Coombe Bissett Project

Heritage Fund logo

Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve is a 70.6 hectares chalk downland valley south west of Salisbury. 

The Coombe Bissett Down Project (CBDP) was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The three year project involved an initial land purchase that doubled the size of the original reserve, and started of a programme of work to revert one of the newly purchased arable fields back to species-rich chalk downland.

A key objective of the project was an enhanced visitor experience, with new opportunities for people to enjoy and learn about this spectacular site. Visitors are now able to follow the new signs and waymarked routes around the reserve, and enjoy the views from a series of new benches. A programme of events also took place from lambing sessions to art classes, wellbeing walks to searching for shieldbugs.

Download our project leaflet

From May to September there are wildflowers to be found, from cowslip and harebells to kidney vetch and Devils-bit scabious. These attract lots of butterflies including adonis blue and dingy skipper. Take a look at our seasonal spotters sheets to see which species you can find; Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter.

People have had a close relationship with this site for many years. There have been artefacts from the Neolithic Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman period on Coombe and the surrounding downs. Steep slopes on the site are patterned by medieval terraces called strip lynchetts which were used for grazing. Our flock of hardy Herdwick sheep and light footed Dexter cattle crop the grass, maintaining the chalk downland habitat as a part of the reversion process

Photograph of sheep at coombe bissett down

Visitors can come here to enjoy the sweeping views, bask in the beauty of nature and the sound of birdsong. To keep our birds happily singing we ask that dogs are kept on leads and any waste is cleared up. There are many lovely walks of varying difficulty around the site:

Image of walking trails on a map of coombe bissett down nature reserve

With the NLHF supported project visitors had the opportunity to get more involved with the nature they came here to enjoy, this was through surveying, our training and event days or volunteering in a number of roles. This site couldn’t be maintained without a wonderful team of volunteers, please take a look at our volunteering page for more opportunities.

To keep updated with improvements to the reserve and to join our official Friends of Coombe Bissett Down group, email us at [email protected] 

What a joy it is to be able to get to the reserve for my exercise on many days during this extraordinary time of lockdown. I can get there in ten minutes, walking from my front door, and feel really privileged to have this glorious place right on my doorstep. I have enjoyed the arrival of the lambs and looking for other wildlife and fauna. We have had an unprecedented time of dry, hot weather which seems to have affected the arrival of the orchids in particular which I remember being particularly prolific last year. I have noted a few of the highlights below for you in the form of a blog.


April 2020

The arrival of the Herdwick lambs in mid-April was a welcome site after the wet winter we had.


April also saw the arrival of rabbits, hares across the nearby fields and cowslips as well as calves to the Dexter cattle up on the hillside. 


May 2020

I was searching for orchids expecting to see the early purple orchids but haven’t found any of these. I think maybe the heat and dryness has affected them. However one evening we were walking in the reserve, around 5pm in bright daylight, and found a badger ambling around which was rather unusual and a few other people in the village reported seeing it as well so not sure what happened to its internal clock.


June 2020

Two deer seen in the new lower field with the chalk butterfly bank. The deer were happy to watch me and carry on munching. The butterfly bank has some vetch growing on it and some tufty grass but again due to the dryness seems to be struggling to really get going with any wildflowers, however the plugs planted and seeds sown by volunteers are slow growing perennials that are unlikely to flower in their first year. Elsewhere in the reserve the wildflowers are now coming into bloom and orchids have arrived.

I believe I have seen plenty of yellow rattle which is a sign of a good wildflower area also knapweed, bird’s-foot-trefoil, meadowsweet, St John’s wort, common rock-rose, mouse ear hawkweed, agrimony, lady’s bedstraw and scabious to name just a few.

With regards to orchids there are plenty of pyramidal orchids in the top fields in particular, fragrant orchids and common spotted orchids dotted around and a few bee orchids have also been seen. Still desperately searching for the burnt tip orchid which is the flower of Wiltshire and reputedly in the reserve. 


Of interest to some would be the many sightings of broomrape which is a parasitic plant and has no chlorophyll.


Despite lots of searching I never found a burnt tip orchid so will have to search again next year!

- Judy Evans