During the last few weeks the inhabitants and visitors of St Kilda didn’t only stand the risk of getting run over by sheep, they were also putting themselves at risk of getting run over or even caught by ”sheepies”! For more than two weeks we were hosting 16 of them and their aim was to catch as many sheep as they could to find out more about each individual. This is why many parts of the Village walls were covered in nets and why numerous people, hiding behind cleits and walls, all of a sudden would burst into activity trying to herd the sheep into traps placed around the Village.
Group coordination and good legs are needed for every catch.
Once caught the researchers took their weight and measured horn lengths and increments, checked their teeth, took blood samples and looked for parasites – among other things!
After a group of sheep has been caught each and every one is measured and studied.
The Sheep Project has been studying the primitive Soay sheep for over 50 years. The researchers tag every lamb that is born in the Village and then they follow their entire life history. The research focuses on the causes of fluctuation in sheep numbers and if there are any specific characteristics in the individual sheep that helps them surviving while others don’t. This year’s catch was a great success with 75 percent of the sheep within the Village being caught and measured.
Cheeky sheeps resting between catches.
Parallel to the sheep catchers we had the never-ever-stopping botanists who study how the vegetation is affected by the sheep and how the grass growth in different years affect the number of sheep and how big they get. The grass in little fenced pyramids spread throughout the Village has not been grazed by the sheep. The contents of a sample square can therefore show how much grass has been produced each season. This can then be compared with samples taken where the grass is grazed and Mick, Adrian and Eric can then calculate how much grass the sheep have eaten.
Adrian is cutting a grazed sample in a relaxed but professional botanical grass cutting pose.
The sheepies also did a complete island count which showed that we now have 1538 individuals on Hirta.
Apart from being hard workers the sheepies were also good company in their spare time and we wish them all welcome back next year!
St Kilda Ranger