In the wild Northern Isles of Scotland’s Orkney archipelago, the remote island of Auskerry (OWS-ka-rie), where the Royal Mail is delivered by boat just once a month, comprises 250 rugged acres jutting from the sea.
A hike around Auskerry reveals evidence of over 8,500 years of human history— remnants of the Neolithic period, standing stones from the twelfth century, remains of Iron Age villages. As soon as the tide begins going out, a living link to this history is seen foraging for kelp along the rocky shoreline: the rare North Ronaldsay sheep.
One of just two remaining flocks of Orkney’s native sheep, the hardy North Ronaldsay—known locally as “Rollies” and named for the northernmost Orkney island—have evolved over millennia to subsist on seaweed. Aside from marine iguanas native to the Galapagos Islands, these sheep are the only land animals known to survive on this diet; DNA studies comparing the bones of “Rollies” with remains of North European short-tailed sheep from around 3000 bce are a match—indicating these sheep haven’t genetically mixed with other breeds.
For thirty-five years, Simon Brogan and Teresa Probert, now the only two humans on this remote Scottish island, have been raising and tending this endangered breed, a flock numbering roughly six hundred. During those years, they also raised and home-schooled three sons, each of whom continued to university-level studies and off-island careers.
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PHOTOGRAPHY SIMON BROGAN
WRITTEN BY EDWARD MCCANN
This story appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of MILIEU.