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

Small mammals 

The mammals most responsible for draining batteries and filling memory cards were mice. Over the two months, the trail camera compiled a seemingly endless montage of these tiny animals, scurrying around in the entrances to badger setts and fox dens, gorging themselves on seeds, and collecting bits of material to stuff into their burrows. After a lot of deliberation, I am confident that I collected footage of two species across the reserve: wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) and yellow-necked mice (Apodemus flavicollis). The latter of the two is actually rather rare as it is a specialist of tree seeds – making it a key indicator of good habitat quality – and it is only found in mature deciduous woodland in the southern half of Britain. Wood mice, however, are very common and can be found in gardens, moorlands, wetlands, arable fields, and even road verges, despite its name. I also found uneaten carcasses of common shrews (Sorex araneus) on the reserve, which is a surprisingly common occurrence as they are distasteful to most predators and are usually left alone as a result. 

During autumn, wood mice collect extra bedding material and cache berries and seeds in their burrows in preparation for winter. Mice do not hibernate, but they do nest communally to keep warm and will often block up entrances to their burrows. Females may even breed over winter if there is enough food. 

Like in badgers, allo-grooming in mice reinforces social bonds and cleans areas that are difficult to reach, but it is also used to convey information about sources of food and the quality of potential mates. This clip is of two yellow-necked mice – they have slightly larger ears, a longer tail, and more bulging eyes than wood mice, and have a more hopping, kangaroo-like run.