Record visitor numbers taking toll on Scotland’s historic sites

Edinburgh Castle - as well as Skara Brae and  Doune Castle - has seen visitor numbers increase over the past year. Picture: Jon Savage
Edinburgh Castle - as well as Skara Brae and Doune Castle - has seen visitor numbers increase over the past year. Picture: Jon Savage
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Historic sites around Scotland have enjoyed a record breaking year for visitors, with more than 5 million people paying to access the nation’s castles, palaces and other attractions for the first time.

In its annual report, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said the figures for 2017/18 marked a 17 per cent increase on the previous year, when 4.3 million people accessed its 76 paid-for attractions.

Although it said the increase in footfall should be celebrated, it also warned this was leading to more “wear and tear” and rolling maintenance having to be carried out.

The body is responsible for managing a total of 336 properties around Scotland, including tourist sites such as Edinburgh Castle and Skara Brae in Orkney.

Over the course of the year more than £50m was collected in ticket receipts from the 76 attractions, an increase of £8.5m compared to 2016/17.

Edinburgh Castle was by far the most lucrative site, generating £14.7m from its more than 2 million visitors, an increase of 15 per cent on the number who came the previous year.

Stirling Castle was the second most popular attraction, raising £3.7m from 574,000 visitors. Doune Castle visitor figures were also up 36 per cent year on year, a spike which has been put down to its appearance in the TV series Outlander.

More people are also paying to become members of HES, with the total number standing at 194,000, an increase of 22,000 on last year. Membership fees netted the body £4.2m.

However, the report warned there were “consequences” of relentlessly rising ticket sales and said it was closely monitoring the situation. “While these numbers are to be celebrated, one of our most significant challenges is that of balancing immediate visitor access and a high quality visitor experience with conservation for the long term,” it said.

“We need to be aware of the effect that our growing visitor numbers have on the fabric of our buildings, and the ‘wear and tear’ that results from this success.”

It added that a timed ticketing system had been introduced at Edinburgh Castle for online purchases to “alleviate congestion”.

HES is also working with a Scottish technology firm to count the number of visitors at its unstaffed and more remote sites, in case similar measures need to be taken.

HES chair Jane Ryder said the past year had seen “significant increases” in the income generated for Scotland’s economy through its historic sites, with another push planned for this year.

“We have worked hard to make sure that heritage is relevant to everyone who lives in or visits Scotland,” she added, highlighting a recent scheme to allow young people entry to around half of the organisation’s paid-for attractions for just £1. The promotion was launched in February to mark 2018 being the Year of Young People.