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Monks upset at shooting range plan

By Donald Turvill
Annan and Eskdale
Monks upset at shooting range plan

PLANS for a shooting range to be built less than two miles away from an Eskdalemuir monastery have sparked a backlash locally.

The new proposals, lodged with the council’s planning department by Eskdalemuir Forestry Limited, are seeking a change of use of agricultural land at Clerkhill near Langholm to form a target shooting range, training centre and car park.

If approved, it could become a new training ground for US soldiers and host long-distance shooting competitors from all over the world.

But it would lie just 1.8 miles from the tranquil Kagyu Samye Ling, a monastery and international Buddhist training centre where Tibetan philosophy and world peace are at the forefront of teachings and ethos.

And now its community of more than 60, made up of monks, volunteers and lay workers, face having their sacred surroundings disrupted by what Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, Samye Ling’s Abbot, called “deeply upsetting” gunfire.

“I like to live in harmony with the good people in this region and feel very grateful to live in such a beautiful, peaceful place,” he said in a statement, adding that there’s been “more and more shooting” heard near the temple in recent years.

“Almost everyone in the whole valley around Samye Ling is Buddhist,” he said, “and for a Buddhist it is absolutely unthinkable to kill. So to hear a lot of loud gun shots is deeply upsetting for them all.”

Correspondence submitted alongside the plans imply that the two kilometre-long range would not be short of business: George Birrell, director of Eskdalemuir Forestry, said in a letter to the council that the site has been provisionally awarded the world long distance shooting competition, and that the US Air Force has shown an interest in training its special forces unit at the site.

Furthermore, it is the second application submitted to the local authority in the last year seeking permission to establish a firing range near the monastery. Over Cassock Farm, situated 4.2 miles north of Samye Ling, is also proposing to set up a gun range, with land owners having submitted a proposal to Dumfries and Galloway Council last year.

The Abbot added: “We really want to ask the authorities not to let these firing ranges be so close to our monastery and to move them somewhere else.”

Another objection from a neighbouring Mid-Raeburn resident highlighted that shooting was heard on the farmland “several times a week” between July and November last year, adding that “shotguns and also machine guns” could be heard again more recently.

They added: “This is incredibly disruptive to me and my partner’s wellbeing. I have already made a complaint to the police regarding a potential breach of the peace and of Covid lockdown restrictions today.”

The Eskdalemuir-based Mindfulness Association CIC, which organises retreats to Samye Ling, stressed in their objection letter that the tranquility of the area would be “destroyed” if planning is approved at Over Cassock.

“A firing range is incompatible with the activities and philosophy of Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre,” it added. “Their activities are peaceful, therapeutic, meditative and mindful, which provides the perfect environment to support students in their meditation practice.”

It is expected that the applications will be referred to councillors for a decision.

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