Coombe Bissett Project

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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] 

Weasel (Mustela nivalis

The crown jewel of all my camera trap data is this weasel. As the world’s smallest member of the terrestrial carnivores, this vole specialist is capable chasing after small mammals through narrow burrows and crevices, but they sometimes take on rabbits and birds. Weasels are fairly common across the UK and occur in almost any habitat where there are small mammals, but it’s rare to see multiple individuals in one area as they are highly territorial and each individual can occupy a home range of 25ha. The presence of weasels may also indicate that there are voles in the area: more likely to be field voles (Microtus agrestis) than bank voles (Myodes glareolus), based on their habitat preferences.  

 Weasels are much smaller than stoats (Mustela erminea) and lack the characteristic black tip of the tail. They are also very difficult to find and are usually only seen bounding across footpaths. 

Conclusion

Habitat restoration projects, such as the reversion of farmland to species-rich chalk grassland, provide a vital lifeline to our native animals and plants. The Coombe Bissett Down Project is a striking example, and the reserve has become a hotspot for insects, flowers, reptiles, birds, and – hopefully, I have demonstrated – mammals. The continued restoration of habitats to their former natural states is critical for these complex, interconnected tiers of wildlife to survive, and the next step is to join up all the protected areas to produce larger, more stable ecosystems that support a wider variety of species. With a whole set of conservation challenges on the way – not least, Anthropogenic climate change – we must do what we can to protect wildlife, and that begins with simply appreciating the things that share the countryside with us.