Britain's loneliest sheep in hiding after rehoming row

A row has broken out over plans to rehome Britain's loneliest sheep.

The ewe, now named Fiona, was rescued on Saturday after being stranded for more than two years at the foot of cliffs in the Scottish Highlands.

But an animal rights group says plans to rehome her to a farm park near Dumfries would make her a "spectacle".

Fiona is now a shorn sheep after her overgrown fleece was removed but remains in hiding after activists turned up at Dalscone Farm.

The sheep's plight hit the headlines last month after a kayaker photographed her still trapped at the foot of a steep cliff at the Cromarty Firth two years after a previous sighting.

She was dubbed "Britain's loneliest sheep" and an online petition to rescue her attracted thousands of signatures.

On Saturday morning a team of five farmers successfully descended a rocky gully using a winch, and managed to extract her from the remote shoreline.

But a row quickly erupted when an animal rights group criticised plans to rehome her at a farm park because they believed she would be "exploited" for money and become a "spectacle".

On Sunday a small group of activists from Animal Rising - which earlier this year tried to disrupt a number of high-profile horse races - staged a protest at Dalscone Farm.

A spokesperson said: "It was a peaceful, non-violent demonstration. We want Fiona to be rehomed at a sanctuary rather than a petting zoo"

The group said that prior to Fiona's rescue, some of its members had already descended the cliffs to get her accustomed to human contact. They were planning a similar extraction operation when they learned they had been beaten to it.

"Farmer Ben" from Dalscone Farm said in a Facebook video that staff and family members felt "intimidated" by demonstrators who were flying a drone and holding "Free Fiona" placards.

"We're going to give Fiona a five star home, we are going to get her some amazing friends," he said.

"We are obviously closed at the moment. The farm park's closed for the winter, for the next five months, so she's got loads of time to settle in.

"Nobody's going to be bugging her, we'll just get to know her, let her do her own thing."

He said they had planned to put her in a single pen, introducing her to other animals slowly and with veterinary supervision - but that has now been put on hold. He said Fiona was currently at a secret location.

"We are literally giving her the best home she could possibly get - and it's being blocked at the moment. And it's a crying shame," he added.

Saturday's rescue operation was led by professional shearer Cammy Wilson who on Sunday relieved Fiona of her matted and overgrown fleece.

He said his own commercial farm was not set up for looking after Fiona, and he believed Dalscone Farm was the best home for her.

He told BBC News he became determined to help Fiona after seeing online criticism of the farmer whose flock she once belonged to.

The owner had tried to retrieve her but found he was unable to do so without putting himself or his employees in danger.

Despite her lonely lifestyle in recent years, Fiona is said to be well-fed - slightly overweight even - and in good condition.

She will now remain at an undisclosed location until the row over her future home is settled.