A Remote Scottish Island Needs Help Protecting Its Seaweed-Eating Sheep
By Brigit Katz – Smithsonian.com
Sheep outnumber humans on North Ronaldsay, a remote island on the tip of Scotland’s Orkney archipelago—and a very odd breed of sheep they are, too. These woolly creatures subsist on a diet of seaweed, rather than grass and other plants, and a centuries-old dyke has been stopping them from munching on the island’s agricultural land. But as the BBC reports, this historic wall is crumbling. So North Ronaldsay is looking to hire a dedicated warden to make sure that the dyke stays standing and the seaweed-eating sheep stay safe.
North Ronaldsay sheep belong to an ancient breed believed to have been spread across Europe by Neolithic farmers. And for thousands of years, sheep on the Orkney Islands have been eating seaweed, perhaps because winters there dramatically reduced the amount of available pastures. But the grazers of North Ronaldsay became ever-more dependent on seaweed in the 19th century, during a period of crisis in the island’s history.