Lambing time for BBOWT's flock of sheep

Beaulah speckled face lambs by Denis Kennedy

"It is a hard heart that doesn’t soften at the sight of a gang of carefree, playful young lambs racing and jumping about."

A roll of mist hovers over the National Nature Reserve. Somewhere out there curlew call. The grass is sodden with fresh dew drops. The air feels clean and cool. The dawn chorus is a symphony of whistles, warbles, trills and tweets.

The scene is quintessentially English and familiar to early morning countryside lovers for bygones – worth getting up for, in fact good to be alive for. 

Breaking through, loud and clear, the unmistakable repeated call of a cuckoo reverberates through the morning air, signaling its remarkable return from Africa. The cuckoo is the epitome of our spring, the mistress of deceit and our lovable villain. We can breathe a sigh of relief, as a year no cuckoos return would be a sad one indeed. 

My purpose for being out is to check on the BBOWT’s conservation grazing lambing flock of Beulah Speckled Face (BSF) sheep. BSF originate from the Welsh hills. They have a white fleece and black ink-splat markings on their legs and faces.

Lambs

Beulah speckled face lambs by Denis Kennedy

The sheep’s nibbling habits are ideally suited to assisting with the habitat management of BBOWT’s chalk grassland and wildflower meadows.

They lamb outside, in most cases independently, without human interference. Sensing when the time has come, the ewe takes herself away to a quiet spot, sometimes giving the ground a scrape with her hoof and sometimes vocalizing the call she will use to communicate with her soon to be offspring.

Newborn lambs can be a bit of a gooey mess. The ewe sets to cleaning her lamb up, gently “talking" to it. Born with a determined instinct to survive the lamb, free from its amniotic sac, utters its first sound, a piercing bleat, before struggling to its feet. On staggering legs it knows to search out for its mother’s udder and the rich colostrum, the milk filled with essential nutrients, crucial in the first hours of life.  

Just as it is for ourselves in difficult times, occasionally accepting a helping hand can provide an extra bit of needed support. In the days that follow wobbly legs strengthen, co-ordination develops and fitness grows. It is a hard heart that doesn’t soften at the sight of a gang of carefree, playful young lambs racing and jumping about.

Lambs

Beaulah speckled face lambs by Denis Kennedy

Being privileged to be part of these intimate scenes, I’m struck by the attributes of the sheep: their maternal instinct; the drive of the newborn lambs to survive; and the fragility and joy of life. 

Walking away, the lambing check complete, there’s a barn owl still out. Opportunistically, it perches on a fence post, using it as a lookout to survey small mammal movement in the damp meadow pasture, where the small pale lilac cuckooflower has made a timely appearance. 

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