Fontmell Down Nature Reserve
This is an internationally recognised area of chalk downland with stunning views across the Blackmore Vale, supporting 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 unspolit grassland supports nine orchid species and the rare endemic early gentian, as well as a large number of other scarce wild flowers. The mosaic of grassland and scrub habitats on site provides an ideal home to the 35 recorded species of butterfly, and several notable species of bird, mammal, moth, fly, bug, moss and lichen!
The reserve is split into three parts. The largest area ecompasses; the south facing slope of the main 'Fontmell Down' and the north facing opposite downland, mainly kept short to allow a carpet of wildflowers to flourish amongst the grasses and to provide ideal conditions for the associated invertebrate species, such as the rare silver-spotted skipper; the 'Catswhisker' woodland; and a patchwort of longer grassland and scrub on the lower slopes, which adds to the diversity of habitats and supports it's own suite of specialist species including dormouse, yellowhammer and the barred tooth-striped moth. On the opposite side of the road to the south, the smaller north facing Brandis Down provides a similar mix of habitats and, on the far side of the hill, the third part of the reserve is an area of longer calcareous grassland and scrub, Jerry's Hole, where grazing later in the season allows for plenty of structure and seed setting for invertebrates, birds and small mammals.
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.
Access and safety
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 summer/ autumn months, 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.
Species and habitats
Calcareous grassland, scrub, deciduous woodland.
Early and autumn gentian, bee, frog and fragrant orchid, autumn lady’s tresses, white helleborine, chalk milkwort, harebell, kidney vetch, horseshoe vetch; silver-spotted skipper, Adonis blue and chalkhill blue; barred tooth-striped; skylark, stonechat, yellowhammer; dormouse.
Nearby nature reserves
Nature reserve map
Contains derived data © Crown copyright and database right 2012.Ordnance Survey LA100019790.
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