Swingeing cutbacks at the National Trust of Scotland could have devastating consequences for historic sites in Perthshire, campaigners have claimed.
The conservation charity is axing 15 of its 35 countryside rangers as it attempts to battle back from a £30 million loss of income, The Courier can reveal.
These ranger posts are among the 188 staff being made redundant, despite £3.8 million of emergency aid from the Scottish Government.
A group set up to fight the job losses believes that decades worth of specialist knowledge, skills and staff dedication will be lost at rural reserves.
It has emerged that the one remaining ranger post covering North Perthshire sites, including the Killiekrankie Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) will be turned into a Visitor Services role.
The For the Love of Nature campaign said this will lead to a downturn in nature conservation work and environmental education at the historic battleground site.
“The change in job title also means that future post holders may not be required to have the specialist knowledge of a countryside ranger,” a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the loss of a seasonal ecologist will leave botanists’ paradise Ben Lawers with “significant less capacity to monitor the very features it has been designated for.”
“Full-time ecologists at Benlawers and Mar Lodge remit has been widened to cover other NTS sites,” the spokesman explained. “This will jeopardise the comprehensive scientific monitoring programme underpinning for future management decisions at these reserves, unless external consultants are brought in.”
The For the Love of Nature spokesman welcomed the recent government aid, which more than halved the number of planned redundancies. “However, we had sincerely hoped that NTS senior management would reconsider the cuts to vital countryside staff,” he said. “Without these workers the NTS cannot fulfill the charity’s core conservation purpose.
“We understand some staff will be appealing the decision to make their roles redundant, but fear that the minds of those in charge are made up.
“The expertise lost with these staff will take decades to build up again.”
As well as reserve staff, the NTS is losing staff responsible for organising working holidays and volunteering opportunities, which campaigners say could “jeopardise thousands of hours of vital volunteer input”.
The cuts have raised further doubts over the future of the Killiecrankie Visitor Centre.
Highland councillor John Duff (Conservative) said: “There is no doubt that the financial impact of the pandemic on the NTS has been severe.
“While the Scottish Government’s allocation of £3.8 million in Barnet consequentials is welcome, further support from the Scottish Government is needed if more of the skilled and specialist NTS posts, such as those at Ben Lawers and Killiecrankie, are to be saved.”
He said: “Even before the arrival of Coronavirus, locals had significant concerns for the future of the visitor centre at Killiecrankie due to a drop in visitor numbers and the state of the building. Without further support, the prospects for the centre must be uncertain.”
An NTS spokesman said the government support was “extremely helpful” but added: “Regrettably, with losses of nearly £30 million this year, and as much as we wish we did not have to make redundancies at all, even with this support it has proven impossible to avoid them.
“These are decisions not taken lightly and made with the greatest of regret in the midst of an existential crisis that threatened our charity’s very survival.”
He added: “Out of our complement of 35 countryside rangers, thanks to consultation outcomes and the financial support received, we have been able to save 20 roles.
“We had to make some difficult choices as to which roles we could afford to maintain and to which of those were vital to ongoing conservation in the short-term. With regard to our full-time ecologists, who were also at risk of redundancy, we were able to re-deploy them all as Natural Heritage Advisers.”
He said the group was now in a position to “weather the remainder and aftermath of this crisis.”