Isle of Wight farm to help birds and butterflies

Dunsbury farm at sunset, looking out over Compton Bay
Published : 29 Oct 2015 Last update : 11 Nov 2015

Securing the future of one of the UK’s rarest butterflies: Dunsbury Farm on the Isle of Wight - our largest English coastal acquisition in over 20 years - will help protect the Glanville fritillary butterfly, and champion wildlife-friendly farming.

Thanks to your support for our campaign to rescue precious areas of coastline, we’ve been able to acquire the 165 hectare Dunsbury Farm on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight.

This is our third major coastal purchase of the year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Neptune Coastline Campaign.

Protecting a butterfly paradise

Neighbouring the farm is the wildlife rich chalk downland of Compton, home to 33 species of butterflies. In fact, it’s the stronghold for the UK’s only endemic population of the rare Glanville Fritillary butterfly.

Our vision for Dunsbury is to help create the right farmland habitat where wildlife can flourish. So, working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation, we hope to create the right conditions to safeguard the habitat of this beautiful insect, which relies on crumbling cliffs, and the downs behind the coast to provide additional breeding habitat.

Compton is also an oasis of wildflowers such as the internationally rare early gentian and at least seven species of orchid.

Farming that will help our wildlife

Mixed farming, with livestock such as cattle and sheep, together with cereals like wheat, will provide the diversity that our wildlife needs in order to flourish. At Dunsbury, we’ll introduce light grazing and wide field margins. Stubble fields will be left to give winter food to birds such as the linnet, Dartford warbler, meadow pipit, skylark, grey partridge and yellow hammer.

By combining Dunsbury with our other farm at Compton, we hope to produce a viable unit that not only works for wildlife and farming, but will provide interest to people using the network of footpaths through the farm.

Galloway cattle on Compton Down help to keep it covered in flowers by grazing coarser vegetation
Galloway cattle grazing on Compton Down with a view of the Bay in the distance
Galloway cattle on Compton Down help to keep it covered in flowers by grazing coarser vegetation

Tennyson loved the place too

The 15-mile Tennyson Trail, named after Alfred Lord Tennyson, skirts the northern edge of Dunsbury Farm. Tennyson loved striding out over the open downland with its dramatic sea views, and whilst living on Island as Poet Laureate, he was inspired to write many of his classic poems.

National Trust Isle of Wight General Manager Tony Tutton said: ‘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 re-wild this landscape, making it healthy and beautiful for the future.

‘Our plan is to introduce the sort of farming that will be an exemplar, 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 butterflies and farmland birds with the stunning views along the chalk cliffs towards the Needles.’

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

Today, we care for one in three miles of the coast on the Isle of Wight. Dunsbury sits within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), just north of the picturesque Trust-owned Brook and Compton Bays. By acquiring it, we can ensure the future protection of an unbroken stretch of coastline that is one of the most significant in Britain to combine wildlife, geology and recreation.