In mid May, I was very lucky to get a trip out to St Kilda with Gotostkilda. The weather was perfect and I was able to sit out on deck all the way watching diving gannets and keeping a look out for the enigmatic St Kilda islands as they slowly rose out of the horizon.
Other than the excitement of landing on an island so steeped in history, I was particularly looking forward to meeting the relatives of our Hebridean sheep - the Soay. Both breeds share genetic ancestry with the Northern short-tailed breeds that include Shetland, North Ronaldsay, Manx Loughtan, Icelandic and Nordic sheep. They have in common the physical traits of short tails (of course), darker and coarser hair, a moulting coat and the potential for both horned males and females.
Since the 1950s the Soay flock on the island of Hirta, the main St Kilda island, has been left feral. The flock has been monitored by scientists and it is a strictly closed flock without any animal husbandry intervention. Population crashes occur when the flock exceeds it's carrying capacity but winter weather conditions and intestinal parasites also have an impact.
It was good time to visit Hirta, just after lambing. On the whole, the Soay breed is smaller and lighter coloured than the Hebrideans with particularly cute faced lambs.
Back on board we were treated to a circumnavigation of Boreray island another of the St. Kilda group. I was surprised by the number of Boreray sheep which you can just pick out in this photo as white dots. Boreray sheep also belong to the Northern Short tailed sheep group but originate from the Scottish Dunface, hence why they are white with mottled brown faces. They are in fact the rarest UK breed "Category 2: Endangered" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, because fewer than 300-500 are known to exist. Most of them seem to live on Boreray!