When the shots begin it is like thunder, the monks and nuns explain, and the sound reverberates in the valley. During hunting season, it is not unusual for bird victims to land on the grounds of Samye Ling, the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Western Europe. Domesticated ducks that have sought refuge from hunters now stroll and strut among the golden statues, and peck at the brick-red robes of the monks.
This secluded spiritual community now finds itself in a confused position, side by side with the local Eskdalemuir community against the development of shooting ranges that threaten their “pocket of peace”.
The bitter dispute has culminated in a petition to the Scottish Parliament, calling for legislation to create a five-mile exclusion zone to protect all rural places of spiritual importance from artillery and firearms.
“These are not Buddhists against guns,” insists Ani (sister) Sonam, spokesperson for Samye Ling. “We are not trying to stop people from running their businesses, we just ask that some respect be shown to places of worship or spiritual significance. Do we want to protect these places of peace for future generations? “
Located in a green valley on the banks of the River Esk, the Kagye Samye Ling Monastery was founded in 1967 and was the first Tibetan Buddhist center established in the west. Over the decades, the monastery has developed strong connections both locally and internationally, becoming a haven for those seeking tranquility.
Before the closure of the coronavirus, it regularly hosted schoolchildren’s coach parties, in addition to offering meditation, art and yoga courses. David Bowie reportedly considered joining the community in the late 1960s, but took the advice of a Tibetan monk to focus on music.
“For 20 years we have had tens of thousands of visitors,” says Ani Sonam, “tourists, people who come to see our way of life, veterans suffering from PTSD looking for a breather. It is a really peaceful and quiet place and they leave with that in their hearts. But having gunshots echoing across the valley is destructive. People are very supportive of maintaining this pocket of peace. “
The initial controversy concerns two planning applications submitted by nearby farms to develop commercial firing ranges, which included use as 50-caliber high-velocity rifle ranges, targeting targets up to two miles apart. Cumbria-based Gardners Guns, which advertises the Esk Valley as “one of nature’s most perfected shooting ranges,” wanted to expand its business at Clerkhill Farm, two miles from the monastery. At the Over Cassock farm, about four miles from the monastery, the land owner and the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association submitted plans to add a permanent building.
Gardners Guns insists that noise level tests have been carried out, while FCSA told The Guardian that its plans are fully compliant with regulations and that “the range cannot be seen or heard by any of the objectors. “.
The original proposals were rejected by the Dumfries and Galloway council for administrative reasons, and applicants were asked to resubmit the plans as major developments, which will require public consultation, and this process has already begun.
Nicholas Jennings, president of the Eskdalemuir community council, says local concerns about noise have increased. “People feel protective of the monastery, but also of the valley itself. There has always been an acceptance of shooting in the field, but it has grown exponentially in recent years as the shooting game and rifle range have expanded. “
He explains that there was a protest in February when the US Air Force used one of the firing ranges for a training exercise, resulting in sustained firing of machine guns and rifles. Since then, the air force has suspended operations after it learned of local concerns.
“People have found this to be a place of peace since the 1960s, not just in Samye Ling but around local walking and cycling routes. How do you balance our wonderful right to roam with the use of weapons with a two-mile range? Jennings asks.
The Eskdalemuir community hopes that a public consultation will demonstrate the strength of sentiment against disrupting the valley and that the accompanying Holyrood petition will attract broader support for their cause.
One of the signatories to the petition is musician and activist Annie Lennox, a longtime supporter of the monastery, who told The Guardian she was happy to add her name. “What a strange situation here: a peaceful retirement center threatened by the interests of a gun club. In a way it sums up the irony of the times we live in. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism