Soay Sheep: Lundy Residents

Heading north in the strong wind, the ocean crashing below the island of Lundy becomes more remote.  The arable feel to the south rapidly recedes and the rugged north with its lighthouse and neolithic remains come into view.  The more feral mammals become more resident in the quieter northern end of the island.

Introduction of Soay Sheep to Lundy

This windswept landscape is the home to a timid and elusive breed of sheep. The Soay sheep on Lundy are descendent's of the native breed found on the island of Soay, part of the St Kilda Archipelago. Whilst Soay is much further north, 60 miles from the west coast of the Outer Hebrides. The warm Devon climate seems a long way from Lundy, 20 miles off shore with weather more like their native Scottish home. Introduced in 1942 these sheep are feral, living wild beyond the Quarter Wall. Whilst they are feral their numbers are controlled as there are no predators on the island. Is it wrong to admit that the lamb burgers, made from island sheep in the Marisco Tavern were gorgeous? Fresh and herby from their sea soaked grass diet.

Halfway Wall and Beyond

Passing the Halfway Way Wall marking the middle of the island we are aware of being watched. Turning to look back, we saw small brown creatures emerging from the bracken along the path we have just followed. Torn between heading onwards given the weather and turning back to spend time with the sheep we battled onwards. Luckily beyond the wall the sheep are bolder. Less used to humans and more willing to graze. As we pass they are oblivious to the 40mph winds and squally showers that keep on passing over the island. The rams sit sheltered from the worst of the wind against one of the granite outcrops. Their stunning horns curling, ready for battle in the autumn.

Grazing Ewes and Lambs

Far more active and interesting the ewes graze the bracken and heather.  Meandering across the moorland that is found at the top of the island these sheep were interested but cautious as we passed by.  They were watching our every move but choosing to continue eating.  The ewes were bolder than the lambs who were skittish, dancing around trying to keep up with their mothers and peers.  Without disturbing them our adventure moved onwards.  Stopping briefly before moving on towards the lighthouse on the northern tip of the island.

Photographing Soay Sheep

These sheep are skittish and are very aware of where you are.  Moving slowly and quietly around them is essential.  Even the slightest quick movement or sudden noise will send the them running for safety.  Ensure you don't crowd them.  Being surrounded is the tactic used by many predators and the instinct to run is still there within the sheep.    A long lens above 300mm is essential to capture them in their environment behaving naturally.  This gives a lovely effect, separating the sheep from the background.  It also gives you the distance to prevent panic and distress.  Just remember where you are when photographing these sheep.  They spend a lot of time on cliff edges and are far more agile than we can ever be.  It would be a disaster to be too close to the edge....

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