A NEW battle is being fought at Bannockburn exactly 700 years after Robert the Bruce famously won independence for Scotland.
But instead of freedom, eco warriors are now fighting to prevent the destruction of endangered wildlife, ancient trees and a historically important Iron Age fort.
Campaigners will today march in the footsteps of the “sma’ folk” who helped Bruce to victory as part of a modern protest against quarrying on a landmark hill overlooking the 1314 battlefield.
Gillies Hill is where the Scottish king and his followers set up camp before the battle against Edward II. His servants, or ghillies, rushed from there to swing the battle in Scotland’s favour.
Now the site is a haven for wildlife, including threatened species such as red squirrels, pine martens and peregrine falcons, and home to 150-year-old Scots pines and Californian sequoias.
It is also a magnet for walkers, runners, bikers, historians and nature-lovers, with more than 30,000 visitors each year.
But all this will disappear if new proposals for quarrying go ahead, campaigners fear.
“There is an awful irony that, in the year of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a site that played such a crucial role in that conflict now finds itself in a battle all of its own,” said local crime writer and campaigner Craig Robertson, who will join the march and speak at today’s event.
A large part of the hill has already been cut away during past excavations, but protesters say it is time to safeguard what is left.
The row began when a 60-year permit for quarrying at the Murrayshall site on the hill was granted in 1982, but work had ceased by 1996.
When a new proposal for a larger-scale operation was outlined in 2007, huge opposition sparked the formation of the Save Gillies Hill campaign.
Extraction work was suspended by Stirling Council two years ago after the operator failed to provide a proper environmental impact assessment and restoration plan.
Now a new proposal has put the hill and the village of Cambusbarron in danger again.
Patersons Quarries last month presented plans to the community with a view to seeking permission later this year.
Peter Paterson, a founder of Save Gillies Hill and chair of Cambusbarron Community Council, said: “The hill has never been more threatened. New plans will see even more of the historic and beautiful Gillies Hill destroyed, and with it wildlife and trees that are highly visible from miles around.”
The protesters say quarrying will destroy an “irreplaceable” landscape, and there are also fears over the impact of 130 juggernauts passing through the village every day.
“The environmental and social impact on Gillies Hill and Cambusbarron will be horrendous,” said Robertson.
“The damage to the hill and the wildlife that inhabits the area will be irreparable, but the effect on daily life in the village will be equally damaging.”
Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford has been working with campaigners for the past seven years. He said there was a “moral obligation” to halt digging and protect the site.
“In the year we mark 700 years since the Battle of Bannockburn, the very hill from which the sma’ folk charged to turn the tide of the battle and win the day faces obliteration,” he said. “This simply must not be allowed to happen.
Patersons Quarries refused to comment.