom of a remote east-Scottish cliffside near Balintore, is thought to have been stranded in the same position for years.
The Scottish SPCA had previously said they would not attempt to retrieve the sheep because it is not in any danger, however after its image was shared on social media and public cries for action became louder it was confirmed a rescue would happen.
The sheep, which has been named Shona the Loner by supporters, will now be saved by Cromarty Firth Marine Services who told MailOnline they were already planning the daring extraction.
The firm, which specialises in dealing with unexploded ordinance, has operated everywhere from the North Sea to Iraq and say that they will carry out the operation with ‘the least stress to the animal’ possible.
‘Scotland’s loneliest sheep’ was spotted living alone on an isolated beach at the foot of a cliff
Cromarty Firth Marine Services have said they will use their special plastic safety boat to rescue the animal
Speaking to MailOnline, the firm’s director Mhari Macphee detailed how the operation would take place and how confident she was of its success.
She said: ‘It’s obviously impossible to get get the sheep back up to the top of the cliff.
It’s in an area that you wouldn’t call extremely remote but certainly an area that is very hard to get to unless you have a boat like what we have with a plastic hull.
‘A normal fishing boat would be cut up on the rocks. Our boat is special, it’s basically unsinkable, we use it as a safety boat on jobs when we’re laying cables.’
On the day, Mhari says her crack team will set off from the firms base in Cromarty and speed over the bay towards the cliff.
She continued: ‘We’ve never rescued a sheep before. We’re planning on having a farmer with a sheepdog to help as otherwise we might not be able to catch it.
‘The only issue is capturing the the sheep and the location as we haven’t obviously landed at that area before. So it will depend on what’s like when we get there with conditions.
‘Hopefully we should have it done within two hours.’
The sheep, circled, looks over in the hopes of rescue and, above, shows off its impressive long fleece
But despite her assurances that the job will be a success and done properly, she confesses the sheep has a few lonely nights left.
She continued: ‘I don’t think it’s taking place until about mid November, possibly December, because our boat was actually sent on a job today, and I’m not sure when it’s back with us.’
Jillian Turner first spotted the animal in 2021 during a trip from Balintore to Nigg with the East Sutherland Canoe and Kayak Club.
But recently she took the same trip again and noticed the sheep was remarkably still trapped on the small area of beach.
One local boat skipper – who has seen the sheep regularly over the past two years – said: ‘There are several caves in that area and it is believed it shelters in at least one of them. That would explain how it has survived.
‘It is astonishing that it has made it through all weathers and in that exposed place.’
The sheep is not of the same breed as those belonging to local farmers. It is thought it could have been part of a flock that was temporarily on nearby grazings.
Ms Turner said: ‘The landowner has made several attempts over the last couple of years to get to her but has had to abandon rescue attempts for various reasons, mainly due to the dangerous landscape.
The highlighting of this case has caused him quite some concern, fearing people randomly turning up trying to be the hero and getting injured.’
A kayaker passes by the rocky shoreline where a sheep has been marooned
The rugged shoreline where the sheep has been stranded for more than two years
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, Mike Flynn, said, ‘We have been aware of the sheep stranded near Brora for some time and our team have been monitoring the animal’s welfare whilst working on a rescue solution. The sheep is not in any immediate danger and has ample grazing and water, however we are aware they badly require shearing.
‘We appreciate that there is growing concern for the sheep and we want to reassure the public that we are doing everything we can. As the animal is not tagged, we cannot ascertain the ownership of the sheep, but have been offered the support of a local farmer.
‘The area where the sheep is stranded is very inaccessible by both land and sea, making this rescue incredibly complex, especially due to the logistics of rescuing a large animal. We have been liaising with other agencies as to the best way to access the area but so far we have not found a suitable solution that doesn’t compromise the safety of the rescue teams and the welfare of the sheep.
‘As this is not a domestic animal, both the Coast Guard and Mountain Rescue teams are unable to assist in this matter. We have also spoken with a local skipper who has advised it would be extremely difficult to land a boat in the area. We have been given some contact information for other businesses who may be able to help and we are currently exploring these options.
‘If we do find a solution to accessing the area we have some additional challenges to consider. The sheep will be very difficult to catch without gates and hurdles and is likely to be fearful and run away. If the sheep becomes too distressed, there is the possibility they may run into the sea, which will present further challenges.
‘As the animal’s fleece is overgrown, it will also prove difficult to temporarily sedate the animal which would have assisted with the rescue.
‘We have received many kind offers from people who would like to donate funds to support with this rescue and some who are interested in rehoming the sheep. If the rescue is successful, we will work with our contacts in the local area to find a specialist home for them. The sheep has been living as a feral animal for some time and will be extremely stressed by human contact.
‘However, should the situation be assessed as too unsafe for either the rescue team or the sheep, the rescue will not go ahead until safe to do so.’