Lorries ruin Buddhists? haven

by CALUM MACDONALD, February 24 2006

Eskdale Valley, Scotland -- Silence is saffron in the Borders but recent developments would try the patience of a saint or, in this case, a Buddhist monk. The tranquillity of a little Tibetan corner of Scotland is being rudely shattered by a seemingly endless stream of thundering lorries.

The Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery was conceived as a harmonious retreat, a haven where people could escape the hustle and bustle and concentrate on matters spiritual. Nestled in the sleepy Eskdale valley, it has provided sanctuary and solitude for many a searching soul since it was established almost 40 years ago.

But even in a spot like this, where shaven-headed monks and nuns in saffron robes quietly contemplate the great mysteries of existence and offer up devotional prayers, peace and quiet are no longer guaranteed.

Ironically, it is the trees that are the source of trouble for this, Scotland's oldest Tibetan Buddhist community.

Or, more specifically, the hulking lorries that career along the country roads transporting timber from the neighbouring forestry plantations.

Samye Ling, one mile from Eskdalemuir in Dumfriesshire, is almost surrounded by huge swathes of commercial forestry. Every day a stream of timber lorries trundle through the town on the B709, causing distress, upset and the odd headache.

There has been a recent spate of accidents, but the traffic is forecast to double over the next five to 10 years when the timber harvest in Scotland is due to peak.

Almost three months ago a truck crashed into a prayer room next to Samye Ling's giant stupa, a Buddhist shrine, causing tens of thousands of pounds of damage.

Debris was scattered over the surrounding Peace Garden and the driver had to be cut free from the wreckage. It has been enough to turn the normally sedate and pacifist Buddhists of Samye Ling into militants.

Their concerns mirror those of many communities in Scotland situated next to large forestry plantations: noise pollution, inadequate roads for the volume of traffic, vehicles travelling too fast, spilled loads and frequent accidents.

Marian Dreyfus, a resident of Samye Ling, said: "For two years I have been writing to all sorts of people, including councillors, MPs, MSPs and the logging companies, trying to highlight this problem. We were given all sorts of assurances, but nothing has been done.

"In the spring of 2004 a lorry ploughed into a house in Eskdalemuir. It's a miracle no-one was killed.

"The noise from the traffic is thunderous, it can start as early as 4.30am and houses in Eskdalemuir shake as the lorries pass by. We have no wish to damage the livelihood of anyone, we are just looking for a little co-operation."

Just two weeks ago a villager from Eskdalemuir had her car written off when a timber lorry struck it on the narrow B709. Dr Elaine Murray, the Labour MSP for Dumfries, said: "There is Scottish Executive money available for the development of routes for timber traffic, and I believe the council is putting together a bid for some of that."

Dumfries and Galloway council knows it must address the problem now before the traffic level escalates.

Alistair Speedie, group manager for strategic planning and transportation at the council, said: "The council is working with the forestry industry to try and manage the transport and sustain the road network through use of an agreed routes map."

A spokeswoman for UPM Tilhill, which owns one of the commercial forests in the valley, said: "We are aware of the concerns surrounding traffic on the road through Eskdalemuir.

"However, we are part of the group putting in a bid for funding in order to improve the situation in that area and there may be progress very soon."

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "The executive operates various grant schemes to encourage transfer of freight from road to rail and water.

"The most recent was an award of a grant to JST Rail in Dumfries and Galloway. This project will remove more than 500,000 lorry miles from Scotland's roads each year."