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An exciting opportunity...
Many of you will have heard that Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has been offered a rare and exciting opportunity to extend their existing Coombe Bissett Nature Reserve.
The additional land would give us the opportunity to build on our success in restoring chalk grassland in the south of the county. A larger reserve would also mean improved access for residents of Coombe Bissett and children attending the local primary school. There would be additional conservation benefits as well as it would provide further habitat for the endangered county flower, the Burnt Orchid, as well as Adonis Blue butterflies and Yellowhammers.
How this opportunity came about
The 85 acres of land, which sits alongside our current reserve, was offered for sale by Lady Phillips in 2015. Because we needed time to raise the funds to make the purchase, we approached The Esme Fairbairn Foundation for help. The land has now been purchased by the Esme Fairbairn Foundation and we have first refusal on the purchase. We have to complete the sale within two years. If we are unable to raise the money within this time period, Esme Fairbairn Foundation will put the land back on the open market.
We are currently applying to a variety of grant providers for the £1,000,000 needed to purchase, manage and carry out the chalk grassland reversion. We are hopeful to secure a significant grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is a two-stage process and to qualify for this money we need to raise £185,000 from other sources. We have already received an £85,000 pledge and to date have raised a further £56,000 towards our total. Ideally we would like to secure the £185,000 as soon as possible to support our grant applications. This demonstrates to funders that we can raise the necessary match-funding required. The more money we have raised – the stronger our application. Until the purchase is secured, we are managing the land for Esme Fairbairn Foundation although no reversion or development work will be undertaken until the sale is finalised.
Background to the existing reserve
In 1995, the Trust purchased the Coombe Bissett Down Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) together with two arable fields which we have successfully reverted back to chalk downland. The SSSI chalk grassland habitat on the reserve supports important populations of a number of UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species including Burnt Orchids, Yellowhammers and Adonis Blue butterflies.
Why should we acquire this extra land?
The UK is a stronghold for chalk grassland and Wiltshire contains 40% of the world total. However, over 80% of the UK’s chalk downland has been destroyed over the past 70 years. Sadly, many of the species associated with this historic landscape have become rare or endangered. The protection, enhancement and restoration of chalk downland is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority.
The land for sale includes part of a County Wildlife Site and an area of arable land - part of which has already been returned to chalk grassland.
By buying this land we will double the size of the existing nature reserve, reconnect two parts of the Homington and Coombe Bissett Downs SSSI and link the Coombe Bissett Down County Wildlife Site. It will become a strategically important large block of chalk downland. The new reserve will cover an area of 215 acres, provide ecological connectivity and further protect, maintain and enhance this internationally important habitat. Please see the map for more detail.
Conservation grazing benefits
Our Coombe Bissett Down Reserve is the hub of the Trust’s southern farming operations. The purchase of this land will double the area of grassland available for our cattle and sheep to graze as part of our reserve management. This will give us much greater flexibility in controlling the intensity of grazing, significantly enhancing our ability to maintain the SSSI grassland and County Wildlife Site in a favourable condition.
Enhanced public access and activities
Its location means that the additional land will give further opportunities for public access, both from the village of Coombe Bissett and from the main road between Salisbury and Blandford Forum. There is a bus stop at the entrance to this new land. A series of circular walks around the site will be connected to the existing access routes on the current nature reserve.
We will be able to offer significant training opportunities and activities, including biological recording of species, and learning opportunities for school children e.g. chalk grassland habitats, species, pollinators etc. The restored grassland will also give considerably enhanced access to children attending the local primary school, which will be within a short walking distance.
Come and hear more about our plans
On Sunday 22 May we will be holding a meet and greet event in the Coombe Bissett Village Hall. The event will include a walk over the reserve and new land. You’ll be able to find out about our present management and future plans for the site. We’re also looking to form a "Friends" group to support the reserve and developments and show how you can get involved. For more details of this event sign up to our e-newsletter or visit wiltshirewildlife.org.
Help us reach our fundraising target/Help us make this opportunity a reality
We have already raised over £141,000 but we’d really like to reach £185,000 by the time we make our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. So if you’d like to help us reach our target you could hold an event to raise funds for us or make a donation online at wiltshirewildlife.org or by calling the office on (01380) 736069.
Anything you can give will help secure the future of this unique Wiltshire landscape as a place for wildlife to thrive and people to enjoy.