TWENTY of Scotland’s historical sites have been earmarked as priorities for investment under a multi-million-pound plan put forward by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), caretaker of the nation’s heritage.

In the 2018/19 financial year the initiative will be backed by £12 million of funding and will run until 2021/22 enhancing the condition of sites and improving the visitor experience.

As part of the new investment, Edinburgh Castle will see the ongoing enhancement of facilities, repair work will be undertaken on the main spire at Glasgow Cathedral and an augmented reality app for Caerlaverock Castle, south of Dumfries, will allow visitors to collect historical animations related to the castle and its adjacent nature trail.

New external lighting will be set up around Doune Castle in Perthshire – which doubles as the fictional Castle Leoch in the hit TV show Outlander – along with an introductory exhibition on its history, based in the castle vaults. The castle’s shop was also upgraded last year to become more customer-friendly.

HES will also invest in the further digitisation of its archives, including a photography collection from the former Countryside Commission for Scotland of rural buildings from the 1970s – a collection never before available to the public.

The plans highlight HES’s increasing use of cutting-edge technology to conserve and manage its assets and estate, which includes using digital applications in areas such as research and surveying, and how it mitigates climate change impacts across it.

HES has already made a significant investment in this financial year on upkeep and improvements, including conservation projects at sites such as Midhowe in Orkney, Dunkeld Cathedral and Dumbarton Castle.

Other projects already under way include the installation of CCTV, improvements to interpretation materials at sites and the development of virtual reality experiences for visitors, along with a new pontoon and boats at Lochleven Castle.

Based on current and projected income levels, HES is looking to allocate a similar level of investment each year of the planned programme. The investment initiative is being published alongside HES’ first asset management plan, outlining its approach to caring for over 300 properties and collections in its care, including sites such as Linlithgow Palace, Skara Brae on Orkney and Stirling Castle.

Alex Paterson, HES chief executive, said: “These are ambitious plans which will set new standards for the care of our properties and provide world class visitor attractions with outstanding visitor experiences.

“We’re building on the success of recent years which have seen record numbers of visitors to many of Scotland’s historic sites.

“We’ve already effectively started our investment programme, with many projects already underway across the country and are in a strong position to deliver on the identified priorities designed to help bring social, economic and environmental benefits for Scotland.”

HES said the asset management and investment plans build on its successful corporate plan for 2015-2018 and the Scottish Government’s priorities for economic development.

Fiona Hyslop, culture, tourism and external affairs secretary, added: “During the past two financial years the Scottish Government has committed additional capital funding of around £6m to support the conservation and management of properties in care. I am now pleased to see this plan for investment in our historic environment, and the infrastructure supporting Historic Environment Scotland’s wider visitor offer, which offers such a strong return for our economy, directly generating £528m in 2017, and supporting an estimated 15,300 full time jobs in Scotland.”