A PUBLIC consultation has been launched on Scotland's only surviving travellers' monument to help establish whether it should be declared a site of national significance.

The Historic Scotland consultation forms part of a wider review on the Tinkers' Heart monument in Argyll, which was used by travellers for weddings and baptisms in years gone by.

The move comes after thousands of people signed up to a petition calling for the site, which features a heart of quartz stones, to be scheduled by the public body and preserved to offer travellers a place to visit to remember their heritage.

Historic Scotland is now urging travellers and people in the local community to come forward and tell their stories of the site.

SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell, who has backed the petition and campaign from the start, has welcomed the public body's decision.

He said: "I'm really pleased that they're doing this.

"This is the only thing of its kind in Scotland, there's no other monument to the travelling people in Scotland, and it's in a terrible state.

"Every time I go past it I'm reminded how bad it is. It really needs to be scheduled and preserved and protected."

He added: "The consultation is the next big step and I'm delighted Historic Scotland has been flexible enough to do it.

"I'd encourage people to get in touch with their stories about the monument and be positive about it and hopefully Historic Scotland will decide to schedule the site."

The monument, which sits on the road between Cairndow and Strachur, overlooking Loch Fyne, is said to be a sacred monument for travellers which traces its history back to the Battle of Culloden.

However, Historic Scotland claim there is very little documented evidence of Tinkers' Heart because the travelling community is more inclined to pass down stories and traditions orally.

Dr George Findlater, who is leading the consultation, said: "We are really keen to hear about any information people may have - no matter how trivial it may seem - regarding the Tinkers' Heart.

"This is a great opportunity for those with knowledge of its history to help us better understand its cultural significance."

"The petitioners have already demonstrated the weight of feeling surrounding this particular monument, which is why we have chosen to look again at our previous decision.

"We hope that by asking for the public to share their knowledge about this fascinating monument we can better understand its significance."

He added: "Ultimately what we are trying to do is to improve our understanding on this important, yet sometimes neglected area of Scottish History."

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on May 15, and members of the public are being asked to contribute their stories, songs, photographs and any other information they may have about the site.

Historic Scotland will also write to academics to ask for their input on the subject.

The information will then be analysed and used to help assessors determine whether Tinkers' Heart should be added to the list of monuments of national importance, which is maintained by Historic Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers.

This would make it a criminal offence to carry out any unauthorised work on the site.

Traveller and author Jess Smith, who launched the petition, claimed the consultation is a step in the right direction.

She said: "There's been a lot of publicity around this, a lot of Scottish voices saying this place needs to be protected, and now it looks as if they've opened a wee door and we might be able to get somewhere now.

"The Heart is a very important piece of our history, it's where our ancestors went to get married, to have their babies Christened, and we need to protect it."

Ms Smith added that she hoped many travellers take part in the consultation and share their stories about what the monument means to them and what it meant to their ancestors.

Further information on the consultation can be found on the Historic Scotland website at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk.