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

   By Jeni Bell, volunteer

The gleaming white slopes of the new butterfly bank at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s (WWT’s) Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve have been bustling with life recently, with a team of dedicated volunteers attending the Trust’s ‘Scatter and Natter’ event.

Credit: Jeni Bell

Armed with seeds, plug plants, tools, and kneeling pads, a team of volunteers and WWT staff headed to the bare banks of chalk to plant and scatter wildflowers and seed. The chosen species (horseshoe vetch, kidney vetch, and bird’s-foot trefoil) will thrive on the steep slopes of the bank.

As well as developing into a striking wall of colour, the plants will be an essential food source for the larvae of priority butterfly species: the Adonis blue, which feeds on horseshoe vetch; the small blue, which feeds on flowerheads of kidney vetch; and the dingy skipper, which feeds on bird’s-foot trefoil and yellow horseshoe vetch. The Trust hopes that this work will help support these species, which are found in small populations on the reserve but part of the generally declining insect population (see this recent report on invertebrates).


Adonis blue (Steve Smailes), small blue (Steve Smailes), dingy skipper (Beverley Heath)

Amongst the bags of seeds and plug plants was a tray of rock rose seedlings. These delicate-looking plants, popular with pollinators, were raised by a WWT volunteer from seeds taken from the reserve.

With the sun shining, everyone was in high spirits. From atop the S-shaped curve of chalk, where a steady line of brightly coloured coats snaked along scattering seed, one local dog walker attending with her daughter said that they were “proud to be able to support the project.”

The teams were given the chance to swap roles during the morning, so that those scattering seed could try their hand at planting plugs directly into the chalk and vice versa. For some, this was their first time getting involved with the Trust; with good weather and plenty of good company, this was a fantastic first event to attend.

There was a real sense of community and pride in the work being carried out, as well as a resounding sense of hope for the future, with one volunteer saying that they were “looking forward to visiting the area over the next few years to see the legacy we’ve left.”

Sowing 4.5 kg of seed and planting 300 plugs is no mean feat, and the warming soup lunch provided at the local village hall was well received. It was also a chance for everyone to sit down together in the warm and discuss their experiences from the morning. One volunteer spoke very highly of the whole experience, saying the event was “amazing” and the project “superb.”

As well as local volunteers getting stuck in, there were a few who had travelled from further afield. Inspired by the success of other butterfly banks they had heard about, two volunteers travelled from Swindon to help with the day’s tasks. Whilst this was their first visit to the reserve, they already have plans to return to see the results of their efforts.

Melanie Evans, the Trust’s Community Engagement Officer, was pleased with the turnout and said that it was lovely to see new faces. She hopes that this event, and the butterfly bank itself, will encourage people to return to the reserve to see the ongoing progress of the Coombe Bissett Down Project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Although the bank has now been sown, the hard work doesn’t stop there. The Trust are on the look-out for volunteers to help monitor the establishment of wildflowers as well the butterflies and insects attracted to them. There are also a number of further events planned, so be sure to keep an eye on the project's events page and WWT’s social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter).

You can find out more about the Coombe Bissett Down Project here, and to report any sightings or find out more about volunteering, please e-mail [email protected].

You can also help Wiltshire's butterflies by signing our online pledge to take action for insects.

Photo credits: Jeni Bell (unless stated)