NATURESCOT has been accused of operating under the radar to sell off land and buildings prized by the nearby Perth community.

The organisation, which describes itself as “Scotland’s nature agency”, has now been asked to consider a community buyout or at least secure a buyer that will be sympathetic to the importance of the “wonderful asset”.

The row has broken out over a decision to sell Battleby House near Perth because so many NatureScot staff are now working from home.

The “amazing” grounds of the building have been used for recreation by the public for decades and by local schools for outdoor education. They boast a mature oak woodland with a large number of exotic tree and shrub specimens, as well as a native wildflower meadow that has become well-known for its flowers and butterflies.

Red squirrels, pine martins and a wide range of bird life such as owls, woodpeckers and sparrowhawks can be seen in the woods.

The 19th-century building, which was used as a hospital during the First World War, also contains a “wonderful” auditorium which hosts conferences and other events.

READ MORE: NatureScot warns Scottish wildlife threatened by biodiversity loss

However, there are fears that if the property is sold on the open market, it will be lost to the public.

“This decision would appear to have been taken under the radar knowing full well that it would be highly unpopular with the public who have had access to the amazing grounds surrounding the buildings for many decades and to the many who have had the pleasure of attending seminars and events in the wonderful auditorium,” said Perth resident James Low, a frequent visitor to Battleby House and grounds.

“If the property is simply sold on the open market, it is likely that all of the decades of investment in the grounds will be lost to the public and that it will be redeveloped for an exclusive use. Whilst I appreciate that conditions about public access and protection of trees etc can be made in any sale, we know from experience that such conditions are often flouted.”

He has flagged up the sale in a letter to Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater and local SNP MSPs but has so far received no reply other than an acknowledgement from Slater’s office.

In the letter, he argued that the sale of an “oasis of biodiversity” appears to break Government commitments to bring more of Scotland’s land into community and public control.

READ MORE: Highlands rewilding project recommended for global UN flagship status

Asking for a consultation over the sale and the chance for interested parties to mount a community buyout or secure a “sympathetic” buyer, Low said money should not be the only issue.

“The reputation of NatureScot for protecting our wildlife and environment currently leaves a lot to be desired and if it proceeds with closure and sale on the open market it will be left with an indelible stain,” he said.

A spokesperson for NatureScot said: “In common with many other organisations, office space requirement has significantly reduced following the continued adoption of hybrid working across the public sector. NatureScot is undergoing a phase of office reviews to ensure that the amount of space we occupy is aligned with the local requirements and known change of use. At a time of a nature and climate crisis, our sole focus is to ensure that our resources go to the front line, helping protect and restore nature in Scotland.

“Battleby, particularly its grounds, is well-used and loved beyond NatureScot, and we will be working hard to ensure it has a future. We will work with the established processes laid down by the Scottish Government, and we are hopeful we will find a suitable owner for this unique property.

“Communities of place or interest can come forward at any time to register an interest in transferring an asset. There is a set process to follow and NatureScot is required to consider any asset transfer as part of that process. Any potential new community owner would need to provide a business case for the sustainable future running of the property.”

Slater, inset, was approached for comment.