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Miracle sheepdog survives cliff fall

Andrew Nicolson reunited with Fleck. Pic. Shetland News

A PRIZE winning sheepdog had a miraculous escape after plummeting almost 100 feet down a sheer cliff while driving sheep in Shetland on Monday.

Andrew Nicolson, from Ollaberry, was helping a fellow crofter gather sheep at the remote Fethaland common grazings in North Roe when his nine year old collie Fleck disappeared over the banks. 

The 72 year old thought he had lost his dog for good, as the cliffs at Hellir Geo are so sheer and high.

So he was astonished after about 15 minutes of whistling to hear the dog barking in the distance.

Nicolson drove his quad from the isolated spot to find a mobile phone signal with just enough battery power left to phone the Shetland coastguard and tell them what had happened.

It took several hours for the local coastguard to muster sufficient volunteers to make up a team, with men from Lerwick and Burra more than 40 miles joining others from nearby Hillswick and Sullom Voe.

Armed with ropes, stakes and harnesses the men “trudged” across the moor to the cliff where Fleck was patiently waiting on a ledge.

One of the team had the foresight to buy a bag of doggie treats with him, so that when he was lowered down the cliff he was able to entice the frightened collie into his arms and return him to his master more than five hours after he fell.

Nicolson explained that he had been working with two dogs and a friend when Fleck had suddenly disappeared.

“It was just unfortunate that a flock of sheep made a dash for the cliffs. David Murray and I tried to stop them, but in the midst of it all I noticed Fleck was missing,” he recalled.

“I whistled him back and he didn’t come. He always comes so I said to David he must have gone over the cliffs.

“We kept whistling and when we got to the cliffs we could hear him barking, but we couldn’t see him. Then David saw him on a ledge and we could hardly believe it. I had made up my mind that he had gone.”

When Fleck emerged on the cliff top he acted as if nothing untoward had happened.

“He had a good roll on his back and looked like he had just been let out of the kennel.

“He was bone dry too, though he must have landed in the sea and been swimming, otherwise he would have killed himself.”

Nicolson said he had been working with dogs and sheep for more than 40 years and never lost a dog over the cliffs before, though such accidents are not unknown in the isles.

He said Fleck would have been a big loss. He came from the north of England bred from prize winning parents and has had similar success in Shetland, though his owner describes him as more of an all rounder – “a better hill dog than a trials dog”.

Recently he came third in a charity dog trial event, beaten by two younger dogs that he had sired himself.

Coastguard sector manager John Webster said: “It was a good training exercise and a happy outcome for the owner…and the dog, of course.”