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Exe Estuary

Exeter, Devon

Location Guide

The Exe Estuary is one of England's smaller estuaries, but it supports a wealth of habitats. It has two separate areas of coastal grazing marsh on opposite sides of the Estuary, Exminster Marshes and Bowling Green Marsh. This is a traditional stopping point for migratory birds, including Avocets, Curlews, Lapwings, and Brent Geese. The Exe Estuary's mud is rich in bird food such as cockles and Lugworms, which the waders dig down deep to find.

Bird paradise

In winter, during floods and at high tide, bird watchers can see thousands of ducks, geese and wading birds roosting and feeding including hundreds of Avocets. These once rare birds are now increasing in numbers and are characterised by their long, spindly legs and its upwardly curved, black beak. The Curlew is another distinctive visitor, distinguished by its downturned beak which it uses to probe deep into the mud for food. By mid winter there's 25,000 birds in the Exe estuary. Thousands come down from northern Europe to join resident species and feed on the rich marine life. Other highlight species include: Black Tailed Goodwit, Lapwing, Little Egret ......

Brent Geese winter here after flying all the way from Siberia to feed on the grassy fields alongside the estuary. After they've fed on a specific patch of grass, they return exactly four days later to the same spot, allowing the grass to regenerate and produce the nutrients that the birds need.

Bowling Green Marsh

One of the best places to watch the birds is at Bowling Green Marsh outside Topsham, five miles from Exeter. The marsh is located in a narrow part of the estuary further upstream. It boasts a great selection of birds including Waders, Wigeon, Shovelers, Pintails, and Teal, Lapwings are easily spotted by their black and white colouring, distinctive headcrest, and twitching leg designed to disturb invertebrates in the soil. There is a hide here as well as a viewing platform to see the birds from.

Viewing Points and facilities at each site

  • Bowling Green Marsh has one hide and a platform reached via 100m path and steps.

  • Exminster Marshes has one platform at Powderham Marsh at end of 1.2km path. Picnic area and a Nature Trail of 1.2km ending at viewing platform.

  • Darts Farm RSPB shop and Exe Estuary Visitor Centre in the River Barn at Darts Farm shopping village, which has toilets and refreshments.

Winter is the best time for flocks of Avocets. February is a good time to watch the migratory birds. RSPB bird watching cruises run from November to March, leaving from Exmouth, Starcross and Topsham.

Avocet Cruises

Run from November through to March each year. Booking in advance is essential. For actual dates and times Contact No: 01392 432691 for more information. All cruises are dependent on reasonable weather conditions. Two options are:

  • Full Length Avocet Cruises - 3-4 hour cruises, from Exmouth or Starcross. 

  • Mini Avocet Cruises - 1.5 hours long, from Topsham.

The boats are partially covered and have a toilet on board. There are also a limited range of snakes and hot and cold drinks available on the boats. Expert commentary is provided on all cruises.

Location: Exe Estuary, Nr Exminster, Devon

Grid Reference: SX954872 Ceremonial County: Devon

Map Link: VIEW MAP

Aerial photo:

Getting there: RSPB shop at Darts Farm off the A376 Exmouth Road just 5mins from J30 of M5. Exminster Marshes and Powderham Marshes are east of Exminster village off the A379 Dawlish road. Bowling Green Marsh is on the outskirts of Topsham, signposted from Holman Way Car Park.

Access: Bowling Green Marsh is along a paved road, hide has a paved ramp to the door, no wheelchair access to viewing platform.

Exminster and Powderham Marsh is rough grass often damp and muddy not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs. RSPB shop and Exe Esturary Visitor centre at Darts Farm shopping centre is on the first floor, there is a lift available.

Website: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/e/exeestuary/index.asp
Other Useful Websites:
Address: Exminster, Devon
Postcode: EX6 Telephone: 01392 824614
Opening Times: Hide viewing at Bowling Green Marsh and footpaths open all year.

RSPB shop at Darts Farm Mon-Sat 9am to 5.30pm, Sunday 10.30am to 4.30pm. Shop closed 25th and 26th December and Easter Sunday.

Charges: None

Nearby Locations:
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Car Parking: Ample parking at Darts Farm. Exminster Marshes has a car park via a tight turn off Station Road, immediately on right past railway bridge, there is also public car parking by the canal. Bowling Green Marsh has NO parking, nearest public pay and display car park 10-15 minute walk away in Topsham.

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Grid(s) or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Tracey Park Section: Wildlife Key:
Page Ref: exe_estuary Topic: Wildfowl & Wetland Spaces  Last Updated: 03/2010


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