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

What are the main objectives of the community engagement programme for the Coombe Bissett Down project?

  • To inspire visitors (actual and virtual) to engage with the natural heritage of chalk grassland.
  • To bring to life the teaching and learning of STEM subjects through ‘real world learning’ opportunities; offering enquiry-led curriculum content, and scope for independent post 16 and Higher Education study.
  • To target health promoting engagement from a wide range of day visitors, with specific focus on people resident in south Salisbury lower income neighbourhoods.
  • To provide opportunities to learn new skills through environmental conservation volunteering.

Community Engagement: General Public

Above: a Salisbury Watch Group member exploring chalk grassland wildflowers during a trip to Coombe Bissett Down in August 2019. 

A wide range of events have been delivered to the general public throughout the project to date, including: hand harvesting wildflower seed and sowing the collected seeds onto the arable reversion and chalk butterfly bank; building bird and bat boxes during the school holidays for families to increase nesting opportunities for wildlife at home; talks about the wildlife and archaeology of the site to walking groups to enhance their visits to the reserve; and local artists have even delivered wildflower embroidery and feltmaking classes for the public to connect to the reserve in a different way.

 Above: embroidery based on some of the wildflower species that can be observed at the reserve, including wild carrot, red clover and devil's-bit scabious.

In addition to these activities, the project team have delivered a number of outreach events with hundreds of people in Salisbury and the surrounding areas planting wildflowers to increase feeding opportunities for pollinators in their gardens. 

Over 9000 members of the public have engaged with the project through this programme of activity to date, including virtual visitors who have attended online talks and workshops. 

Above: half term bat box building at Coombe Bissett and Homington Village Hall

What did you love about bat box building?

'The fact children could use tools, make mistakes, follow instructions, work independently and be inspired to go home and help wildlife. Thanks!'

Parent of participant


Education

Educational sessions have provided learning opportunities both in and outside of the classroom, and on site at the reserve, for children and young people to engage with Wiltshire’s chalk heritage.

Pupils from Coombe Bissett primary school have created their very own mini chalk butterfly bank in their school grounds which was sowed with wildflower seeds collected from Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve.

 

‘Thank you so much for an amazing afternoon…the children were buzzing…what an amazing resource we have 10 minutes from school’

 Teacher, Coombe Bissett Primary School

Some school groups have even taken part in fossil hunting to learn more about the formation of rocks to link to their science curriculum. Educational lambing sessions have also been a popular activity for schools, as children have the opportunity to meet livestock, and learn more about farming practices and textile production.

Left: fossil hunting at the chalk butterfly bank  

 

Right: Wiltshire College student meeting a Herdwick lamb 

                  

Above: Wiltshire College students taking part in a discussion about the benefits of hedgerows for wildlife

Higher education students have taken part in research placements (you can read one student’s blog post about his research into bees here) and Wiltshire College students have learnt new skills and achieved qualifications during their practical conservation tasks on site, including the planting of a new hedgerow to provide more nesting and feeding opportunities for birds and small mammals at the reserve, as well as plug planting the butterfly bank with horseshoe vetch, the sole foodplant of the Adonis blue butterfly.

To date the project has delivered 30 qualifications in practical conservation skills, 9 research placements and 29 educational sessions to 770 students.


Community Engagement: The Friary

Engagement work is not just delivered at the nature reserve; Coombe Bissett Down is also taken on tour to other areas! Outreach work has been delivered at the Friary estate in Salisbury.

 Above: natural paints and paintbrushes made using twigs, herbs, spices and berries. 

Project staff have been working with Salisbury City Council’s community development team to connect residents to the Friary Community Garden and to improve it for the benefit of wildlife and residents. Children have built bug hotels, butterfly and bird feeders, planted spring bulbs and even grown their own vegetables in windowsills at home to later plant in the garden. 

During the first lockdown, weekly nature themed activity packs containing arts and crafts, chalk grassland species themed colouring sheets and even seeds and compost continued engagement with Friary residents whilst sessions in person could not be delivered. Activity packs were delivered weekly to 50 families; a total of 900 activity packs were produced from March to September 2019.

Above: The contents of an activity pack delivered to Friary residents during the first lockdown.

During the brief window where activities could take place between the first and second lockdowns, children took part in a minibeast hunt and wildlife survey, identified autumn leaves and planted spring bulbs in the community garden to achieve a Young Naturalist Award - an award developed during the project to recognise the achievements of children and young people participating in conservation activities.

So far work with the Friary to date has included:

  • 2 visits to the nature reserve
  • 6 family events
  • 9 art and nature club sessions for older residents
  • 9 Young Naturalist Awards
  • 900 nature themed activity packs delivered alongside food parcels over 18 weeks to 50 vulnerable families

Volunteers

And of course, all this work would not be possible without the project’s team of volunteers. From administration and learning assistants, to reserve management roles assisting with practical habitat management tasks such as planting trees, harvesting seeds and conducting wildlife surveys.  

During the project the following volunteer opportunities have taken place:

  • 34 practical conservation tasks with 156 volunteers (including 6 hedge planting sessions with 45 volunteers)
  • 5 grasslands monitoring and surveying training sessions delivered to 62 people
  • 4 butterfly and moth identification sessions delivered to 43 people

Left: chalk grassland wildflower identification training

 

Right: sowing the butterfly bank with horseshoe vetch and kidney vetch seeds


Digital Engagement

Whilst the restrictions around Covid hindered delivering activities on site in year 3 of the project, the situation did however present opportunities to engage with audiences in a new and accessible way.

The focus of the project changed to designing and creating free online resources from chalk grassland wildflower quizzes to themed colouring sheets, wildlife factsheets and even a resource all about the role of cow pats and the biodiversity of species they support, which parents who began teaching children from home could download and use to support their child’s learning and enhance their daily walks.

Above: an example of a resource produced during the first lockdown. This and other themed colouring sheets can be downloaded here

When the large scale Chalk Celebration event with a programme of talks, guided walks and arts and crafts, planned to take place in July 2019 could not be delivered at the reserve, a week long programme of online talks and workshops was delivered via Zoom, Facebook and YouTube instead. Events included talks about chalk fossils, the future of farming, wildlife gardening and folk tales and workshops included nature yoga, nature photography and botanical illustration (with participants receiving art materials in the post in advance). This was a whole new way of working for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and was well received with just over 200 people attending events live and nearly 7900 views of the recordings of events.

The project continues to deliver digital engagement as an accessible way to engage with current and new audiences, connecting them to Coombe Bissett Down especially through the cold, dark winter months. To access these free downloadable resources please visit:

https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/Pages/Site/coombe-bissett-project/Category/coombe-bissett-down-resources