Volunteers feel fleeced over sheep loss

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THERE’S no sign of the heritage sheep that once graced The Briars Park, Mt Martha.

They vanished – and some of the volunteers who paid for them and felt responsible for them – say they have been kept in the dark about where they were sent and whether they will be replaced.

Mornington Peninsula Shire says there is no mystery: the sheep were sold more than a year ago and volunteers were offered a refund.

One volunteer said he had not received a refund from Mornington Peninsula Shire Council for the cost of the heritage sheep which he had contributed to.

The volunteer – who asked not to be named but who is known to The News – said the original 21 ewes and one ram “suddenly vanished” about a year ago “without any consultation with the volunteers or advance notice that they were being removed”.

“These sheep were all with lamb,” the volunteer said. “Now they should or would be with lamb once again. The heritage sheep were paid for by Briars volunteers – not the shire.”

He said the group had been “denied the pleasure of seeing these lambs grow and become adult sheep”.

“Visitors and especially little children who come to The Briars Park have also been denied this pleasure. The sheep were so tame that they would come to their enclosure fence when called by name.”

The volunteer said that when questioning the council as to just who was responsible for the removal of these sheep “no-one came forward as being responsible”.

“Despite asking many times why they were removed, no definitive reason was ever provided.

“The volunteers were told that the council would try to get them back as well as being told they had been agisted out. It is confusing as to just what did happen.

“No further communication has been received by the volunteers, nor has there been any suggestion of refunding the purchase price.

“The volunteers would like to see these sheep returned to The Briars.”

Shire infrastructure services executive manager Niall McDonagh said the original 21 ewes and one ram were brought to The Briars as a trial, “the first stage of a longer-term plan to return heritage animals to the site”.

“The aim … was to test the feasibility of [having] animals onsite and identify the policies, procedures and infrastructure which would be required to house animals long-term,” he said. “This stage of the trial ended as planned with the sale of the sheep in June 2016. Two breeds of heritage chickens and three pigs remain.”

Mr McDonagh said volunteers who had contributed to the cost of the sheep were advised by email, phone, or in person about the sale. Some had refused a refund, saying the money could be used for the ongoing maintenance of the farm.

“A review of The Briars is currently being undertaken with the aim of developing and implementing a master plan. This will include strengthening the heritage values of the site and, most likely, will include additional heritage animals.

“Which breeds will be reintroduced will be determined later in this process and through consultation with council and key stakeholders.”

First published in the Mornington News – 11 July 2017

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