Our Wooly Friends!

Last week saw our sheep depart St Serfs Island after a 3 month holiday with an ‘all you can eat buffet’ of deschampsia grass. A little later than usual, the sheep arrived on the Island in September. They spend a few months out on St Serfs and in doing so, they keep our grass sward down and fatten up; a win-win for us, the shepherd and the sheep!

The sheep are a fantastic conservation management tool. The reduction of the grass sward creates good habitat for nesting ducks and grazing geese. Without the sheep, the vegetation on St Serfs would become too rank and we would see less birds nesting and feeding on the Island. This year, we had 55 Scottish Blackface Sheep – and these sheep have been coming on St Serfs for more than 60 years! The Shepherds father did it before him and it is a long standing family tradition. I was told by Scott, the Shepherd that he himself has done it for 40 years and its good feeding on the Island. The sheep always come back in good condition. Quite a bit heavier than when they first arrived a few months ago.

The Sheep inside St Serfs Sheep Pen

Getting the sheep off the Island is quite a large task. I was hoping to hone in my new boat skills now I am finally fully qualified, but a bit of crosswind and steering issues was making things quite tough and I handed the boat over to Neil who has a lot more experience than me! The process started with Scott rounding up the sheep (that were inevitably on the far side of the Island) with his two sheepdogs. I must say, watching the dogs work was extremely impressive and they were guided into the pen masterfully.

Tess the happy sheepdog enjoying the attention while we waited on a load of sheep being transported
Relaxing on the job??
55 Sheep in the sheep pen

Once the sheep have been guided in the sheep pen, 11 are then put on to our boat ‘daphnia’. Daphnia is a Shetlandic boat purposefully built for this job and certainly makes things a lot easier when having to transport livestock. We have a small pen that we fit onto our boat which holds the sheep in nice and safely.

A boat full of sheep, heading for the mainland. St Serfs in the background

The next part is quite tricky, it requires a precision line up with Scott’s trailer which allows the sheep to be safely loaded on. The boat is hard to manoeuvre with 11 Fat Sheep on board!

Lining up the boat
Bingo! Sheep now crossing into the trailer. – note the purpose built daphnia and her sheep pen.

This trip was done 5 times to get all of the sheep off the Island, and that is it now for another 7 months until we think about putting them out again at the end of summer! As always, thanks to Scott for allowing us to use his sheep to improve the habitat on St Serfs. It’s great to be part of this long standing tradition that benefits everyone involved! Without our wooly friends, the birdlife at Loch Leven would certainly be negatively affected. Speaking of birdlife, a Short-eared Owl is wintering on St Serfs and made an appearance while the sheep were departing the Island.

It’s a short-eared owl I promise!

It’s amazing what you can see if you take Sheep birding with you!

About SimonR

I am a keen naturalist/wildlife conservationist from North-East Scotland. I work at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve as a Reserve Officer and have a deep interest in conservation and wildlife management in Scotland. Keen Birder, naturalist and practical habitat management enthusiast.
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4 Responses to Our Wooly Friends!

  1. Maria Eugenia Cavaliere says:


  2. colinshep1958 says:

    Fascinating article, great to have an explanation of the role which controlled grazing plays in maintaining good habitat. I must say that the boat looks quite small for a cargo of eleven well fed sheep!

  3. Richard says:

    An excellent article explaining how sheep fit in with wildlife management on St Serfs. An impressive amount of time it has been done. Great photos to go with it and illustrate the procedure. Will there be a follow up generation to manage rounding up the sheep? An impossible task I suspect without well trained dogs and a shepherd who understands them.

  4. Anne says:

    I found this relationship between the sheep and the island very interesting to read.

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