Enhanced Shepherding: Working together to find solutions to a complex issue

Lambing season on Scotland’s hills can be a challenging time for farmers and crofters.  In this guest blog we hear from Freya King from Skye who has been delivering enhanced shepherding supported by the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, a measure aimed at mitigating and better understanding sea eagle predation of lambs on more extensive areas.

Growing up in the beautiful Highlands, I’ve always had a keen eye for agriculture and the environment.  The influence of neighbours and friends working the land and managing livestock has ultimately led me into following a career path in a similar direction.

For two years now I have been helping my local sheep stock club, North Talisker, with lambing.  In the second year I took up a role supported by the Sea Eagle Management Scheme, working to deliver enhanced shepherding.  This partnership between NatureScot and North Talisker has given me an opportunity to develop in so many ways. 

Enhanced shepherding involves working closely with NatureScot staff and call off contractors © C. McIntyre

The purpose of enhanced shepherding is to support farmers and crofters experiencing issues with sea eagle predation during lambing on more extensive areas, such as North Talisker common grazing.  The measure aims to gather more information on a range of variables including sea eagle interactions with the flock, as well as attempting to provide a scaring element through the provision of additional presence on the hill.

Participating in the scheme has promoted greater awareness of sea eagle movements within the local area and provided an opportunity to advance hill shepherding skills and knowledge of sea eagles.  This experience has all helped with my lambing work and education.

Observing sea eagles during an enhanced shepherding refresher session © C. McIntyre

I am currently studying a degree in conservation biology and my involvement with the scheme has certainly expanded my experience of fieldwork data collection skills.  I am aware that the environmental sector can be a competitive field and I’m hopeful this experience will help in securing future employment in the sector.

The enhanced shepherding has also offered seasonal employment opportunities for other people within the local community, which has been essential during the pandemic and is beneficial to those who have an interest in, or are wishing to pursue a career in agriculture or environmental studies.

Collaborative working is a key aspect of the enhanced shepherding measure as seen here at a refresher session © C. McIntyre

The ongoing partnership between North Talisker and NatureScot has highlighted the benefits of working together to try and find solutions to complex issues such as sea eagle predation, where both parties can learn from each other.  The importance of data collection and the value to both NatureScot and North Talisker in this shared data has been another positive.

Heading out on the hills to try and deter sea eagle interaction with the flock has had mixed success and I found this to be fairly effective in more commonly covered areas.  In areas or seasons when the measure has not been as effective, benefits can still be drawn. 

Vantage point observations are a component of enhanced shepherding as seen above on North Talisker common grazing © C. McIntyre

The data collection has allowed impacts to be recorded and can help our shared understanding of sea eagle movements and behaviour during the season.  The data is analysed and discussed, with a shared report produced at the end of each season; which helps both North Talisker and NatureScot. 

With a number of farms and crofts now participating across the sea eagle range, the data collected will help NatureScot and farming and crofting groups assess the effectiveness of enhanced shepherding and hopefully help inform their joint work to address the issue of lamb predation where it occurs.

Data collection is a key part of enhanced shepherding with data collected helping both farmers and crofters and NatureScot © NatureScot/Lorne Gill

NatureScot runs the Sea Eagle Management Scheme on behalf of the National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel.  The Sea Eagle Management Scheme extends support for livestock farmers and crofters who suffer impacts across the sea eagle breeding range. More information on the Scheme can be found here.

North Talisker Sheep Stock Club was established in 1924 and manages almost 2000 ha of land, with over 1000 cheviot sheep and around 50 cows. More information on the work of North Talisker Sheep Stock Club can be found here

This entry was posted in Uncategorized, wildlife management and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.