MORE than a quarter of workers at the National Trust for Scotland have been told their jobs are at risk in what has been described as a "devastating blow" to the nation's heritage sector.

Around 140 full-time workers may face redundancy under major restructuring plans in a bid to reduce running costs by 10 per cent amid a decline in visitor numbers over the last decade.

The move comes on the back of a review of the 85-year-old organisation led by its chairman Sir Moir Lockhead, Simon Skinner, the NTS chief executive, and its board of trustees.

The workers' union which represents hundreds of specialists and support staff at NTS said the charity "risked damage to its long-term aims by pursuing short-term cost savings".

But the Trust said the moves were part of its strategy to "widen its appeal, encourage more people to visit and enjoy the heritage in its care" while boosting membership.

Simon Skinner, NTS chief executive, said the trust had "achieved stability" in recent years but must make choices to ensure the heritage remains relevant and engaging in an era of "ever-more demanding, digitally-savvy generations".

He said: “We need a step-change if we are to find and generate the investment we need to ensure the Trust is fit for the future and offer world-class visitor experiences that are stimulating, thought-provoking and fun.

"Our core purposes are to promote access, engagement and learning , and we will begin by tempting visitors back to our properties in numbers that were last seen eight to 10 years ago.

"Significantly, these changes will also release savings of circa £4 million per annum that can be re-invested in properties and modernised systems."

According to recent figures, the NTS had a total income of £46.8million in the year to the end of February 2015, down from £49.1m in the previous year, and spent £49.2m.

It also faces a conservation backlog of almost £50m.

The Trust has confirmed there will be an overall reduction in staff numbers, mainly at it’s Edinburgh headquarters, with 142 posts classified as "at risk". It said only core services operating at national level would remain there.

Instead, under the changes specialist conservation staff would be teamed with regional groupings of heritage sites.

Ian Perth, of the union Prospect, said while it welcomed the commitment not to cut jobs at property locations there were fears over the anticipated staff cull at the NTS headquarters.

He said: "This announcement is a devastating blow to Scotland’s heritage sector. Our members are already significantly stretched and continue to do valuable work for the charity in such difficult times.

“We are concerned that the trust’s proposals rely heavily on replacing full-time staff with contractors. Although a move like this can show short-term cost reductions, they risk damaging the trust in the long-term.”

The NTS, which manages 129 properties, employs 540 full-time equivalent staff and 750 seasonal staff.

It also has a further 3000 volunteers.

The NTS is investing £17m over the next three years at several locations, including Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Brodie Castle near Forres and Newhailes House in Musselburgh.

It is also creating 68 new posts across the country with a further 42 positions to be transferred from the Trust’s HQ in Edinburgh to be based alongside properties.