A UNIQUE haggis has been made this January by Macbeth’s, the high street butcher in Forres, using the lights of the Orkney Boreray, Scotland’s rarest breed of sheep.

This small creature was crucial to the survival of the St Kildans, providing not just meat but milk and wool. It was the wool which first caught the attention of Jane Cooper, a keen knitter living in Newcastle.

She said: “I was running a knitting group and we were interested in wool from native breeds.

“We looked up what the rarest breed was and thought the wool would be selling at a premium because it was so rare but we found none. There were fewer than 300 registered breeding females outside St Kilda.

“I contacted owners across the country and drove around, picking up fleeces. I met these four rams and I fell in love with them.”

Cooper’s husband is an anaesthetist. During a trip to Orkney, she learned the local anaesthetist was retiring.

Several weeks later, the first of what was to become the Orkney Boreray flock were taking up residence in Cooper’s new croft.

The first lamb was born in 2015. Two years later, Cooper realised she had every single sheep from an extremely rare line, the so-called “Lost Flock”.

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Realising how precious and precarious this was, she set about creating eight flocks on five islands with farmers who understood the immense importance of the breed.

There are now 140 breeding ewes on Orkney, as well as between

400-700 of the sheep on Boreray. Genetic studies show the Boreray are an almost pure descendant of the Scottish Dunface – the breed which ran alongside Highlanders until the Clearances saw the people shipped away and the little sheep replaced by the Scottish Blackface.

The Scottish Dunface was declared extinct some time ago – but the DNA of the Boreray tells a different tale. The story of the Orkney Boreray is captivating and Cooper’s book

The Lost Flock, is a compelling read. Cooper argues, with a reasoning that is hard to dismiss, that the breed is such an important part of Scotland’s heritage that it should be given both national recognition and protection.

The Shetland sheep is a distinct breed which grew out of the Dunface. Its wool is the only fibre I am aware of to hold Protected Geographic Indicator status.

A beautiful local tradition is for newlyweds to be given a “bride’s shawl”, a light and intricate Shetland wool garment so fine it can pass through a wedding ring.

Like the Boreray, the Shetland sheep is one of the short-tailed sheep of northern Europe, whose lives have been intertwined with our ancestors for thousands of years.

Some of the dishes we eat today are very similar to foods our forebears would have enjoyed.

Across Shetland, reestit mutton – a salted mutton – is a winter dish prepared and presented with pride.

Marian Armitage is the chair of Shetland Food and Drink. Her latest book, Food Made In Shetland, is full of traditional recipes and encouragement to cook from scratch.

“Stairt wi gettin peerie bairns into da kitchen cookin real food!” Armitage says, with passion.“A lot of the butchers make sassermaet [Shetland sausage meat].

“We put huge importance on using local Shetland milk because we are down to one dairy.

“Local menus often have the provenance clearly shown, for the eggs and vegetables as well as the meat and fish. Frankie’s Fish and Chips will tell you which fishing boat the catch came off. Reestit mutton is even more popular now because so many people coming to the islands want to try it.”

Meanwhile, the team at Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Unesco Biosphere (GSAB) have just launched Merrick Scottish Blackface Knitwear, a new brand using 100% Scottish Blackface wool from local farms.

Marie McNulty, business development lead for GSAB, told me: “Hill farming and the heritage around that is so important here.

“Blackface sheep is an important breed for our area and we wanted to show the quality of the Blackface wool as well as do something constructive to create high-value products using the Blackface fleece. GSAB is a charity and all profits go back into community projects supporting biodiversity.”

GSAB communications and marketing lead Tamara Fulcher added: “Blackface lamb and mutton is a flavoursome, delicious meat with many nutritious qualities which come from its hill grazing.

“We want to connect people to the journey the fleece makes.

“Youngsters are much more interested in sustainability and they know wool is a durable fabric which does not release microplastics into the environment.”

The team worked with British Wool to find the artisans in Selkirk and Leicester who could take the fleece from the farms, spin it into yarn and make the high-provenance clothing range. The hope is, with time, to have this skilled work done in Dumfries and Galloway.

There is, across Scotland, a need for infrastructure, from local abattoirs which are essential to animal welfare but are being lost at an alarming rate, to wool processing, tanneries, and so on, the kind of facilities which create skills and opportunities, put the short chain back into our supply and gives the confidence which comes from a local culture which puts the food on your plate and the clothes on your back.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign