AN admission fee at a popular Scottish tourist site has been proposed amid a rise in the number of visitors.

The Calanais Standing Stones in Lewis date back 5000 years and Scotland’s heritage agency is now considering introducing an entry fee, according to a report in The Guardian.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said it would soon be asking Scottish Government ministers to approve the proposals.

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The rise in the number of visitors has largely been driven by day trips by cruise ship passengers.

Ian Fordham, the chair of Urras nan Tursachan (UnT), which owns the Calanais visitor centre and backs the fee proposal, said there was an urgent need to tackle the impact of increasing visitor numbers.

He said around 120,000 visit the site every year and that the figure was expected to double by 2035.

The site is braced for an increase in day-trippers after a new deep water port for large cruise ships opens in Stornoway next year.

UnT and HES, which owns the standing stones, plan to build a larger visitor centre and fence in the site to make it a “single coherent visitor destination” with an entrance fee.

Fordham said: “With increasing footfall at the stones, there’s increasing risk of conservation damage, conservation risk to the stones.

“It has become clear this year that the increased visitor numbers are causing conservation issues at the stones, (in terms of) erosion.”

He said problems at the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, which had to be closed to build new paths, was a warning of what could happen at Calanais.

Malcolm McLean, a former chair of the UN-linked cultural body Unesco Scotland, said he was “acutely aware” of the need to safeguard the sites but that an entrance fee could dismay locals.

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“It will be a highly controversial decision on the island”, he told The Guardian. “From a community perspective, people see this as a place that’s open and they can come and go at any time.”

The admission fee proposal was approved by HES’s board earlier this year and board members said they felt it could set a precedent for other sites – an indication that charging could be imposed on other attractions.

The board said: “Careful consideration is required over how the local community is engaged in this process.”