PARENTS have launched a campaign to save a closure-threatened outdoor education centre on the banks of Loch Lomond.

The campaign was launched after West Dunbartonshire Council decided to shut the Ardlui residential centre at the northern end of the loch as part of wider cost-cutting measures.

The council announced the decision in February, which is expected to save £110,000, as part of a wave of cuts to address a £17m hole in the council's finances over the next three years.

However, the move has provoked a backlash with a Facebook campaign and petition which has attracted 600 signatures.

Critics argue the centre in Argyll and Bute provides pupils with a unique experience where skills which are highly prized such as teamwork and leadership can be honed.

Amongst the activities on off are abseiling, archery, hill walking, mountain biking, orienteering, kayaking and rock climbing.

One contributor to the Facebook campaign Janette Wilson stated: "That's terrible, it's somewhere for the kids to do affordable school trips and have fun."

Another, Janice Shirkie, added: "Such a shame, our youth groups love the centre and we have just used it with 38 young people in January."

Moira Brady, a former headteacher of a primary school in Midlothian which used the centre, said pupils thrived in the outdoor environment.

She said: "This sort of activity takes pupils out of their comfort zone and challenges them in a way that conventional lessons do not.

"The fact this is a residential centre is important because it means pupils are away from home and have to deal with their new surroundings and the challenges they face without their parents."

However, Michelle McGinty, convener of the council's educational services, said: "We know how much fun our P6 and P7 pupils have had at Ardlui so it is sad to have to close the centre.

"The bottom line is that the centre has made big losses every year the council has run it, and due to the reduced funding from the Scottish Government we just can't allow that to continue.

"Unfortunately, the centre offered a specific outdoor experience which wasn't appealing to our younger primary school children and didn't fit with our secondary schools. That meant there wasn't the regular use required to make it work operationally.

"Moving forward we want to encourage our schools to continue to develop how they make use of the outdoors across all aspects of the curriculum."

The budget paper stated: "The administration supports this option. This has proved a costly area for the council in recent years and we believe there are alternative and cheaper ways to ensure our children have access to the appropriate outdoor learning activities."

Ardlui is being marketed by the council for lease to public and private sector organisations.

The petition states: "The decision to close it is short-sighted and only has short term financial benefits for the education department. The council fails to see the long term financial, social and health benefits for the children of West Dunbartonshire.

"The parents, teachers and club leaders and all other beneficiaries of the facility urge our councillors and council officers listen to the residents of this area and save our centre. In addition, the centre should remain under the control of the council and its education employees."

The council revealed that three and half staff posts at the centre will be hit by the closure.