A NATURE reserve looks back on one year of managing new land following grant and launch of project.

In partnership with Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Coombe Bissett Down’s latest expansion project has enabled the land to double to 70 hectares, and in doing so has invited the community to get involved with an abundance of conservation activities to help restore the new site and improve accessibility for visitors.

HLF granted the reserve £814,100 at the end of 2017, and since then work has been ongoing across both old and new parts of the site, to ensure wild species are protected and have the best conditions and support to grow.

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Site manager for areas across south and west Wiltshire, Ashley White, said the approved funding has been “fantastic” for the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), adding: “Thanks to the HLF grant the trust was able to purchase this big, arable field, so in effect the grant has enabled us to double the size of the reserve and it now encompasses 70 hectares.”

During the project so far, plants have been grown to enhance the lives of bugs and smaller wildlife, seeds have been harvested, and the purchased land has been prepared for sowing to begin in summer 2019.

Additionally features have been added to the site in response to survey results, including kestrel nest boxes.

Volunteers have been busy since the three-year project launched with a mixture of jobs and events including hedge planting, wildflower, bee and butterfly identification, harvesting seeds and scrub management.

And as these jobs continue through the winter months, aspirations for Coombe Bissett Down for 2019 include the return of more wildflower, the launch of a butterfly bank, installing benches and kissing gates along guided walks, and excavation of sites with potential links to the Neolithic Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman period.

Ashley, who has worked for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust for seven years, added: “We’re always looking for new volunteers and we have got a regular group that have started up here.

“They can help support the events that we run here, the education sessions, the practical conservation, and then there’s one-off things like the hedge planting and wildflower seed collection.”

Talking generally about the reserve, Ashley said: “I love it here, it’s a beautiful site. Very frequently the places that are closest to home you barely go and explore because you don’t know they’re there, people go out somewhere or they go away for the day, just because you don’t know what’s on your doorstep.”

To get involved with the project and upkeep of the reserve, visit the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust HLF page.