A REMOTE farm in the Scottish Borders is to become one of the world's leading birds of prey breeding and training centres for the Qatar royal family.
Planners have given the go-ahead for the development by Sheikh Ali Bin Abdulla Athani at Weensmuir Farm, near Bonchester Bridge, Roxburghshire.
He anticipates members of the Qatar royal family along with other high-ranking dignitaries flying in four times a year to select hawks and falcons for purchase.
Around 40 high-value birds at a time will be bred and trained at the 48-acre centre for regular export to the Arabian peninsula.
Scottish Borders Council has approved plans for the commercial enterprise, which will result in the current farmhouse almost doubling in size along with the conversion of a stable block for staff accommodation, the creation of a pond and the erection of vast hacking pens.
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."
Concerns had been raised by local people about the proposal, with 16 letters of objection being tabled with Scottish Borders Council.
Fears were expressed about hawks escaping and attacking wildlife and chickens on a nearby poultry farm.
Other worries about road safety and over-development were also submitted.
However, the Weensmuir Farmhouse proposals won favour with planning officials and councillors.
Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne told Monday's 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."
Falcons were originally used by Bedouins for centuries to hunt game.
In Qatar today the tradition of falconry remains a major sporting activity during the hunting season from October to March.
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 raptor 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."