World Wetlands Day

Thursday 2nd February is World Wetlands Day, so for our latest blog, we donned our wellies and got out and about to explore our nearest wetland areas.

This article was written on 10 January 2023
and is a 5 minute read

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According to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, “Wetlands are some of the most threatened habitats in the world, yet also the most vital for wildlife and people. They’re areas of land that are either permanently or seasonally inundated with water, supporting species that are adapted to live there”.

Seaton Wetlands (Axe Estuary)

We begin our tour in East Devon. The most famous nature reserve in the Axe Valley, Seaton Wetlands is a very accessible area of marshland and reed beds alongside the River Axe, with flat trails and boardwalks suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. It includes bird hides and a Discovery Hut, and car parking is available through Seaton Cemetery. When the hut is open, you can hire pond-dipping equipment. Visit the Wild East Devon website for lots of information about the wetlands, directions and a map. Please note that dogs are not allowed.

Seaton Wetland Centre by Mike Finn Licensed under CC BY 2.0Seaton Wetland Centre by Mike Finn Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Seaton Wetlands are part of the Axe Estuary. This area has been newly designated a “Marine Conservation Zone” by the UK Government, meaning it is a site where nationally important habitats and species are protected. Read a Wildlife Trusts factfile about the Axe Valley. There are other nature reserves in the Axe Valley, listed here on the Axe Vale and District Conservation Society website.

If you’d prefer to sit back and view the abundant wildlife in comfort, book yourself a seat on the Seaton Tramway which includes a halt in the wetlands.

Seaton Wetland Centre - the Seaton tram by Mike Finn Licensed Under CC BY 2.0

Seaton Wetland Centre – the Seaton tram by Mike Finn Licensed Under CC BY 2.0

The Exe Estuary

The Exe Valley is dotted with nature reserves and we’ve told you about the wonderful Exe Estuary in previous blogs. The whole River Exe is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, internationally renowned for its bird life. The estuary is an absolute “must” for bird-watchers.

There are 26 miles of cycle tracks and footpaths running either side of the estuary – from Dawlish right round to Exmouth – and you can learn about them in this Exe Explorer Guidebook.

Matford Marshes

Half way between the city of Exeter and the suburb of Exminster just off the busy Bridge Road, you’ll find the fairly new Matford Marshes Nature Reserve. This small reserve helps to protect Exeter from flooding by holding excess water after heavy precipitation. The changes in water levels attract wading birds such as the green sandpiper. You will also likely spot the once-rare little egret.

A Seal on the Exe Estuary
A seal on the Exe Estuary

Bowling Green Marsh, Topsham

1% of the world’s dark bellied Brent geese live on the Exe Estuary and many can be seen (and heard!) at RSPB Bowling Green Marsh at Topsham, which is also home to godwits, avocets and some of the rarer ducks. However, insects and mammals such as the otter can also be found if you keep your eyes peeled. Nature lovers will enjoy this wonderful guide to Wildlife of the Exe Estuary.

 With their informative commentary and choice of cruises in the area, Stuart Line Cruises offer excellent value river trips and special bird-watching trips. View their timetables

Bowling Green Marsh Topsham
Brent Geese on Bowling Green Marsh

Dawlish Warren

At the end of the Exe Estuary and on the way to Dawlish, is Dawlish Warren. “The Warren” (thought to be so-called because it was used for raising rabbits for fur during the middle ages), is a beautiful blue-flag beach and nature reserve. It is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its dune grassland and the tiny, rare ‘petalwort’ that grows there. 

Dawlish Warren Beach from the Sand Dunes (Maria Thorne)

Hackney Marshes Local Nature Reserve

Heading down towards Kingsteignton in South Devon, Hackney Marshes is an historically interesting nature reserve. A few hundred metres away are the ruins of the hamlet of Hackney and the marshes are bordered by the remains of a canal that, up until 1928, took barges to Kingsteignton. Grassland and reed beds host a range of wildlife which you can see from a network of level, accessible paths.

The Otter Estuary

Our final stop today is the Otter Estuary

Take a gentle stroll by the mouth of the River Otter from Budleigh Salterton. Park at Lime Kiln and head to the back of the car park to find a footpath running alongside the salt marshes. Carved, wooden information boards along the way tell you about the birds you can glimpse through the reeds. This is a super walk for children who surely could be rewarded for walking up to White Bridge and back with an ice cream by the beach.

Otter Estuary, Budleigh Salterton by Maria Thorne

Those with longer legs can continue beyond White Bridge, follow the footpath along the Otter north to Otterton Mill to enjoy refreshments in their award-winning cafe.

Appropriately, since the theme of World Wetlands Day 2023 is reviving and restoring wetlands, there is now a project underway to restore and enhance the Lower Otter at the estuary.

View from White Bridge Axe EstuaryView from White Bridge by Maria Thorne

As always, we try to make sure that information is correct at time of publishing, but please always check an attraction’s website before visiting to avoid disappointment.