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

Shepherd's huts were a familiar sight on the downlands of the south of Britain. Small homes on wheels; they were moved with the herd and provided restful shelter from the elements for the shepherds who tended the sheep. Often owned by the farmer or landowner, a shepherd's hut would be rented to them. Forgotten about as the nomadic lifestyles began to disappear, many were burnt where they last stood and their wheels and axels scrapped. Then, with a new found idealism of the country lifestyle, and the huts featuring in popular media and adaptations such as ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ and Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, an interest in this forgotten part of history has arisen.

The shepherd's hut is intrinsically linked with the heart of Coombe Bissett as one of the most prolific builders in the UK, H&C Farris, called the village home. Many of the shepherd's huts were built by the head carpenter of the Farris Family, the late John Judd who lived in the village for 96 years. The last of the huts built by H&C Farris was finished in the early 1950s.

H&C Farris huts were renowned for being well built and sturdy despite many years of abandonment. One such hut was left on a farm in Pitton, where it was rescued from the flames by my parents and has since sat in the garden for many years. It still contains the rabbit traps, ropes and bags for wool, as if someone had only moved out yesterday. 


Image: Shepherd hut, Xander King 

When looking at such a beautiful piece of history, it is easy to imagine being up above the strip lynchets of the reserve, watching over a herd of sheep in lamb, with a kettle boiling on the stove behind you. It’s also easy to imagine the winters and rain which is arguably a lot less appealing!