THE BBC has pulled the plug on the Balmoral road races, the blue riband event that attracted the world's top athletes to the Queen's back garden.

After seven years the corporation has decided it is time to move the races to a different venue. The future of the Great Caledonian Run, a mass participation 10K held during the same programme, is also uncertain.

Since the inaugural event in 1998, Scottish Enterprise Grampian (SEG) has provided (pounds) 750,000 support for the event to promote the north-east as a tourist destination. It has also stopped the funding.

The combination of the royal castle, the backdrop of the Scottish mountains and world class athletes ensured international coverage.

Despite the lack of support, the Balmoral estate said yesterday it was very keen to keep the event going in some form.

Peter Ord, the estate factor, said: ''It is a pity that the BBC have pulled out but understandable. They want to move on. I think it is an even greater pity that Scottish Enterprise Grampian have decided to stop funding it because it is an excellent event in Grampian region.''

The royal family decided to open the estate to television cameras for the first time to boost tourism in the area. Heavy snow threatened the first event in 1998, but the young princes William and Harry appeared and built a snowman on the lawn, providing Grandstand footage that was broadcast world-wide.

Paula Radcliffe then went on to set a world five-mile best time, chased by Liz McColgan and Yvonne Murray. In the last event in May, Kelly Holmes and Michael East prepared for the Olympics with victories in mile races against some of the best runners in the world staged to commemorate the Roger Bannister four-minute mile.

The Balmoral events, organised by Nova International, attracted several thousand spectators to the castle and up to three million television viewers, but the BBC has decided it is time for a change.

David Hart, the marketing director, said the decision was partly because seven years in one venue for that kind of event was an extremely long time. ''We want to keep the event moving around the country.''

He added: The quality of the athletes who have been there - Paula Radcliffe, Sonia O'Sullivan, Paul Tergat - is like a who's who of distance running, but unfortunately all good things come to an end and this particular event will no longer be at Balmoral.''

He said the future of the Great Caledonian Run, which was originally held in Edinburgh, was under discussion and could be held at a different location.

A spokeswoman for SEG said they had been pleased to support the Balmoral road races as the TV coverage helped showcase the region as a tourist destination.

''However, it was always the expectation that after the initial years the event would find sponsorship which would enable it to stand alone,'' she said. ''This did not happen, with SEG having provided sponsorship for seven years.''