Mirella the ewe, who was blinded by crows while she was in labour, has been moved to a sanctuary with her twin lambs.

As her lambs gambol beside her, the blinded mother can enjoy the summer sunshine.

Mirella's plight was highlighted in April after wildlife activists led by BBC Springwatch presenter Chris Packham forced the Government to withdraw farmers' licences that permitted them to shoot crows that attack sheep and lambs.

Now the maimed ewe is to have a new home at a sanctuary near the farm in Monmouthshire, South Wales, where she gave birth to her lambs. 

Rosie Humphreys, the ewe's owner, said yesterday: 'I will let her go there when her two lambs are weaned in a few weeks' time.

'I am sure she will be happy. We have another older ewe who is in good health but was also partially blinded by a crow which we will send along with her for company.'

Mirella the ewe (foreground) was blinded by crows in a savage attack while she was labour

The three-year-old Monmouthshire ewe was discovered by Rosie early in the spring. The poor creature was wandering, newborn lambs by her side, with blood streaming from both her empty eye sockets.

She had been unable to run away when, during labour, a crow swept down and attacked her.

At first, she was kept in a pen and hand-fed with her twins by Rosie and farmer husband, Henry. Now she is out in the fresh air as the growing lambs help her find her way to and fro across the fields.

She can smell them, feel them nuzzle at her for milk, but, tragically, will never be able to see them.

But behind this heart-warming story is a disturbingly ugly tale of how a government quango, Natural England, earlier this year withdrew at short notice general licences permitting farmers to shoot crows and other predatory birds that harm sheep, birds' nests and crops.

For decades, under the licence system, farmers had been free to shoot 16 species of bird if they caused harm to livestock or crops. But the system was scrapped without consultation and with only 36 hours' notice — right in the middle of the lambing season.

Initially, no alternative arangements were put in place and concerned farmers were left feeling powerless to protect their livestock or fields. With their licences revoked — the result of a legal challenge by Wild Justice, a pressure group led by Mr Packham — they faced punishment of up to six months' imprisonment if they defied the rule change.

Since the row, some of the licences have been reinstated with strict rules on how farmers must use them.

But Wild Justice maintains that this does not go far enough, and is challenging aspects of one of these new licences to control crows, just like the one that pecked out Mirella's eyes. Mark Avery, director of the lobby group, claims the new rules don't 'justify widespread unmonitored, unlimited, control of carrion crows to protect livestock' by farmers or landowners.

Meanwhile, a consultation over the entire licensing process has now been ordered by the Government's Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which, following the debacle, has taken over control for it from Natural England.

Graham McLeod, 64, who farms in north Devon, has said farmers are being treated as potential criminals. Last year, he shot or trapped 37 crows and 24 magpies that were endangering his 600 lambing ewes. One lamb had its tongue pecked out, while another was disembowelled. Both were alive when he found them.

Highlighting the red tape swamping the new licences, Mr McLeod said some farmers had applied for them in order to shoot predatory birds and protect lambs and sheep but had heard nothing back from DEFRA for weeks.

At a recent parliamentary inquiry into the licences debacle, Somerset MP and former sheep farmer Neil Parish, said he would be prepared to break the current licensing rules and shoot a crow on animal welfare grounds if it attacked his lambs. Farming, he added, was not a 'game in the park'.

He told the Mail afterwards: 'I have seen crows peck a lamb to death. They have very few natural predators, breed easily and are hungry and aggressive. If such pest birds are not controlled, they also destroy crops and the habitats of songbirds.'

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