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

From small seeds come big changes! Seed collection is a really important part of the restoration project as we intend to return the newly purchased land to quality chalk downland. We have to make sure the soil and conditions are right of course, but without the seed we wouldn't create the quality chalk habitat unique to Wiltshire.

Seed is collected by brush harvesting and by hand. Brush harvesting is basically using a massive hoover attached to a tractor to suck up all the seed. Hand harvesting is much more selective and means we can get special seeds for the butterfly bank. These are things like horseshoe vetch, rock rose, scabious and other smaller chalk specialists. Horseshoe vetch is particularly important as it is the food plant of the chalk specialist Adonis blue butterfly.

Seed collecting

You may have noticed it was a very warm August! Heat ripens seeds and this has meant plants have seeded quickly and all at the same time. Seeds heat and dry and some like vetch pop open from their little peapods spreading the seed. If this happens before we collect it we miss the window and have to wait until next year. Luckily dedicated individuals and teams have come to the nature reserve throughout August to help us collect seed for our new land and butterfly bank. In particular, on Thursday 30 August we ran a 'Wonderful Wildflowers' seed collection event. 18 people from as young as 6 years turned up to help out at. We collected horseshoe vetch, bird's-foot trefoil, scabious and rock rose for the butterfly bank. The Adonis blue was in flight to thank us for our efforts to create more habitat for them. Children (and some parents!) enjoyed pot painting and planting their own Devil's-bit scabious to entice butterflies and bees to their back garden! 

Pot painting

Thank you to anyone who came out to help us collect seed, it was greatly appreciated. If you want to help out with future conservation, we will soon be improving our hedgerows for wildlife by planting trees. Please check out our events or give us an email to find out how you can get involved [email protected] 

Seed collection