Coombe Down

Uncovering Coombe Down

Uncovering Coombe Down

Sat in the heart of the Dover Downlands lies a badly neglected area of old chalk grassland; Coombe Down. Whilst other nature reserves around it have been restored over the past few years, Coombe Down has patiently waited its turn.

Due to a lack of management since the 1950s, Coombe Down has become badly scrubbed over, losing some of the iconic chalk grassland species in the process. Indeed, it was the last site in Kent for the Frog orchid.

However, it can be saved and restored back to its former glory. In 2019 you have the chance to help us Uncover Coombe Down.

Dead scrub at Coombe Down

Dead scrub at Coombe Down, photo by Barry Cook

Restoration

With your support we can start to clear the scrub covering this 19 acre reserve. By re-establishing grazing we can then encourage the return of butterflies like the Adonis and chalkhill blues, and Orchids like the pyramidal & fragrant.

There are existing walking routes through Coombe Down; restoration work will help to clear and widen these and potentially link them with other neighbouring sites such as Gorse Hill. The connections between Coombe Down and all of our other Dover downland nature reserves will help to give our threatened chalk grassland species a chance to thrive.

Over time, restoration to chalk grassland will further enhance the wonderful views from the top of Coombe Down, from where you will be able to see our Old Park Hill and Lydden Temple Ewell Nature Reserves, as well as Dover Castle.

Wilding

Alongside this, our aim is to bring back species that would naturally have been found at Coombe Down. The rare Frog orchid was last recorded in Kent at Coombe Down some 30 years ago, but we aim to return it to the slopes.

We could also use Coombe Down as a new site for the critically endangered Wart-Biter Cricket, and one day, the iconic Chough could return to the downlands, where it once soared centuries ago.

Konik grazing chalk grassland at Nemo Down

Konik grazing chalk grassland at Nemo Down, photo by Barry Cook

Chalk Grassland

Restoring chalk grassland is crucial in our vision to create a wilder Kent. Chalk grassland is Europe’s version of the rainforest; up to 40 species of flowering plants can be found in just one square metre of this rich habitat. Incredibly 2.5% of the UK’s chalk grassland is found around Dover, so it is crucial that we protect our existing reserves, and bring back other chalk grassland sites that have been neglected.

Since 2014 we have successfully purchased and restored both Old Park Hill and Nemo Down, and a new extension at Lydden Temple Ewell. Now, with your support, we can look to bring back another beautiful chalk grassland site.

Species you can bring back to Coombe Down

Coombe Down has a rich past, and your help uncover the scrub, bringing back chalk grassland habitat.

This will create conditions that could see the return of species long lost to the downs. Find out more below

Chough

Chough © Wildwood Trust

Chough © Wildwood Trust

The iconic Chough has been used on Canterbury’s coat of arms since 1380, having been taken from Thomas Becket’s coat of arms. Sadly it has long been extinct in Kent after destruction of it's habitat, and persecution.

As the only crow with a red bill and red legs, the all-black chough is easy to identify, but it's harder to spot.

The chough lives on short, grazed grassland and coastal heathland where it probes the ground with its long, red bill for insects, such as leatherjackets and beetle larvae. Acrobatic in flight, it has a 'chee-ow' call which is similar to, but louder than, the Jackdaw's. The female lays three to five eggs and both parents help to raise the chicks.

The chough is about 38-40 cm long, with a wingspan of 82cms and weighs 310 grams.

Choughs build nests in small colonies in crevices and fissures, on rock ledges and cliff faces, and even in abandoned buildings. The Chough is on the Red List for Birds and is a protected species. There are only small coastal populations in Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Cornwall, but we hope to bring them back to the white cliffs of Dover.

Wart Biter Cricket

Wart-biter Cricket

The Wart-biter bush-cricket gets its unusual name from the Swedish practice of the 1700’s of allowing the cricket to bite warts from the skin. They are able to do this with their strong mouthparts

Although this treatment is no longer in vogue, the name has stuck. The Wart-biter is actually omnivorous, feeding on a range of herbs and insects, including other grasshoppers.

Even though they have wings, Wart-biter’s normally move about by walking. They rarely fly as they are too heavy and their wings are not large enough; this makes them particularly vulnerable to predators.

Status

Historically the Wart-biter used to be widespread in southern England, but now it is considered one of Britain’s most endangered insects. It can only be found at five sites in the UK, one of which is our nearby Lydden Temple Ewell nature reserve. If we can restore Coombe Down, we aim to create a new population of wart-biters at Coombe Down

Frog Orchid

Frog Orchid

Frog Orchid c) Dave Kilbey

The Frog Orchid is a short orchid, between 4-20 cm tall. Because it is a relatively small orchid, it can be easily shaded out by larger vegetation, so it is crucial that the surrounding grassland is well grazed.

conversion of land to arable and general decline of well grazed chalk grassland saw a rapid decrease in frog orchid numbers in South of England. Coombe Down is the last place in Kent that it was recorded, and we hope to bring it back to the slopes.

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