Belching in a good way: How livestock could learn from Orkney sheep was the good news story of the New Year last week, reaching number 8 on the BBC News most read list. The article was written by BBC Radio 4's Emma-Jane Kirby after she visited the island in November, linking the seaweed-eating sheep on North Ronaldsay to recent studies from the US, New Zealand and Australia which "have shown that livestock that have some seaweed in their diets belch far less methane than animals fed on grass or general feed". Could studying North Ronaldsay sheep help farmers reduce their carbon footprint?
This article along with the article by Huw Williams in December: The woman who will help keep seaweed-eating sheep on an Orkney beach has drawn quite a bit of media attention to the island, the sheep and myself. 4 radio interviews, and many chats with the press for their articles has kept me rather busy. I've been overwhelmed by the number of people tracking me down on social media to wish me all the best with the job and my life on the island. I even received a rather lovely card in the post from a gentleman in Germany. My first "fanmail"! Those who are reading this that I haven't responded to yet, apologies for not getting back to you and it is on one of my many to-do lists!
My favourite article is by Fionn McArthur on orkney.com who came out for the "photoshoot" in November, which paints a very romantic picture of my life here.
With punding potenitally at the end of the month I went out with Kevin and Alison to check that they are sheep tight. Punding needs to take place at new or full moons, so they coincide with the spring tides and high water. The water keeps the sheep higher up the beach and confined to a smaller area. Metal hurdles are used to cut them off, lined up from the dyke to the waves, so that they can be directed into the punds. The punds are thankfully in good condition and just a little tidying up is required. While heading to the pund near Westness I spot a new section of the dyke which has come down in the recent storms. The section is 3m wide, luckily there is a fence fairly close behind the wall, so the sheep haven't escaped onto the island, however, there is a problem. One sheep who had decided to explore between the wall and the fence has become stuck, it's curly horns locked in the wire fence. Kevin and I untangle its head and lift it over the fence, walk it back to the gap in the dyke and release it back onto the beach.
I returned the next day to start the repairs on the dyke. Another sheep had found it's way between the dyke and the fence and was stuck. The sheep had no horns (a female) but still managed to wedge herself very tightly between the 2 barriers. It was hard for me to wriggle her back enough to unwedge her and lift her over, but she waited patiently to be rescued and put back on the beach.
Well and truly wedged Glancing back at her rescuer!
Olly has bagged himself a couple of jobs on the mainland and has been away 4 days this week (he missed 1 day due to high winds and the plane not flying). Luckily Hagrid is excellent company and Olly left me enough chopped wood to keep the stove going!
Saturday was the first "Dance Club" session. I was a little apprehensive about what kind of dancing we would be doing (zumba, disco?!) but thankfully it was a relaxed Waltz. There are a few groups/clubs on the island: astronomy group, singing group, book club, fit club, film club.... and now dance club! They're great for socialising, especially in the winter when the bar isn't open at the Bird Obs.
Thankfully not what we're doing at dance club. Yet....
While checking the dyke around the Northern half of the island I spotted a huge egg case, or mermaids purse as I've always called them. I checked on my handy Eggcase Hunt app from the Shark Trust and discovered it is from a Flapper Skate (Dipturus intermedius) and recorded my find. One of the species' strongholds is in the Northern Isles, but sadly they are critically endangered due to unsustainable fishing. Read more about them on the Orkney Skate Trust's website.
Last but not least, I wrote a peedie piece for the Sheep Festival's Newsletter this month. First launched in 2016, the festival aims to attract volunteers from across the globe to help with the annual task of maintaining and rebuilding the stone sheep dyke that encircles the island. The festival sees visitors spend time taking part in a dyke-building programme, working alongside local residents, as well as enjoying everything the island has to offer, including tours of the lighthouse and wool mill, workshops, walks and - of course - the famous North Ronaldsay ceilidhs! I'm really excited to be involved in the festival this year, which is running from 27th July - 7th August. All the info you need, signing up to volunteer at the festival and subscribing to the newsletter is on their website.