Britain's loneliest sheep: stranded ewe saved by climbers - as activists clash with rescuers over her future

Fiona after her rescue (Scottish SPCA/Twitter)Fiona after her rescue (Scottish SPCA/Twitter)
Fiona after her rescue (Scottish SPCA/Twitter) | Scottish SPCA/Twitter
Animal rights activists have held a protest outside Fiona the sheep's new home

A ewe stranded on a beach by a sheer cliff faces has been rescued by a group of expert climbers - but her future appears to be in turmoil once again as her rescuers clash with animal rights activists over her new home.

The newly-named Fiona had been spotted twice by kayakers on an isolated shingle beach in Scotland's Cromarty Firth two years apart, running after their boats and bleating. Her sad tale saw a petition launched to rescue her, which attracted more than 50,000 signatures. After the Scottish SPCA delayed its rescue plans over the lone sheep's hard-to-reach location, a group of expert farmers with climbing expertise stepped in to winch her to safety. Fiona has now said goodbye to her heavy, overgrown fleece, and moved to a farm park, but animal rights activists are upset she wasn't taken to a sanctuary instead - claiming the sheep will be "exploited" for money

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In a statement, a Scottish SPCA spokesperson said their team arrived at the hillside on Saturday, after hearing a group with climbing expertise were planning to attempt a rescue by descending down to where she was trapped. "This is not something that our own inspectorate have the experience or equipment to be able to do ourselves, so we were not involved in the rescue itself, but we did attend to ensure the welfare of the animal."

The sheep, now bogged down by a heavy fleece, was thought to have been stranded for two years. (Photo: Peter Jolly/Northpix)The sheep, now bogged down by a heavy fleece, was thought to have been stranded for two years. (Photo: Peter Jolly/Northpix)
The sheep, now bogged down by a heavy fleece, was thought to have been stranded for two years. (Photo: Peter Jolly/Northpix)

The team were able to bring the ewe up successfully, and SSPCA staff inspected her. "Thankfully the sheep is in good bodily condition, aside from needing to be sheared. She will now be taken to a specialist home within Scotland to rest and recover."

The rescue group had named her Fiona, the spokesperson said, and the SSPCA was "delighted" she was now able to start her new life. "We're very grateful to the team who rescued the sheep, although we must stress that they were only able to do so as they were experienced climbers.

"We would like to remind the public not to attempt any rescue that might endanger themselves, or an animal, during the process," they added. The rescue group had been granted ownership of Fiona by the land owner, and had extensive farming experience, the SSPCA said.

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Farmer Cammy Wilson, who goes by The Sheep Game on social media, took part in the rescue. The ewe has since been shorn of her massive fleece, leaving her with a layer of wool to keep her warm over winter. "Fiona was amazing, she sat perfectly still the whole way through," he said. "I’ve never worked with such a calm sheep. It was incredible."

Fiona has now been taken to Dalstone Farm Park, which has posted photos and videos on social media of the freshly-shorn sheep arriving. However animal rights activist group Animal Rising posted: "Being made a spectacle of at a petting zoo is not a fair result for Fiona who has already faced two years of neglect and isolation.

"All we are asking is for her to be taken to a sanctuary as originally agreed," they added. Several members of the group - whose past actions have included stealing sheep belonging to the King and running onto racetracks - protested outside Fiona's new home, BBC reports, carrying placards which read 'Free Fiona'.

The group said it had also been working with the landowner to plan their own rescue for Fiona, who the group had named 'Sheepie'. "Whilst we are pleased this poor ewe is no longer stranded at the base of a cliff, she has just gone from isolation to exploitation. It is completely inappropriate that she would be taken to be made a spectacle of at a petting zoo," they said on social media, adding that the environment could be stressful for animals.

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The Sheep Game responded: "Dalscone is closed until the spring so she has five months to acclimatise to the staff, the other animals and her surroundings before the public ever get to see her in person. She’ll be fed daily and given the best care, [and] all of it shared openly and transparently on social media."

Dalscone owner Ben Best said on a Facebook Live broadcast that staff and family members had been intimidated by the protesters outside their gates. He said they had delayed Fiona's arrival, as they feared that if activists tried to block her entry, it might distress her.

But Mr Best said the sheep, which had since arrived, would have a five star home for the rest of her life. For now she was going to have a pen to herself, being slowly introduced to her new companions.

"She will be here forever. This is the way we operate, anyone who watches us know this, she's not going to be going anywhere but a five star home," he added. "She'll be under constant vet supervision... we couldn't do any more."

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