Dunsbury Farm – protecting a butterfly paradise

In October 2015 the National Trust made its largest coastal acquisition in over 20 years. And it was right here on the Isle of Wight.

Dunsbury, made up of 165 hectares of attractive grass downland, arable land and woodland, lies just to the north of the picturesque Trust–owned Brook and Compton Bays. It was purchased with help from the Neptune Coastline Campaign which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 and has enabled us to safeguard an amazing 574 miles of our British coastline.

Our Vision

This farm is a crucial piece of the coastal jigsaw for the National Trust on the Isle of Wight. It means we can plan for the future of a coast which is eroding at a rate of 1.5 metres per year, allowing us to maintain access to this much loved part of the island, and to manage the land in a less intensive way, making it healthy and beautiful for the future.
Our plan is to introduce the sort of farming that will set a fine example, by being both productive and good for wildlife. Given time, the farm will also become a place where we can combine people’s enjoyment of walking with butterfly and bird watching. There are stunning views along the chalk cliffs towards the Needles and glimpses of Poole Harbour and Studland in the distance.

Working Together for Wildlife

We can only achieve all this if we work with other like-minded people. Together we can take on landscape-scale projects. We will work with Butterfly Conservation to safeguard the future of butterflies, in particular the rare Glanville fritillary. We’ll also develop plans to encourage the return of farmlands birds, improving habitats for linnets, skylarks and yellowhammers. 
A male Glanville fritillary – a UK rarity but often sighted on the Isle of Wight
A male Glanville fritillary enjoys the sun
A male Glanville fritillary – a UK rarity but often sighted on the Isle of Wight

Farming that will help wildlife

The arable land is on very light sandy soils on slopes leading down to the sea. These suffer from considerable soil loss when it rains and the rapid flow of water in straight ditches contributes to some of the cliff erosion on the coast.

We’re planning to revert much of the arable land to grassland by natural regeneration, to help stabilise the soil and slow down the rate of rain water run-off. Light grazing of these fields will allow grassland and flowers to flourish and develop deeper roots, which help to restore soil structure, retain vital water resources and store carbon. Over time areas of scattered scrub and woodland will be allowed to develop by natural means, and will provide a more varied landscape and habitat for farmland wildlife such as voles, mice, kestrels, linnets, skylarks, yellow hammers, butterflies and other insects.

Neighbouring Compton Farm already plays an important part in the management of Compton Down and parts of the coast. Sensitive wildlife-friendly farming of Dunsbury will allow the wildlife on Compton Farm to spread out and do even better.