South Scotland

Sheikh's Borders falcon centre approved

Falcon
Image caption About 40 birds at a time will be bred and trained at the centre in the Scottish Borders

A remote farm in the Borders is set to become a falcon breeding and training centre for the Qatari royal family.

Planners have given the go-ahead for the development by Sheikh Ali Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani at Weensmuir Farm, near Bonchester Bridge.

He anticipates members of the royal family visiting four times a year to select birds of prey for purchase.

Scottish Borders Council approved the plans with a string of conditions attached to the development.

About 40 high-value falcons at a time will be bred and trained at the centre.

The plans will see the current farmhouse almost double in size along with the conversion of a stable block for staff accommodation, the creation of a pond and the erection of large hack pens where the birds learn to fly.

Permission was given for the erection of breeding pens and storage buildings as well as being able to accommodate guests with an entourage of up to 15 people.

In his application the Sheikh wrote: "The breeding of high quality hawks and training for hunting is a popular pastime in Qatar and the reputation for hawks trained in the UK is excellent - and this proposal aims to take advantage of local expertise.

"The business will depend upon custom from visiting 'high net worth' individuals, many of whom are members of the royal family and dignitaries, and so a high quality, purpose built facility to show off the high quality product being offered is required."

The art of falconry, known also as the sport of kings, is part of the traditional way of life of the Bedouin in the Gulf region.

First used for hunting, a fully-trained, swift and sharp-eyed falcon would bring back prey and be rewarded.

Over the centuries, the reasons for hunting has evolved from necessity to sport and then to status symbol.

Concerns had been raised about the plans in the Borders with 16 letters of objection being tabled.

Fears were expressed about hawks escaping and attacking wildlife and nearby chickens on a poultry farm.

Other worries about road safety and over-development were also raised.

'Spend money'

However, the Weensmuir Farmhouse proposals did win favour with both planning officials and councillors.

Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne told the planning meeting: "I hope the visitors will see the Borders for what it is and keep coming back."

Berwickshire councillor Donald Moffat was also supportive of the scheme.

He said: "The royal visitors who will be coming to visit will hopefully go to other places when they are here and spend some money."

The new bird of prey centre will provide two full-time jobs and three part-time posts.

Architect James Murdie from Alnwick, Northumberland, who submitted the plans on the Sheikh's behalf, said: "The Sheikh is friendly with someone who does a bit of breeding on a supporting farm so he has decided to breed falcons which will supply dignitaries in the Middle East.

"He anticipates a lot of people coming from the Middle East to look at the falcons in training so he needs to provide the accommodation for some very wealthy businessmen."

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