Historic Culzean loses country park status as council cuts £150k funds

Scotland’s first country park is set to lose its historic status as well as being stripped of nearly £150,000 in annual funding.

Culzean Castle and Country Park, one of Scotland’s leading tourism destinations, will no longer be classed among the country’s dozens of country parks as of next autumn.

The attraction, one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) property portfolio, received the designation two years after the introduction of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967.

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But after half a century, the Robert Adam-designed 18th century castle and estate is set to lose its status after South Ayrshire Council decided to axe its £148,500 yearly funding tranche for Culzean.

Culzean Castle overlooks the Firth of Clyde on the Ayrshire coast. It welcomed 382,608 visitors last year.Culzean Castle overlooks the Firth of Clyde on the Ayrshire coast. It welcomed 382,608 visitors last year.
Culzean Castle overlooks the Firth of Clyde on the Ayrshire coast. It welcomed 382,608 visitors last year.

The local authority said it was not an “easy decision” to make, but the NTS, which has made significant investments at Culzean in recent years, stressed that visitors will not see “any difference” despite the loss of the six-figure sum.

The move follows extensive discussions between both parties over the past several months regarding the future of their decades-long relationship.

The council has already pared back its funding of Culzean in recent years. As recently as 2013, it contributed more than £213,000 a year.

But even with the amount having been reduced, council officials questioned whether the outlay was delivering “value for money”, while wrestling with the potential impact axing the funding would have on the park’s staffing levels as well as Culzean’s wider “tourism impact”.

In recent years, the money has gone towards footing the costs of the park’s rangers, as well as youth employment placements, educational outreach events and community allotments.

According to documents compiled by the council, its funding of Culzean will come to an end today, while its long-standing minute of agreement with the trust will be terminated on 31 October next year, at which point Culzean will no longer enjoy country park status.

The designation, which dates back to December 1969, was originally approved by the former Ayr County Council and Kilmarnock Town Council.

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According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Culzean welcomed 382,608 visitors in 2018, a 56 per cent increase on the 244,930 people who went to the attraction during the previous year.

The NTS has spent close to £3 million upgrading Culzean over the past three years, a catalogue of work which has included expanding its network of trails, installing play parks for children, and reinstating swaths of the 260 hectare estate’s historic landscape.

Stuart Maxwell, the NTS general manager for Ayrshire and Arran, said Culzean was well placed to weather the loss of its country park status and the council funding.

“Visitors to Culzean won’t see any difference as a result of this decision,” he said. “Our charity will continue to care for this special place to the same high standard and give the same warm Ayrshire welcome.

“We do understand that budgets are tight and difficult decisions are having to be made at the moment – we’re a charity and have limited resources ourselves.

“We’ll continue to work with the council closely to make sure that everyone who visits has a great experience and wants to come back again and again.”

He added that together with the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum – another NTS property – Culzean brings a “significant number of visitors” to Ayrshire, as well as providing employment.

A spokesman for the local authority said: “Cutting any funding is never an easy decision, but we have to be realistic about the financial challenges we have when working to balance the budget, and our focus has been on protecting the frontline services that people need the most. We will continue to work with NTS to deliver an exciting programme of events and activities that will help achieve our ambitions to establish South Ayrshire as a ‘must visit’ destination that supports a strong and robust economy.

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“We are currently working with NTS to bring the current memorandum of agreement to an end and progress an understanding of our future relationship. The terms of the current agreement mean that consideration of country park status is for NTS alone to decide.”