A Cumbrian shepherdess is fighting to save a rare, and very cute, miniature sheep breed from extinction. 

Fourth generation shepherdess, Heidi Bell, 52, from Kirkby Stephen has been breeding Olde English Babydoll Southdowns for the past five years. 

Located on 12 acres with an orchard in the Eden Valley, the small holding is just one of just a handful of NABSSAR (North American Babydoll Southdown Sheep Association) registered Babydoll Southdown breeders in Britain.

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The miniature 18-22 inch sized sheep were re-introduced in the UK just over 20 years ago and there are less than 400 registered Babydoll sheep in the whole of Europe.

Unlike other miniature breeds, the Babydoll’s haven’t been bred to be smaller but are actually the original ancient breed of Southdown sheep.

The mum-of-two came upon them out of necessity after the 'miniature teddy bear' Olde English Babydolls were recommended on an American website for keeping the grass down in orchards.

The Mail: Babydoll start smiles for the camera"I felt an instant emotional connection to them," Heidi said. "They each have their own little personalities and they love human interaction but you have to build that trust with them.

"In the same way that you have to earn a cat's affection, they're very similar in that they'll come over for cuddles and belly rubs when they want.

"They're quite timid and unlike the likes of goats that will just bound at you, if a stranger were to walk across a field towards them they would run a mile - so it's actually quite a compliment for me to walk amongst them and to be ignored!

"They're not like any other pet or animal however, you spend time with them and you realise they're their own unique breed."

The Mail: Heidi with Star and her daisy chainHeidi comes from a long line of shepherds, with the exception of her mum who become a restauranteur, and have links to Ulverston.

The miniature sheep were her way of coming back to her family's tradition and she is now one of only eight breeders across the UK to keep accurate bloodlines of the miniature sheep.

Heidi is now dedicated to building up their numbers after they came extinct in Britain after WWII.

She sells the Babydoll sheep as pets under very stringent checks and has built up somewhat of a community offering advice and guidance to owners.

She has managed to create a strong social media presence too utilising her profession as a designer and photographer. 

The BabydollSheepUK Instagram now has well over 20k followers.

The Mail: Star at two months old"We really want to build awareness of this incredibly rare breed," said Heidi. "And in turn, increase the numbers back to a sustainable level by nurturing new mini flocks across the UK.

"Babydolls make wonderful pets and are incredibly entertaining however there is a lot to be considered before taking ownership of them.

"One sheep is a sad sheep! And they need live in mini flocks.

"Although being small is an advantage, the Babydoll sheep need a lot of space - a garden would not be suitable.

The Mail: Heidi with Star and her daisy chain"They are ideal for anyone who a spare handful of acres, an orchard, or a vineyard.

"They require a lot of care and like any outdoor animals their hooves need looking after and regular maintenance.

"Despite being miniature they are very hardy and the only time they seek shelter is in a combination of both strong wind and heavy rain.

"Last but not least, they need to human interaction and I promise anyone if you invest them they will reward you as they are such wonderful animals."

To find out more about Heidi's Babydoll Sheep, visit the website