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

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes

My first attempt to get a photo of a badger, having battled through a hedge to set up the camera outside a large badger-shaped hole, actually revealed an entirely different animal. Foxes are extremely resourceful, happily finding refuge in forests, grasslands, mountains, and suburban areas, and they will often occupy abandoned badger burrows instead of going through the effort of digging their own. They are usually solitary hunters, although it is common to see them in groups of 3 or 4 adults, and they will feed on rabbits, birds, worms, insects, fruit, and – notoriously – garbage. Anyone living in the suburbs will almost certainly have had their rubbish pilfered through by a hungry fox or been awakened by the eerie scream of a vixen, but the rural foxes are much more elusive than their urban counterparts – possibly due to persecution from humans. I was able to capture quite a few foxes across the reserve, but their highly variable foraging habits made it very difficult to work out just how many individuals there were. Some were certainly pluckier than others, but they all seem to be sightly cautious around the camera, sniffing the air as they passed by or avoiding it entirely. Their group territories are said to typically be 270 hectares in rural areas so there is a chance that these foxes all belong to the same family. 


Mammals cannot see infrared light, but this photo shows clearly how the flash from the camera is reflected in the back of the fox’s eyes. Like cats and dogs, foxes possess a membrane called a tapetum lucidum, which improves their night vision by reflecting light passing through the retina back into the eye. This individual also has a distinctive nick in his ear so I am confident that I only caught him on camera once.

Fox dens provide a safe space to sleep, store food and raise their pups. Their burrows usually comprise multiple rooms with several exits, and they are regularly moved between by individuals of the same family. The fox’s large bushy tail provides additional warmth, but they are also used for balance and communication.

Although they are mainly nocturnal, foxes are most active at dawn and dusk. This clip is the only footage I have of foxes moving together as they usually hunt independently. Dogs (males) have much broader, rounder heads than vixens (females) but it is not possible to tell which is which in this footage.