Coombe Bissett Project

Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Download our project leaflet here

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

The Coombe Bissett Down Project (CBDP) is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The three year project has involved an initial land purchase that has doubled the size of the original reserve, and the start 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 is an enhanced visitor experience, with new opportunities for people to enjoy and learn about this spectacular site. Visitors will be able to follow the new signs, and waymarked routes around the reserve and enjoy the views from a series of new benches.

In addition we have a programme of events that will take place throughout the year, from lambing sessions to art classes, Walking for Health to searches for shieldbugs.

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. Yellowhammer, skylarks and whitethroat can be heard singing from scrub or overhead and kestrels hover over small mammals below. Take a look at our seasonal spotters sheets to see which species you can find; Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter.

People have also 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. We have a flock of hardy Herdwick sheep and light footed Dexter cattle that crop the grass, maintaining the chalk downland habitat as a part of the reversion process. Why not try writing your own haiku poem to show us what the reserve means to you?

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.

With the new NLHF supported project visitors have now got the opportunity to get more involved with the nature they come here to enjoy, this can be through surveying, our training and event days or volunteering in a number of roles. This large 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] 


Picture: Cowslips (C) Barry Craske

The theme of this month's blog is blooming! This describes the habitat the best at this time of year. We see waves of wildflowers and minibeasts as the seasons progress.

It all starts with the cowslips in April, bursting through with droopy yellow flowers. Followed by the speedwell and then they come in droves; rock roses, fairy flax and horseshoe vetch to name a few. The orchids of course deserve a special mention we have fragrant, common spotted, pyramid, bee and lesser butterfly orchids all on site. The lady’s bedstraw has just begun to brighten the meadows with a new wave of yellow and the scabious are adding a nice purple contrast.

Coombe Bissett Down

You’ve probably already guessed, I’ve been on a wildflower course! We’ve kick started the Coombe Bissett training sessions with a great workshop by Dominic Price from the Species Recovery Trust. Dominic taught me and 15 attendees about the sheer diversity of the chalk grassland habitat. We sat down on one of the slopes and easily found 10 species around us. Which made the course lovely and leisurely in the sun. My favourite finds were the clustered bell flower and the delicate fairy flax.

With the wildflowers of course come the insects. The site is well known for its Adonis blue butterfly, but I’m unfortunately not quick enough on the camera. So our next course was naturally on butterflies! The fabulous Hugo Brooke from Butterfly Conservation came along to help our keen group identify butterflies and moths. The weather wasn’t too kind for butterflies but the moths were caught overnight and are much more rain tolerant!

Of course butterflies aren’t the only insects on site, but gosh there’s so many to learn! I took Coombe Bissett School out on Thursday 14 July and we found an absolute abundance of weird and wonderful minibeasts. The children were amazed and so was I! Caterpillars big and small, leafhoppers, crickets and grasshoppers. Flies including lots of unknown crane fly species in red, black and green. Beetles in every colour too… the ‘inordinate fondness of beetles’ commented on by Darwin is true! I’m going to need to swat up so please get in contact with pictures of insects seen on the Coombe Bissett Down site and I will do my best (ask an expert!) what they are.

Minibeast hunt

Soon when everyone feels confident we’ll start species quests (as I like to call them) for longhorned beetles, rare moths and of course their food plants which are the whole reason they are here.

There will be plenty more opportunities to find out about the creatures on site and as the courses have taught me, we’re all still learning! So email us if you want to get out and learning more [email protected]