Fontmell Down © Tony Bates MBE
Fontmell Down © Liam Andrews
Kidney Vetch at Fontmell © Neil Gibson

Kidney Vetch at Fontmell © Neil Gibson

A rare chance to see stunning displays of chalk downland flowers and butterflies with stunning views over the Blackmore Vale.

Location

Spread Eagle Hill
Shaftesbury
Dorset
SP7 0DT

OS Map Reference

ST8871018423
A static map of Fontmell Down

Know before you go

Size
63 hectares

Entry fee

N/A

Parking information

National Trust car park at Spread Eagle Hill; small quarry car park at Brandis Down.

Bicycle parking

No

Grazing animals

Cattle in spring, summer and autumn, sheep in winter

Walking trails

Circular marked trail from main car park. Public footpath from Springhead into south west of main reserve. Otherwise Open Access.

Please click here for more information and guidance about dogs on DWT nature reserves.

Access

Pedestrian gates from north side of main reserve, otherwise field gates/ stiles. Uneven ground, steep slopes and narrow paths.

UNDER THE COUNTRYSIDE AND RIGHTS OF WAY ACT 2000 (CROW), DOGS SHOULD BE KEPT ON SHORT LEADS ON THIS SITE (OPEN ACCESS LAND) FROM 1ST MARCH TO 31ST JULY TO PROTECT GROUND NESTING BIRDS.

All parts of the reserve are Open Access and there are several access points with narrow paths leading around the site. However, please be aware that there are uneven very steep slopes across the whole site, which can be very wet/ slippery in winter months. A circular marked trail (3km) starts from the car park at Spread Eagle Hill and takes in a range of the habitats on the site, download the trail leaflet and map here.

Cattle are used to graze the site in the spring, summer and autumn, with sheep on the downs in the winter. Please keep your distance and observe any signs. Ticks are regularly encountered on site. Please see our ‘Visitor Information’ page for more details.

Dogs

On a lead
Please remove dog mess from site. See above for more information about dogs on nature reserves.

When to visit

Opening times

Open at all times

Best time to visit

Spring and Summer for flowers and butterflies.

About the reserve

Orchids, moths, bugs, birds and butterflies – whatever you love to see, you will find it at Fontmell Down!

This chalk downland site on the way to Shaftesbury is an internationally important habitat. The reserve has stunning views across the Blackmore Vale and supports a huge variety of plants and insects. Ancient chalk grassland is now very rare. In the last 70 years an estimated 80% of Britain’s chalk grassland has been lost, but here at Fontmell Down the large expanse of unspoilt grassland supports nine orchid species and the rare endemic early gentian, as well as a large number of other scarce wild flowers.

The reserve is a patchwork of grassland and scrub, which is home to 35 species of butterflies, together with rare species of bird, mammal, moth, moss and lichen! Skylarks can often be heard singing above your head! The reserve is teeming with life, just stop, look under your feet and witness the amazing world hidden away in the grasses.

Fontmell Down has three distinct areas to explore, the first, and largest area, combines the south-facing slope of the main down and the north-facing downland, which sits opposite it. This area is kept short to allow a carpet of wildflowers to flourish amongst the grasses – it provides the ideal habitat for invertebrate species including the rare silver-spotted skipper. There is also a patchwork of longer grassland and scrub on the lower slopes, as well as woodland, which adds to the diversity of habitats, and supports its own suite of specialist species including dormouse, yellowhammer and the barred tooth-striped moth.

The second part of the reserve can be found over the road to the south of the site. This is the smaller north-facing Brandis Down, which provides a similar mix of habitats. The third and final part of the reserve is called Jerry's Hole. This area of longer calcareous grassland and scrub is grazed later in the season, which creates plenty of structure and seed setting for invertebrates, birds and small mammals.

Useful Information

Situated 10 miles north of Blandford the main part of the reserve is on the west side of the B3081, opposite Compton Abbas airfield. Parking for the site is at the National Trust car park (no charge) at Spread Eagle Hill just to the north of the reserve here at grid reference ST886187 or the small quarry car parking area between Ashmore and Fontmell Magna at ST884168, for access to Brandis Down and the southern end of the main reserve.

Contact us

Environmental designation

Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
Fontmell Down Nature Reserve Map

Fontmell Down Nature Reserve Map