Beast from the East makes lambing a challenge for Ian Blackford this spring

Wobbly newborn lambs gambolling in the fields are one of the traditional signs of spring.

Crofter Ian Blackford, of Waternish on the Isle of Skye, has been busy lambing for the past couple of weeks, alongside his wife Ann.

But the Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP said the backlash of the Beast from the East has made lambing particularly challenging this year, with only a quarter of his flock giving birth so far.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge this year,” he said. “It’s been a bit slow, with only seven births out of 32 that went to tup.

“I think the weather has played its part because last week was very cold and they can control their hormones to some extent so I think some have held off.”

Mr Blackford said the slow lambing has been compounded by unusually large lambs this year making births difficult.

“The ewes have required an awful lot of care and attention,” he said. “Only one of seven has manged to deliver unaided and normally you would expect most to give birth unaided.

“The lambs have been very big this year. One of our two tups is new and he is a bit bigger than the ones we have had previously.

“We also have quite a few sheep giving birth for the first time this year and we have to help them, which is very physical work.”

The work doesn’t stop once the lambs are born, as they are vulnerable to attack from a number of predators.

Mr and Mrs Blackford have been keeping a 24-hour watch over the 10 acre croft to protect the newborns and their mothers from birds and foxes.

He said: “We’re keeping a constant watch and it’s a battle to make sure the lambs are not vulnerable.

“The crows are terrible because there are so many of them. They can be vicious – they will peck out the eyes and the tongues of the lambs so you have to be pretty vigilant.

“The other problem is foxes at night. We know we have a fox running around so we have to bring them into the paddock at the front of the house at night.”

But Mr Blackford said he and his wife were committed to the crofting life despite the difficulties.

“Ann’s family has been crofting for generations,” he said. “We’re sustaining a way of life and making sure there’s an effective use of the land.

“We need to keep people in these communities, keeping beasts on the land in these traditional crofting areas.

“It gives us a tie to the land and to the community and our culture.”

Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing said he was continuing to consult and would review the potential for new laws.

He said: “This government is determined not to allow crofting to be simply a relic of our past.

“Crofting must have a purpose and a role in our present and our future.

“That purpose is to support people to remain on the land and to bring people back to the land, with crofting also playing a role in creating a sustainable and productive environment in which people can live and work.

“To achieve this, crofting needs an effective regulatory and statutory framework.”

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