A day in the life of a sheep dyke warden

In the morning I was tackling a piece by Neven. The wall round the house is very tall, right on the waters edge and rocky shore. One corner was looking very precarious, as the stones at the bottom had fallen out, the remaining dyke hanging over the edge, way overhead of any humans or sheep walking by. To start this project, working from the house side of the dyke, I removed some of the stones when it became unstable and fell down onto the shore side. I then sorted the stones carefully so they didn’t all fall 6 feet below onto the rocky shore (which would mean carting them back up!). Then I did a bit of digging, trying to find something solid to build back on. The original foundations and sand/soil had long gone, washed out by a stream running down onto the shore. Slowly and carefully building it back up, and wondering how to link the two parts over the gap, I then got a few texts through about some sheep who had come off the shore onto the fields at Howar (the South East corner of the island).

After making the gap that I was working on sheep tight with a hurdle and some stones to weigh it down, I raced down on my bicycle to June’s (Howar). When I got there thankfully the sheep were quite well contained in one field, preventing them from breeding with June's sheep. I made my way over, past the alpaca and rescuing a sheep caught in the fence along the way, to take a closer look at the problem.

After fuelling myself with a Snickers I got to work on rebuilding the dyke which had fallen down. Thankfully the gap was only about a metre wide and took a couple of hours. The sand had been eroded on the shore side by the sheep running along against the dyke, and the foundation stones had probably fallen out, causing this bit of dyke to collapse. I did some collaring (placing stones vertically underneath the foundation stones when the ground has been eroded) around the gap and set the new foundation stones back from the eroded edge. It was a stunning day and I was working away in my t shirt! The dyke back up and all sheep back on the shore - a very successful day!

Life as a star continues and this week a team of cameramen, producer and presenter were on North Ronaldsay to film for Springtime on the Farm, Channel 5. Olly was chauffeur as we all headed down to Nouster Bay. Presenter JB (from JLS) was my volunteer for the afternoon as we set to work rebuilding some dyke. I was impressed that even when the cameras weren’t rolling he was still putting stone up, a quick learner too! It was great fun filming with the team and I think JB enjoyed fitting the stones back on the dyke like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I’m excited to see the end result when it’s broadcast, especially the drone footage.

Hearing about all the trouble with Coronavirus is quite weird while living on a remote island. On the one had, self isolating is very easy here, I could easily avoid all social contact by not travelling to Kirkwall, ordering my food over the phone, picking it up when everyone else has gone. Orkney has, at present, no reports cases of the virus. But what if/when there are cases on Orkney, and people from North Ronaldsay are flying back and forth? For an island where the majority of its residents are elderly, we could be hugely affected. Will the planes stop? What about the ferry? Will visitors be banned from entering such a vulnerable community? There are so many unknowns, it is just a matter of waiting to see how it develops. For the time being, volunteer holidays are not cancelled and would be a welcome support for the island’s tourism industry. If avoiding air travel, the island is accessible by car and ferry. At a time when European and other global travel is off the cards, why not learn a new skill and help the North Ronaldsay community? Book your working holiday now

Visit Scotland for more information about coronavirus


The crowdfunder has been doing so well! I feel very grateful by all the donations and kind words. It’s been so exciting getting to order the supplies for the volunteers. Having surpassed the fund-raising goal, I‘ve been thinking about how to improve the volunteer experience. I’d love to build an earth oven for celebratory pizza evenings! All further donations will be put towards spare equipment and volunteer treats


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