SHE towers over breathtaking Hebridean scenery, serene and powerful, carved from silvery granite, gently cradling the infant Jesus in her loving arms while his hand is raised in silent blessing.

From her lofty vantage point on the west side of Reuval on the north-west edge of South Uist, Our Lady of the Isles has a view of flat, fertile machair plain where crofters’ sheep graze, rare corncrake strut and native wildflowers bloom.

While renowned sculptor Hew Lorimer’s 30ft tall statue stares in stony silence towards the Atlantic, her primary focus was not intended to protect those in peril on the sea.

Instead she is carefully positioned between military radar domes and a missile test range station, as a dramatic reminder that South Uist’s delicately balanced way of life would not be dented by even some of the world’s most powerful rockets and bombs.

Sixty years ago this April, just months after the statue had been raised and after years of often fierce wrangling between islanders and the Government over the location of a major military weapons testing range that would have engulfed vast swathes of the island, came victory.

Confronted by rising unrest among islanders upset by the potential loss of land and an army of roadside Madonna statues strategically placed on roads around the proposed test range by a determined priest nicknamed Father Rocket, the Ministry of Defence suddenly scaled down its plans.

The shift heralded the start of a long-running entente cordiale which has seen crofters tend their animals and crops in the shadow of the latest military warfare, seemingly unperturbed by rockets careering over the sandy beaches and the frequent boom of explosives. “It’s just a way of life,” says Fr Michael MacDonald, parish priest at St Michael’s the Archangel at Ardkenneth, built in 1829, and the oldest Catholic Church in the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles in continuous use.

Just outside its doors stands a sandstone model of Lorimer’s statue; tribute to its former priest, the feisty Father Rocket, Canon John Morrison.

“There can be bangs all over the place, but it doesn’t disturb the peace,” insists Fr MacDonald. “People can drive through and not even know it’s there.

“There’s an interesting balance: crofters are politely asked to keep out of the area when firing is going on, and they politely comply. People who work at the range get time off to do their ploughing, and in return the machair, which is very fragile and requires to be managed, is looked after.”

Even recent suggestions that the missile testing range – now operated for the MoD by defence contractor QinetiQ – has just had one of its busiest years does not faze locals living in its shadow.

In fact, according to South Uist SNP councillor Calum MacMillan, it’s good news for around 200 employees who have the Hebrides Range to thank for steady income and jobs.

“Without the range, I think this place would be like St Kilda,” he says. “It’s brought lots of jobs at a time when the value of agriculture was shrinking. In some respects, it helped save the island.”

Not surprisingly, defence bosses are tight-lipped about exactly what goes on, stating that the detail could provide information used to build a picture of the UK’s defence missile capability.

However newly released data is said to show the range has seen a wider variety of missiles launched in the past year than in previous years, including the US Navy’s surface-to-air SM2, SM-3 and SM-6 weapons which can shoot down enemy aircraft or missiles.

Test were also carried out on the American AQM-37C supersonic target drone, capable of travelling 113 miles in just five minutes and reaching speed of Mach Four. US-built rockets, the Terrier Oriole and the Terrier Orion, were also launched from the Hebrides Range last year. It’s suspected they would have played the part of ballistic missiles in war games-style events, to be detected by warship radar equipment and shot down above the Earth’s atmosphere.

While sheep grazed on the machair and crofters tended their crops, the UK military’s Rapier surface-to-air missile underwent tests, along with the Sea Ceptor naval missile defence system, Nato’s Evolved SeaSparrow missile, Europe’s Sea Viper, the ASRAAM and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, and the RAF’s meteor system.

In all, a dozen different types of missile were tested in 2017-18, compared to seven the previous year. “You can see QinetiQ, who run it, getting in lots of business from test-firing new weapons and from allied nations,” says defence analyst and author Tim Ripley.

“It is the only place in Europe where long-range missiles can be fired, so has a competitive advantage.”

The flurry of activity would also appear to confirm the range’s future. After a closure threat in 2009 sparked outcry from locals desperate to keep the jobs, came a £ 1 billion contract between the MoD and QinetiQ to ensure the range would remain operational until at least 2028.

The range stretches along the northwest fringe of South Uist with an airfield at Balivanich on Benbecula and remote radar tracking stations at St Kilda.