Thousands have signed a petition in an effort to save under-threat National Trust for Scotland jobs and ensure properties reopen to the public.
It is feared around 75% of the charity’s highly-skilled rangers and ecologists are at risk of redundancy.
Campaign group #ForTheLoveOfNature fears that will leave many historic and iconic Scottish sites without day-to-day projection and the year-round care they need.
Its petition calls upon NTS and the Scottish Government to save vital countryside jobs and protect Scotland’s nature.
As venues have been forced to shut amid the coronavirus pandemic, the organisation has predicted a £10 million hole in its finances and said it must consider the positions of 429 employees.
Only five of the NTS’s 54 staffed properties generate more money than is spent on them which means a large proportion, including Haddo House and Fyvie Castle, will not be reopened this and others such as Leith Hall could remain closed until 2022.
The NTS has agreed to reopen the grounds and estate at Leith Hall, near Kennethmont in Aberdeenshire, and it is though the first minister may announce this week that most tourism destinations and businesses can reopen from July 15.
But as the future remains uncertain, approaching 4,000 people had last night signed the petition.
A spokesman for the #ForTheLoveOfNature campaign team said: “As Scotland emerges from lockdown, rural spaces are going to be even more in demand for recreation and these spaces need management.
These reserves matter. Whether it’s a getaway from the city to breathe in mountain air, a chance for the family to spot their first seal pups, or the school trip that led to your wee one’s fascination with creepy-crawlies, the NTS’s reserves are a treasure for everyone to enjoy. All of this is being put at risk.
“Without adequate ranger staffing, there will be nobody to take care of these places properly, no-one to connect visitors with nature and no-one to protect our wild places for future generations.”
As Scotland’s largest conservation charity, NTS also functions as one of the biggest employers of countryside rangers.
It manages over 76,000 hectares of countryside, home to a huge variety of wildlife and world-famous natural landscapes, including eight national nature reserves, 46 Munros, numerous stately homes and their grounds and St Kilda.
The NTS has said it will approach grant-giving bodies and the Scottish Government for financial support and may look to sell non-heritage land and property.
But the Scottish Government has been unimpressed with the steps taken to date by the NTS during lockdown and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said last month it was unlikely to receive any government cash while so many staff were under threat of redundancy.
Ms Hyslop she was “not impressed” with the organisation’s handling of lockdown and described its treatment of staff as “harsh”.
She added that the NTS was asking for a “significant amount of funding” from the government” and she did not believe it was “at all tenable for the Scottish Government to provide funding to them at a time that they are trying and would want to continue to make their staff redundant to the scale that they’re talking about”.
Speaking at Holyrood, she said: “Everybody’s facing hardship in these difficult times, I understand that.
“But we also expect national institutions to provide leadership, and across the tourism sector people are having to take tough decisions.
“We know that we’re going to be in difficult times, but nobody has done what the NTS has done.”
Yesterday, Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald welcomed news the NTS had agreed to reopen the grounds and estate at Leith Hall from July 6.
He added: “Now I hope the Trust will agree to open Leith Hall itself before the end of the summer, as the First Minister is expected to confirm on Thursday that most tourism destinations and businesses can reopen from July 15.
“Leith Hall must not be left behind.”
The #ForTheLoveOfNature petition can be signed at http://bit.ly/2B0sHJm.