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VIDEO: Animal rights group's plan to rescue Britain's loneliest sheep was hijacked, say campaigners

By Mike Merritt

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The rescue of Britain's loneliest sheep was hijacked from a group of animal rights campaigners who had been training for days, it has emerged.

Animal Rising – who disrupted the Grand National and attempted to do the same at the Scottish Grand National – had even descended the steep cliff to build a relationship with the marooned ewe.

They claim they were fleeced by, unknown to them, a rival "covert operation".

Now it has launched a petition to stop the animal going to a petting zoo in Dumfries.

The sheep, which has since been named Fiona, had been stranded at the foot of cliffs on the Cromarty Firth on Scotland's north east coast for at least two years.

An animal welfare charity had said any attempts to rescue her would be "incredibly complex". But a group of five farmers managed to haul her up a steep slope on Saturday.

Fiona has been transported to her new home some 270 miles south at Dalscone Farm animal park in Dumfries. But after protests from Animal Rising she is now in hiding.

Fiona the loneliest sheep
Fiona the loneliest sheep

But for the previous five days Animal Rising had been preparing to rescue Fiona, and take her to Tribe Animal Sanctuary in Scotland to live out the rest of her life in peace.

The group said: "A different group have orchestrated a plan to take her to a 'well-known' petting zoo where she is likely to be mobbed daily in a very distressing environment.

"Since Monday, supporters from Scotland and England of Animal Rising have been in the Highlands of Scotland preparing to rescue ‘Britain’s Loneliest Sheep’. The individuals involved found a way to reach the sheep now known as Fiona.

"They spent the past five days in a row getting closer to Fiona ahead of a rescue planned for this Sunday, (5 November), intending to take her to Tribe Animal Sanctuary near Glasgow.

"The rescue was arranged in collaboration with an adjacent landowner with connections to the Royal Family, whose name we agreed not to release.

"This morning, the landowner facilitated a separate, covert operation to take Fiona to live at a well-known, but currently unnamed, Scottish petting zoo.

"The Scottish SPCA were in attendance and have not objected to this plan despite admitting previously that Fiona will be ‘fearful’ of people and find interactions ‘distressing’ after two years alone."

Local Animal Rising supporter, Jamie Moyes, said:“We are, of course, pleased Fiona is no longer stranded, but it is completely unacceptable that she would be taken to a ‘petting zoo’ when she has already suffered for the last two years. We reached an agreement with the landowner for her to be rescued and taken to a safe and peaceful sanctuary, but he went behind our back to make a spectacle of her instead.

"Petting zoos can be stressful for any animal, but especially for one that has lived alone for the last two years and will likely now be mobbed by daily visitors owing to her celebrity status. The right thing to do would be to allow her to live out the rest of her life safely at Tribe Animal Sanctuary, who already agreed to home her.”

The successful rescue mission was organised by Cammy Wilson, a sheep shearer from Ayrshire, after seeing media coverage of the ewe's plight.

Mr Wilson, who is a presenter on the BBC's Landward programme, organised the rescue in a personal capacity along with four others.

Rescuers used a winch mounted on a truck parked at the top of the cliff, 200m of rope and a feed bag fashioned into a makeshift sling in what was described as an 'epic' mission.

Two of the men stayed at the top to operate the winch while three others were lowered 250m down the steep descent where they found Fiona in a cave and guided her up the rock face.

Speaking in a video posted on Facebook, Mr Wilson said:"She's in incredible condition. She is about a condition score of about 4.5. She is overfat - it was some job lifting her up that slope.

"She is going to a very special place that a lot of you know very well, where you'll be able to see her virtually every day."

Mr Wilson later told BBC News he became determined to rescue the sheep after reading unfair comments about the farmer whose flock she came from.

He said the farmer had made previous attempts to retrieve her but was unable to do so without putting himself or his employees in danger.

He said: "I just hated seeing the misinformation online, the comments from people not in the know about 'farmers don't care.'

"People were starting to show up on his land and it wasn't fair."

He said he anticipated some people would criticise his rescue mission as foolhardy, and he accepted it was risky.

"The only difference between us being heroes and idiots is a slip of the foot," he said.

He was joined in the rescue by fellow farmers Graeme Parker, Als Couzens, Ally Williamson and James Parker.

The sheep's plight became headline news after she was pictured stranded on a shore in the Highlands.

The Scottish SPCA said it had been aware of the ewe being stranded at the bottom of the cliff for some time but was unable to find a safe way to rescue her.

A spokesperson for the charity said:"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."

Jill Turner, from Brora, Sutherland, who highlighted Fiona's plight first came across the ewe while kayaking in 2021.

She was shocked to discover she was still there two years later, and pleaded for someone to rescue her.

She said she was "very emotional" over her rescue.

"I am very emotional as it's been a very stressful time. I gave such a shriek over the news she had been rescued that it gave my husband a fright!" she said.

Even a hovercraft operator offered to help.

A petition calling for a rescue operation gathered more than 55,000 signatures.

Some people had pointed out the sheep's emotional state after two years of isolation was a sort of "flockdown".

The full story of the rescue will be told on the BBC's Landward programme, due to broadcast on the BBC Scotland channel on November 16 and BBC One Scotland the following day.

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