The reserve is home to an exceptional collection of plants and animals associated with chalk downland and scrub habitats. These include a number of rare and threatened species.
Where: West Hampshire bordering both Wiltshire and Dorset
Main habitats: Lowland Grassland
Site map: Nature on the Map.
Although most NNRs are managed by Natural England, 88 are wholly or partly managed by other bodies approved by Council, under Section 35 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Martin Down NNR is jointly owned and managed by Natural England and the Hampshire County Council. Hampshire Wildlife Trust also have the freehold of the north of the NNR called Kitt’s Grave and this area is managed on their behalf by Natural England under a long-term lease..
Essentially the NNR is managed by sheep grazing and scrub management using a set method to ensure the conservation interest is maintained.
There is an information leaflet: (369kb) about this reserve.
Why visit: Martin Down NNR covers 342 hectares of downland and represents one of the largest areas of uninterrupted chalk downland in Britain (Salisbury Plain and Porton Down being larger). It has great views across Cranborne Chase and the lack of light pollution at night makes it an ideal area for star gazing.
Star species: Notable plants found in the area include bastard toadflax, field fleawort, early gentian and lesser centaury. Twelve orchid species have also been identified, including burnt-tip, green-winged, greater butterfly and frog.
Five bat species have been recorded in the area: noctule, serotine, brown long-eared, common and soprano pipistrelle; and brown hare is found throughout the site. Birds found at Martin Down include turtledove, grey partridge, nightingale, skylark, yellowhammer and linnet. Hobby and quail may also be encountered and Montagu’s harrier and stone-curlew sometimes visit the site.
Many butterflies can be seen on the down including varieties of skipper, blue and fritillary. Duke of Burgundy is also recorded on the site. Notable moths include the narrow-bordered bee hawk, small eggar and forester species. The site is also home to many other insects, for instance twelve bumblebee species including the rare brown-banded carder bee.
A massive linear prehistoric earthwork, the Bokerley Dyke can be seen on the down and the whole area is rich in archaeological features with numerous tumuli and a long barrow in Kitt’s Grave. More recently there are the remains of a second world war rifle range near the A354 and an older range at the base of Hanham Hill to the south.
Further information on the historic environment at and around Martin Down NNR is available on the English Heritage website.
Please note: visitors are asked to keep their dogs under close control at all times on the Reserve and particularly where livestock are present..
Spring heralds the arrival of the myriad of butterflies and flowers that Martin Down is renowned for.
In May and June, marsh fritillary butterflies, grizzled and dingy skippers are making the most of the sunshine, whilst drifts of burnt tip and greater butterfly orchids can be found. The smell of salad burnet growing amongst the horseshoe and kidney vetch is powerful and gives chalk grassland a distinctive fresh scent.
In the air, turtle doves have arrived from their epic migration from sub-sahara and the males are busily wooing the females – listen out for their ‘purr’. Skylarks too are plentiful on the Reserve and make use of the longer grassland to make their nests.
There is a good population of Britain’s only poisonous snake - the adder; they are best seen at the start of the warmer spring weather, which tempts them out from their winter slumber.
Summer and the downland takes on a different feel with meadow browns and dark green fritillaries in flight. The iridescent Adonis blue butterflies are onto their second brood. The yellow of spring vetches and cowslips have given way to mauves and blues of scabious, knapweeds and clustered bell flowers.
Winter can be harsh on the Reserve, but the occasional short eared owl and barn owls can be seen hunting, with the odd migrant bird making a fleeting appearance.
The reserve is 14 km south west of Salisbury, 1 km west of Martin village. The northern part of the site is crossed by the A354.
The nearest train station is in Salisbury and bus services from Salisbury along the A354 are provided by the Wilts and Dorset Bus Company. There is a bus-stop by the main car park with access directly onto the site.
By car, access to the site is via the A354 and minor roads leading from it. There is a car park on the A354 and another at the end of Sillens Lane, a minor road from the village of Martin, 1 km east of the reserve.
A path, the Jubilee Trail, crosses the site and there are numerous bridleways and footpaths in the area. More information on walking and cycling in the area is available on the Wiltshire Council website.
There are village shops at Coombe Bissett and Sandleheath, and pubs at Damerham and Cashmoor.
Information panels and leaflets are provided for visitor information.
School and community groups – we are able to provide staff time for a half day or full day of activities for a small number of school visits per year. Please telephone to discuss further. School groups are also able to self guide themselves around the site but please let us know in advance. Please note there are no toilets except for pre-booked visits and coach parking is very limited.
Want to get involved? – If you would like to get involved in helping the managers of the Reserve, monitor species and generally help out please contact the Reserve Manager.
For further information regarding this site please telephone 0300 060 6000 or 01590 674656 and ask to speak to the Reserve Manager.