The United States Air Force has suspended all its training events at a rifle range near to western Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in Dumfries and Galloway.
Tibetan monks at the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery have been fighting a planning application for the shooting range that would see military-grade weapons firing 50-calibre rounds 2000 metres from their retreat.
But after being notified of the feeling in the local community, with a petition calling for a public consultation receiving over 20,000 signatures, all future US Airforce exercises at Clerkhill farm have been put on hold.
Captain Kevyn Kaler, spokeswoman for the 352nd Special Operations Wing, told American military newspaper Stars and Stripes that the Air Force had used the range for “multiple events within the past seven months” but was “unaware of concerns from the local community”.
In an email, she said:“We regret the disturbance that this has caused.
“We have suspended all training events at this area as a result.”
Kagyu Samye Ling’s Abbot secretary Ani Lhamo told STV News: “This is unexpected but very welcome news for us.”
Samye Ling has welcomed visitors and pilgrims to meditate for more than 50 years, including David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Billy Connolly.
There are also fears that veterans who visit the retreat as part of treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) will be traumatised by the sound of gunfire.
‘We hope safety and common sense prevails and planning permission is not granted for these exceptional private untested shooting ranges of a type previously unkown in Scotland.’Nicholas Jennings, chairman of Eskdalemuir Community Council
A planning application for a shooting range submitted to Dumfries and Galloway Council would see forestry land near Eskdalemuir village host gun enthusiasts and firearm training for professionals firing 50-calibre rounds.
The application included a confirmation of inspection of the range by the US Air Force as a means of proving the viability of the site as a training ground for military and law enforcement bodies.
Clerkhill Farm, where the shooting range is, and operators Gardners Guns Ltd, are hopeful that their proposals will bring benefits to the local economy but the local community council disagrees.
Nicholas Jennings, chairman of Eskdalemuir Community Council, said: “We are heartened that USAF special forces showed respect to our remote peace loving community and our Buddhist neighbours.
“We’re grateful that USAF understand where we are at as a community. There are Ministry of Defense ranges close by that can accommodate those who wish to participate on this unusual activity.
“We hope safety and common sense prevails and planning permission is not granted for these exceptional private untested shooting ranges of a type previously unkown in Scotland.”
Clerkhill Farm and Gardners Guns Ltd were approached for comment but have yet to respond.
They previously issued a joint statement stating: “The design of the range at Clerkhill is to the highest specifications for safety and has all the relevant certification for approval for use as a rifle range, input into the design of the range has also been sought from several national organisations such as Police Scotland.
“The range site is sited well within the boundaries of the farm and lies some 1.2km from the nearest neighbouring buildings and some 2.1km from the Samye Ling Buddhist Centre.
“The range site is completely fenced off and when in operation all accesses to the site are controlled. In addition we would be happy to carry out noise monitoring around the range when it is in operation. The range would be operated within normal working hours.
“We estimate that the range would generate in excess of £500,000 for the local economy from the onset and a much needed economic boost for towns such as Langholm where, new locally based jobs would be much welcomed.”