SCOTLAND'S historic homes and castles face a mounting backlog of repairs amid a "catastrophic" fall in income during the coronavirus lockdown, it has been warned.

Historic Houses, which represents more than 200 independently owned houses, castles and gardens in Scotland, said an existing backlog worth £53 million is set to grow even further.

A survey of its UK-wide membership found more than half said they have had to put urgent repairs on hold, with an average value of £217,000 per project.

Hugh MacLeod, chief of Clan MacLeod and the estate director of Dunvegan Castle in Skye, said it is facing a projected 94 per cent loss in income this year.

He told The Herald: "It's pretty catastrophic."

He said it will take years to recover while the economic crisis means the backlog of repairs will start to mount.

He added: "We will look at jobs in order of priority and cost, and we'll only be able to do the jobs we can do and the others will have to be deferred.

"If there's something really serious, really costly, then it's going to be an extremely difficult situation."

Mr MacLeod said he had invested more than £4 million in the estate over the last 11 years. He has an outstanding list of work he estimated will cost a further £2.5m.

He added: "Some of those jobs can be delayed and deferred. Some of them will have to be done.

"We've removed a lot of asbestos, for example. We've had to spend £100,000 alone on removing asbestos from the castle and some other estate properties.

"We only have £20,000 worth left of asbestos to remove in the future, but that's obviously going to have to be deferred, because it's important but it's not a burning priority."

Elsewhere, the harling wall finish on the exterior of the castle has passed its recommended lifespan and is starting to fail.

"That is a priority job, but it would involve scaffolding the entire castle," Mr MacLeod said.

"Scaffolding alone costs a fortune. Something like that costs around £1.2m, for example, to reharl the facade of the castle."

He said the coronavirus pandemic has "completely torpedoed" the estate's income, while the only grant it qualified for was the Scottish Government's Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund.

Mr MacLeod added: "Unfortunately we did get an offer, but their grant offer equated to just 7% of our projected loss this year.

"Obviously, that was a crushingly disappointing decision to receive. We appealed it, but sadly the appeal was denied so I had to start a restructuring programme and I had to make six members of staff redundant last week.

"Some of the retained staff on the permanent team will only be able to come back after furlough on reduced working hours, because we cannot afford to sustain the payroll that we used to sustain."

Rachael Hamilton MSP, the Scottish Conservatives' tourism spokesman, said the country's historic buildings are "incredibly important for tourism across Scotland and particularly in rural areas".

She said: "More than that they are reminders of who we were and how we lived. The SNP Government must do all it can to support these attractions and ensure they can remain in good repair for the benefit of future generations."

In a written submission to a Holyrood committee, Historic Houses Scotland said its members' cash flow "dried up overnight" and they now face a "profound crisis".

It added: "The essential maintenance and conservation work needed to look after these historic visitor attractions is at risk.

"Owners faced a choice between furloughing their staff (meaning these essential maintenance tasks cannot be performed, since furloughed staff are unable to do any work) or attempting to keep on gardening and maintenance staff with no certainty as to how they would be able to pay them, since there is no income coming in."

Across the UK, it said its 1,500 members were previously facing a £1.4bn backlog of repairs - £53m in Scotland - and this is now set to grow further.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the heritage sector "is one of Scotland's greatest assets" and can reopen from July 15.

She added: "At the outset of the pandemic we introduced a comprehensive package of support including the £30m Creative, Tourism and Hospitality Enterprises Hardship Fund and the £120m Pivotal Enterprises fund, on top of 100% rates relief for eligible properties for the year.

"We continue to assess what more can be done to ensure people can enjoy our heritage sites for generations to come.

"Our total package for businesses during this unprecedented economic crisis now exceeds £2.3bn."