Campaigners fear that Moray Council is failing to appreciate the value of a museum which has now lain closed for a year because of budget cuts.
The Falconer Museum in Forres became a victim of council cuts as the authority looked to slash about £10 million from its budget last year.
The five-star attraction, which first opened its doors in the 1870s, is home to an array of items including the nationally important collection of naturalist Hugh Falconer – who was a contemporary of Charles Darwin.
One year on, the museum is still closed and there is growing uncertainty over when visitors may be able to view the exhibits once more.
Moray Council has said artefacts are being looked after, and that coronavirus had meant work to reopen the venue under “an alternative business model” had been delayed.
Friends of Falconer Museum chairman John Barrett has accused the council of “ripping out” the cultural heart of Forres by forgetting about the attraction.
Mr Barrett said: “It is in the centre of town and any visitor will go to the town centre will be wondering why it is closed.
“It is a sad, shut-up building and the situation is ripping the town’s cultural heart out.
“The minute you put a price on history, you forget about the value of the artefacts.
“It is a historical and educational resource and it is part of the region’s tourism and economic package – which the council fails to see.
“There are items of huge international importance, such as the fossil collection which attracts people from all over the world to study them.
“The museum collection is something that needs to be serviced to ensure it doesn’t go into disrepair.”
Mr Barrett said answers are in short supply from council officials on the welfare of the exhibits.
He added: “Information is in really short supply from the council, which is really worrying.
“Our focus is to continue to press the council to maintain the museum and ensure it reopens.
“The situation is really frustrating.
“I would urge Moray Council to remember the importance of the Falconer Museum and its astonishing collections to Forres, to the community of Moray, and to scholarship in Scotland and beyond.”
A council spokesman added: “The artefacts are still being maintained and looked after; work on developing an alternative business model for the museum was put on hold due to Covid -19.
“This remains on hold due to the council’s priority in mitigating the impacts of recession. The council still intends to seek an alternative operating model for the museum.”