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] 

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

The fox den was visited by another familiar face: a grey squirrel. Aggressive and highly territorial, this invasive squirrel has decimated the population of our native red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) by outcompeting them for food and spreading a disease called Parapoxvirus, which the greys are seemingly unaffected by. Since the greys introduction from America in the 1870s, the reds have almost been led to extinction in the UK but there remains strongholds in Scotland, Northumberland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Lake District – plus a few islands, such as Brownsea. Pine martins (Martes martes) may offer a solution to this issue as they can act as a biotic control against grey squirrels: they are skilled hunters of a variety of mammals but are too heavy to chase down the more nimble red squirrels that can run along thinner branches of tree canopies – a strong argument for the restoration of intact food chains in our countryside. Nevertheless, grey squirrels do fill a very similar ecological niche to their red cousins, and they help the development of woodlands by widely distributing nuts and seeds. 

Squirrels cache the seeds and fruit of deciduous trees in autumn, which they locate in the winter through a combination of memory and scent. This particular squirrel has, perhaps foolishly, chosen to cache its food in the entrance of an active fox den.