HUNDREDS of Scotland’s ancient monuments are to be stripped of their protected status in a controversial move by the Executive.
Almost 800 archaeological sites considered until now to be of national importance will be dropped from Historic Scotland’s official schedule.
The change follows a decision by the Executive to restrict protection to monuments which meet new criteria of "cultural significance" and "spiritual value".
Critics have attacked the move, accusing the Executive of "betraying Scotland’s heritage" and clearing the way for developers to build on protected sites.
Scotland has a host of significant archaeological treasures, including locations dating from prehistoric times.
The change of classification will put the future of many of Scotland’s 7,700 ancient forts, carved crosses, standing stones, cairns, war memorials and prehistoric settlements under threat.
Jamie McGrigor MSP, the Conservative culture spokesman said: "These reminders of Scotland’s past are vital for our tourism industry and it’s very important that they are preserved for future generations. We have an extraordinary heritage which is a treasure trove we ignore at our peril."
Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the SNP culture spokeswoman, said: "I find it hard to believe that something considered 20 years ago to be a historic monument of national importance should no longer be considered worthy of protection."
Robin Harper, the leader of the Scottish Green Party said: "This is an appalling betrayal of a significant proportion of Scotland’s heritage. It’s a gift to the developers who want to build on sites which, on reflection, would be better saved for the nation.
"Scheduling is a vital tool to protect lesser-known archaeological sites, some of which might be a few stones sticking out of the ground, but all of which are of national importance."
Officials at Historic Scotland were unable to say which monuments and archaeological sites would be affected by the changes, claiming decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.
An Executive consultation report revealed that the revised criteria would be applied to every monument currently scheduled, as well as all new finds.
It said: "Over time this will sift out monuments that can no longer be justified as being of national importance.
"It could be argued that some monuments at present on the schedule are not of sufficient importance to merit the very strong presumption against development that scheduled status now provides."
Future preservation of the de-scheduled monuments will be left to council planning departments and landowners will have to depend on agriculture and forestry grant schemes for any preservation work.