TOURIST leaders and historians have warned the reputation of Scottish tourism is at risk of being damaged by “ugly riot-control security fencing” which surrounds a variety of landmarks.

The arch of Kelso Abbey in the Borders, the Castle of Old Wick at Caithness and significant sections of Linlithgow Palace are all out of bounds due to fencing.

Managing director of Clans and Castles, a specialist tour operator, Diana Gray told The Times: “What is puzzling is there are a lot of ruined buildings in Scotland and all over the UK, not all run by Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

“If you go to other ruined castles and abbeys that are not run by HES they are not covered by security fencing.

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“The problem is not historical buildings falling down, the problem is an institutional one with HES.”

Elsewhere, Michael Brown – a professor of history at the University of St Andrews – told the newspaper that HES had normally been helpful with “educational visits” but that since the end of Covid, “it has been very tricky and the number of sites is really quite restricted and the information about why that was seemed to be very hard to access”.

He explained he ended his membership with HES after 30 years after he was told of an incident involving falling masonry in Melrose Abbey “spooked” management, sparking the review process that highlighted a number of repairs.

The conservation body explained it was among the “first heritage managers” to take a new approach to caring for historic buildings, which involves inspecting

In a statement, HES said: “Melrose Abbey was one of the first sites to be inspected and the results of the sample led to access restrictions at other sites with similar characteristics as a precaution.”

Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, where 91 men held off Oliver Cromwell’s 2000-strong army, is not “closed” although the fortress was fenced off until four weeks ago and a “crash deck” has been installed to capture any falling rubble.

Regarding Melrose Abbey, tour operator Gray added: “They charge tickets and you get there and it is covered in this really ugly riot-control security fencing and you cannot explore the grounds properly.

“It wrecks the whole experience. These places are supposed to be tranquil and beautiful (but they) look like construction sites.”

HSE also pointed out that 88% of its properties were fully accessible.

Sandy Bloomer, chair of the Scottish Independent Tour Operators Association, said this was an issue which “has dragged on for a time” and that it was starting to have a negative effect “to Scotland the brand”.

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HSE insisted it has been carrying out repairs where possible but added: “Any longer-term repair works are being reviewed and prioritised within a wider programme of conservation works across our estate.”

A spokesman for HES said: “As we reopen more areas of sites, unnecessary fencing is removed.

“However, while the high-level masonry programme is ongoing, there is a need to have some temporary fencing in place for the safety of visitors and staff.”