VISITORS to Orkney's famous Italian Chapel are to be charged admission fees for the first time in a bid to help refurbish the building.

The ornate site, which was built during World War Two by Italian prisoners of war, is also being placed under the guard of custodians to help with overcrowding as the site is becoming increasingly popular with tourists.

The funds raise from admission fees will also go towards these additional staff costs.

The Roman Catholic church, on the uninhabited island of Lamb Holm, has always traditionally been free for people to visit, but the new charges will be introduced in next year.

The moves have been introduced by the Italian Chapel Preservation Committee which oversees the care of the building.

Gary Gibson, chairman of the committee, said: "Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented numbers of people visiting.

"It is vital we avoid overcrowding in what is a very small and fragile space."

It is anticipated that the chapel, which has been targeted by vandals, will close for several weeks in January next year for refurbishment.

The charging and custodian service will be introduced on its re-opening.

The chapel was built from two Nissen huts by Italian prisoners of war in 1943.

Five hundred men were housed at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, having been captured in North Africa and sent to Orkney to help build the Churchill Barriers, four permanent barriers linking together the chain of islands from the mainland in the north to South Ronaldsay in the south.

They had very little to work with and constructed the chapel using only the huts, unwanted scrap and some concrete.

The Italian Chapel website states: "It is quite astounding what they created - a truly unique and wonderful place, which is an unforgettable inspiration to all those who visit it."

The site is usually open to the public all year round and is one of Orkney's most visited attractions.

It is unclear how much will be charged for admissions, but the committee said further details will be revealed in the coming months.