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 Coombe Bissett Project with Heritage Lottery Fund is now officially underway! I’m Melissa Spiers, Project Officer at Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve. I’ll be running the community engagement events on the reserve over the next three years. So far we’ve been laying the ground work for the season to come… 

Melissa Spiers

In February four wonderful volunteers turned up to join us clearing paths in our education area and making way for new gates. This involved battling a lot of blackthorn and bramble but we were victorious in our efforts to make the paths safer.

The next volunteering session took place this month and was led by Matt. It involved clearing up our mess! Volunteers helped us burn all the brash we’d removed (which was quite a lot!). We’re looking to set up regular sessions going forwards and it would be great to hear from anyone interested in attending.

Since we have acquired former arable land we need to make sure it’s suitable for the chalk species we want to colonise it. Chalk species are adapted to more impoverished conditions and with too many nutrients will be rapidly outcompeted by other faster growing species like nettle.

The new field has been tested to check if it is chemically suited to the growth of chalk grassland species and results were positive. We’ve got one more crop to plant to remove even more nutrients from the soil. This will give the seeds we spread the best chance possible!

Local schools and community groups will be joining us in collecting this seed from other areas of the reserve. Part of my role has involved making contact with these groups and building our ‘Friends of Coombe Bissett’ group. This group offers support and valuable feedback as well as getting first look at training opportunities and promoting the reserve. Any interested party can become a member; we have 6 annual meetings to discuss progress and what the Friends can help with in the future.

Coming up we’ve got our Friends of Coombe Bissett meeting on Tuesday 10 April at 11.30am, there will be tea, coffee, cake and soup provided. We’ve also got our family Easter event Friday 9 April ‘Cracking the Coombe Bissett code’, join us at 10.30am for an exciting hunt across the reserve.