National Trust to hand over control of its sites

NTS has been criticised over handling of Bannockburn site. Picture: John Devlin

NTS has been criticised over handling of Bannockburn site. Picture: John Devlin

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Scotland’s biggest conservation charity is set to take on more of a campaigning role and hand over the running of many of its sites across the country.

Almost 90 per cent of members of the National Trust for Scotland, which looks after many of the nation’s best-known historic sites and landmarks, want it to have a much bigger voice.

Their call for the charity – which does not rely on public funding – to become a more active advocate for the heritage sector has emerged after claims about a lack of protection from development for historic battlefield sites at Bannockburn and Culloden, and concerns over a shake-up of government agency Historic Scotland.

NTS chiefs ordered a major review into the future of the 83-year-old organisation earlier this year after revealing it needed to raise an extra £50 million over the next decade to keep its current estate up to scratch.

At the time, chief executive Kate Mavor said NTS – which boasts a record 320,000 members – needed help to look after its assets, which include mansions, ancient monuments, castles, mountains, parks and gardens, nature reserves and islands.

Flagship sites include the isles of Iona, Staffa, Canna and St Kilda; the battlefields at Bannockburn and Culloden; Culzean Castle, Ayrshire; Falkland Palace, Fife; Brodick Castle, Arran; and Newhailes mansion, East Lothian.

The results of the poll – released for its annual general meeting today – will help shape a new long-term strategy to take effect within two years.

The membership poll has backed the idea of local communities, trusts and independent organisations taking over properties, attractions, sites and wilderness areas, as well as forging new partnerships.

However, a change in legislation may be needed if the trust wants to dispose of sites it currently has a legal obligation to maintain for the nation.

Some 45 per cent of those polled said the trust should be able to transfer its properties, compared to 37 per cent against.

There was some support for the charity merging with other heritage bodies, with just 13 per cent strongly against.

Almost three-quarters were against NTS reducing the number of properties it looks after to a “core” of the most historically significant. But most called for NTS to take much more of a “partnership approach” in future.

Almost three-quarters said they would support moves to take collections and artefacts held by the NTS on tour.

Last month, Ms Mavor said: “We are independent and some people think we should use the freedom we have to intervene more often where things are clearly taking place against the best interests of Scotland’s treasured places.”

Pete Selman, director of strategic development at NTS, said the survey findings would be a “starting point”. “Nearly 1,000 of our members took part in the survey, which is a very big response, and they have told us loudly and clearly that they want us to have a bigger voice.”

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