RSPB Exe Estuary

Given how 2020 has panned out not quite as any of us would have predicted, I suppose it’s probably as good a time as any to bed in a new team. That’s certainly what has happened for us on the Exe Estuary, following the departure of Pete (Site Manager) and Becky (Assistant Warden) at the end of last year. Natalie Holt started as Site Manager in February, then I joined as Warden in March, just as the first lockdown started.

We’ve just recently added Mark Crisp to the team as part-time Assistant Warden, and so we’re beginning to feel something close to a full team now. The one constant through all of this has been Sarah Ladyman, our one (due to covid restrictions) Residential Volunteer, who very ably stepped up into the Assistant Warden (and occasionally Warden/Site Manager!) role during the period of staff turnover/absence. Sarah will be with us until the end of March and we can but hope that after that it won’t be too long before we’re able to have more than one residential volunteer in the accommodation at the same time. So for us on the Exe Reserves, 2020 has really been about a new start, and a new team.

In terms of wildlife, from a Warden-writing-an-annual-report point of view, that’s one of the saddest things about 2020 – we were limited to work that was classified as ‘Essential’, which mostly focussed on animal welfare (grazing animals and wildlife), health and safety (including access), and essential work under Countryside Stewardship. Sadly most survey work didn’t fall into these categories and so had to be shelved.

As a result we’ve had to rely on anecdotal reports and the occasional sighting to try to put together a picture of how wildlife fared this year. At Labrador Bay and Ashill our infrastructure and pony checker volunteers have seen enough Cirl Buntings on their visits to know that they seem to have had a good year. Natalie and myself went out in April to check on nesting Lapwing before potential crop cultivation work took place, and the positive (in one sense) was that at least five pairs of birds were exhibiting nesting behaviour, and so the work couldn’t go ahead.

I was regularly mobbed by good numbers of Lapwing while checking the predator fences throughout the first lockdown, so again that was seen as a positive sign. We later received reports of a Lapwing family on the lagoon, as well as sightings of successful breeding for Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover. Now that winter is fast approaching bird numbers are swelling, and it’s pleasing to see and hear the big groups of Wigeon and Curlew across the site. This autumn passage seems to have been a pretty good one for rarities too, with the American Wigeon, Green-Winged Teal and large numbers of Cattle Egret providing particular highlights in and around the estuary.

One of the things we’ll all remember this year for is how many people we only get to see ‘virtually’, so for us it’s been very pleasing that a lot of our essential work has meant actually seeing people in the flesh! Getting to know our tenants, graziers and local contractors has been incredibly worthwhile, and continuing to build those positive relationships is vital as we look to improve the habitats that we have on the Exe.

We’re also very fortunate on the reserves in that the RSPB as an organisation took a fairly swift, decisive and common-sense approach to dealing with Covid when working with volunteers. With the right safeguarding measures and working practices in place, we were able to welcome volunteers back with open arms (so to speak!) at the end of the summer, and the work they have helped us with has been invaluable. Without them we simply wouldn’t have caught up on as much of the lockdown-backlog as we have – so a HUGE thankyou to them all.

So all in all it’s a big hello from the new team as we get our feet under the collective table, and probably a fairly satisfied goodbye to 2020. We look forward to seeing more of you, and more wildlife, in 2021.

Best wishes,

Steve Edmonds
Warden, RSPB Exe Estuary & North Devon Reserves

RSPB Exminster and Powderham Marshes

A photograph of two Avocet in the water


This is the Exe Estuary Box produced by a new and exciting project called Tidelines. It is free to all residents around the Exe estuary and a lot of people are doing it now! It contains some simple enjoyable activities designed to explore what we, as residents, know and what we want to know about our changing estuary. Boxes are returned with the completed activities which will be part of a display in March 2021. You can do these activities on your own, with a friend or with a family member.

Tidelines is bringing together arts, sciences, local knowledge and academic research in creative ways to learn more about the dynamics of the Exe estuary and coastline, the changes taking place now particularly in relation to climate change and looking at predictions for the future and how these will impact the multi-species landscapes we are part of.

The estuary is at the centre of our community and defines us and this is an opportunity to celebrate it and make information about it more available locally: to put a spotlight on it as it is our complex natural wonder! The project aims to bridge the gaps between academic researchers and local citizens through creative conversations and participatory events and will invite research questions generated or co-developed with people on the ground.

Tidelines takes a holistic and inclusive approach to the estuary focussing on, giving voice to and involving the broader community including all estuary residents from cyclists to dog-walkers, bathers to commuters encouraging active involvement in the care of the changing estuary. So it is really important to get everyone’s view of how we all see the estuary. And that means you! Get your estuary box now!

Tidelines advisory group currently includes representatives from Transition Exmouth, East Devon Council and University of Exeter. In 2020 we have worked on events with East Devon Council Countryside Team, Devon Libraries Service, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, The Exe Estuary Partnership, The Met Office, University of Exeter and the Marine Biological Association. Tidelines is co-ordinated by Exmouth residents Jo Salter and Anne-Marie Culhane in partnership with University of Exeter and is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company.

To get a box: email or call 07890244012 and we will either drop one off to you or provide an easy pick-up point.

More about Tidelines activities and the Exe Box:

A photo of the items inside the Tidelines project "Exe Estuary Box"