The Ministry of Defence has dramatically withdrawn its bid to extend its biggest UK bombing range at Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on the British mainland.
Its decision follows a fierce public campaign against the proposed expansion, eight months after it was revealed that the MoD was trying to acquire the last remaining part of the Sutherland headland it does not already own.
The ministry’s withdrawal was yesterday hailed a “victory” for the local community, which had opposed the move. It also paves the way for locals to acquire the parcel of land themselves.
Dick Balharry, president of Ramblers Scotland, had recently called on the MoD to abandon its plans to take over the entire peninsula.
The MoD owns most of the headland, home to a Nato bombing range, apart from 58 acres belonging to the Northern Lighthouse Board at Cape Wrath lighthouse.
Negotiations between the two bodies to purchase this last remaining slice of ground were put on hold after the community of Durness registered an interest under land reform legislation.
Highland MSP Rob Gibson revealed the news that the MoD had beaten a retreat.
“They have withdrawn their bid and this is a victory for the campaign mounted by local people,” said Gibson, who is also convener of Holyrood’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee. “I am delighted. The military should never have tried this land grab in the first place.
“I now hope that the local community goes ahead and buys the land and turns it into something that benefits the local area and economy.”
Kevin Crowe, chairman of Durness Community Council, said: “We are also delighted that the military is no longer interested in owning the remaining land at Cape Wrath. I was telephoned by a representative to tell me of the decision. We now look forward to working with the military to ensure continued access.”
The MoD’s original expansion plan had drawn widespread criticism.
Mountaineer and television presenter Cameron McNeish had said: “If Westminster and the MoD get their way then precious jobs will be lost and one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks will become private.
“Closures of the Cape Wrath peninsula would affect walkers completing the Cape Wrath Trail, the newly opened Scottish National Trail and the many hundreds who walk between Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath every year.”
McNeish had also urged: “I would call on everyone who has visited this amazing part of Scotland to oppose the MoD’s plans and support Durness Community Council in its buy-out.”