“Change is possible for every single one of us,” says a quote on the Facebook page of Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, abbot of Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery in Eskdalemuir. The compound has been there since the 1960s, just before the CIA stopped backing the Dalai Lama and America’s China strategy turned to ping-pong diplomacy.
In an interview with Scotland’s Sunday Post in 2020, Lama Yeshe tells of dodging Chinese bullets while fleeing Tibet through the Himalayas to India on his way to the West. Now he complains his Borders home is under threat.
“I will do anything to request and persuade these people not to bring firing ranges and shoot animals close to Samye Ling,” he writes on Facebook. “Samye Ling is a safe sanctuary for wildlife, so the firing ranges and bird shoots affect many small animals and little birds.”
Lama Yeshe is talking about Clerkhill rifle range, set up by local gunshop owner Marc Gardner on farmland in a neighbouring valley.
Marc may not know the exact effect his 2km-long rifle range has on small animals and birds at the monastery, but he does know about the cows and sheep grazing on the valley’s slopes as bullets fly nearby: “They’re not bothered one bit about the noise.”
Pheasants are a different matter.
“When we came here there were no birds of prey as such. Maybe the odd buzzard,” says Marc, “We have everything on this site now: there are buzzards, we have goshawks, sparrowhawks and – the first time in four years – we’ve got a red kite. So, when they talk about management of the area, there’s no better management than pheasant shooting and gameshooting.
“We look after the countryside. We keep telling these people this, but all these complaints are saying we spoil the countryside – we spoil it for everybody – it’s just a load of waffle.”
The complaints started coming in after Lama Yeshe called on his supporters to bombard Dumfries & Galloway planning department with emails objecting to Marc changing land use on tiny sections of the farm needed for the rifle range. The Buddhists’ Facebook post makes it sound like a major development.
The call-to-action claims that “high-velocity shooting ranges would destroy the peace of the environment, cause distress and detrimentally affect the activities and health of residents, visitors and wildlife”.
Marc brought in sound professionals to test the Buddhists’ claims. Over a day, the engineers recorded the noise of the range from next to the monastery. They heard next to nothing, as this film shows:
I spent 30 minutes of a sunny, breeze-free day at the monastery while guns were fired at the range and didn’t hear a single shot. What were loud and clear were lorries travelling to a lumberyard to pick up timber. So noisy are the vehicles, Lama Yeshe moans about them in another Facebook post, although insists he’s not complaining: “When I first arrived here, there was no forestry but since then there has been extensive commercial planting all around our valley. Logging trucks travel along local roads at all times of day, even during the night. Our monastery sometimes almost shakes with the noise as several of them go by, often in the early hours of the morning. But we have never complained about it.”
The response to the monastery’s plea for help has been strong, with a Scottish MP joining the cause. It’s worrying for Marc, who has spent three years planning and building a world-class range. He’s got the support of the police from several UK constabularies and Home Office approval, but it may not be enough to convince the council to approve the land change requests.
“We’re proud of what we’ve got here,” says Marc. “Then you’ve got people who know nothing about it dictating to you, people who are anti-gun, anti-shooting, who don’t want us here at all. They don’t want anybody here at all.”
In the small window still left before the planning department makes it’s decision, there’s still time for Lama Yeshe to change his mind.
For more about Gardners Guns, visit GardnersGuns.co.uk