Heritage sites have been trashed during the lockdown, with bored visitors digging at ancient stone circles, graffiting, making bonfires and breaking into castles.

Many ancient sites are unmanned and were left vulnerable to the “investigations” of people trying to amuse themselves locally.

Since the end of March, six people were caught illegal metal detecting, and a report was made of somebody digging at world-famous Callanish Standing Stones 
on Lewis.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said no serious damage was done but archaeology at the site could have been disturbed.

The heritage body said it was “horrified” that the Castlelaw Hillfort, near Penicuik, which was home to an Iron Age community for several centuries, had been used as a toilet.
Other reports included movement of grave slabs at Restenneth Priory, near Forfar, and graffiti and littering at Lincluden Collegiate Church, Dumfries.

Campers were found at Newark Castlem near Port Glasgow, Inverlcyde, with HES warning that setting up tents, making bonfires and moving stones risked damaging historic sites.

Dunnottar Castle, a medieval fortress near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, was targeted by thieves who managed to break through the main door between June 10 and June 15. 

The damage was spotted some time later by a jogger who called police. 
An investigation found the raiders had tried to break through a second door but had failed to do so and fled. 

Inspector Alan Dron, chairman of the Scottish Heritage Crime Group, said: “Over the lockdown period from April to June, rural crime fell by 39 per cent this year, fly tipping spiked and heritage crime also rose. It was one of the areas where we saw a significant increase.

“Because people were staying more local, they were getting out to investigate sites close to where they lived.”

A spokesman for HES said: “We take incidents of heritage crime very seriously. 

“Such acts damage historic assets, divert important resources away from essential conservation and maintenance work, and can cause us to lose pieces of our past forever. 

“The historic environment belongs to all of us, and we work closely with the police and local communities to raise awareness of the impacts of heritage crime and how we can work together to tackle it.”

Other historic sites have also been targeted by thieves, including Walsingham Abbey in Norfolk – where part of a wall was stolen – and two medieval parish churches, which had paving slabs removed.

The threat of criminals targeting historic sites has prompted major heritage organisations, including the National Trust, to maintain tight security at their sites. 
A spokesman said: “We take the safeguarding of our places and collections very seriously. We have security measures and procedures in place at all our properties and keep these under constant review.”

There has been an increase in reports of illegal metal detecting by Hadrian’s Wall, with several thefts recorded near Horsley, Northumberland. On July 12, police were tipped off about a suspicious car in the area and went on to arrest a 44-year-old man on suspicion of theft.  

In the Peak District, the prehistoric Doll Tor stone circle near Birchover was “seriously” damaged by vandals in early June. 

The thugs moved several of the smaller stones of the scheduled ancient monument to build a fire pit and for a seat, as well as setting several other fires. 

Sam Grimshaw, who discovered the damage at the site, told the BBC: “Once I’d realised what I was seeing I became very angry, and a great feeling of sadness came over me as I saw more and more stones removed. 

“I was amazed at the effort that had been put in to move some of the stones, I couldn’t quite believe it.”

On July 3, staff at Walsingham Abbey in Norfolk tweeted they were “horrified and fed up” to discover 175 bricks had been stolen from a wall in the grounds.