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The Dunsbury project

View of Compton Bay at sunset with The Needles Headland and Tennyson Down beyond, seen from Dunsbury Farm, Compton Bay,Isle of Wight.
View of Compton Bay at sunset with The Needles Headland and Tennyson Down beyond | © National Trust Images/John Miller

The land at Dunsbury is a crucial part of the coastal jigsaw on the Isle of Wight and our ongoing project aims to farm the land in a way that allows wildlife to return and thrive. There's a network of paths from which you can see how the landscape and wildlife is changing, as well as enjoy butterfly and birdwatching.

Our Vision

We took on care of Dunsbury Farm in 2015. Since then, we've set about evolving it from intensive farming to a wildlife-rich landscape that’s farmed in a more sustainable way.

The 165-hectare (407-acre) site will become a mix of coastal grassland with scattered shrub and woodland and there'll also be areas of wet grassland and fen.

Two linnet birds perched on top of the flowering heath at Studland Bay, Dorset
Linnets can be seen at Dunsbury | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

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 reverted 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 has allowed grassland and flowers to flourish and develop deeper roots, which helps to restore soil structure, retain vital water resources and store carbon.

We began by sowing low-input cereals to help repair the land and reduce the levels of artificial nutrients. Since then, we've left the fields to regenerate. Deep-rooting plants have broken up the compacted soil. This has allowed worms to recolonise and enrich the soil, encouraging other organisms to flourish too. Meadow grasses and flowers have started creeping in as well.

We've also used cattle to graze the land (with ponies and pigs to follow in the future). They help create a natural balance between open grassland, scrub and woodland. They also distribute wildflower seeds through their coats and dung, and they encourage insects (and the animals that feed on them) through their dung too.

Sheep grazing on a grassy hillside at Dunsbury Farm, Compton Bay on the Isle of Wight.
Sheep grazing at Dunsbury Farm, Compton Bay | © National Trust Images/John Miller

A varied landscape

Over time, the areas of scattered scrub and woodland will develop and provide a more varied landscape and habitat for farmland wildlife such as voles, mice, kestrels, linnets, 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 thrive.

All this is leading to an increase in birds. Already, a wide variety of raptors (including the occasional endangered short-eared owl) have been spotted hunting for the small mammals that are colonising the naturally restoring arable fields. And the hope is that more skylarks, stonechats, yellowhammers and swallows will flock to the area too.

Family on the beach at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight, are reflected in the wet sand near the edge of the sea

Discover more at Compton Bay and Downs

Find out how to get to Compton Bay and Downs, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.