Know before you go
Parking informationNational Trust car park at Spread Eagle Hill; small quarry car park at Brandis Down.
Grazing animalsCattle in spring, summer and autumn, sheep in winter
Circular marked trail from main car park. Public footpath from Springhead into south west of main reserve. Otherwise Open 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.
When to visit
Opening timesOpen at all times
Best time to visitSpring 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.
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.