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Exe Estuary
A Special Protection Area, Site of Special Scientific Interest and a wetland of international importance
An aerial photograph of the Exe Estuary (c) Still Imaging

The Exe Estuary is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) in recognition of it's international importance as a wintering ground for a diverse community of over 20,000 waterbirds.

Waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing flock to the habitat these nature reserves provide. The eelgrass bed between Exmouth and Lympstone provides feeding grounds for thousands of Dark-bellied Brent geese and Wigeon. And at Dawlish Warren, the Wildlife Refuge and secluded bight provide winter sanctuary for Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Grey Plover.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose

These charming monochromatic birds spend their breeding season on the boggy arctic tundra of northern Siberia...


Wigeon are grazing ducks, feeding on grass or mud-flat plants - a feeding habit usually associated with geese. However, they do also feed in water and go "end-up" in a more duck-like fashion

Black-tailed Godwit

Along with the Avocet, the black-tailed godwit is one of the few species re-established in the UK as breeding birds - in 1953 there were as few as four breeding pairs recorded! 


Named after it's notable red shanks (legs), this bird inhabits a variety of grassy meadows, river meadows and marshes. They live off all sorts of invertebrates, small fish and frogs, as well as some seeds, buds and berries.


Although a species of utmost conservation concern (red list), Dunlin are our most common wintering wader. They are often seen in large flocks feeding on the mudflats and swirling in synchronized flight across Dawlish Warren Wildlife Refuge. 

A photo of an Oystercatcher - photo courtesy Lee Collins


This well-recognised Exe Estuary species has the heaviest beak of any wading bird! It's protected by an armour of keratin (the same material that’s in rhino horn) and is specially adapted to smash its way into marine molluscs.


An elegant pied wader with a distinctive upturned bill and blue legs. They are the unmistakable emblem of our partner organisation, the RSPB, for good reason.

Slavonian Grebe

After having a rather drab winter appearance , these birds take on a spectacular breeding plumage with chestnut flanks and neck, jet black back and head, finished off with golden ‘horns’ and a vivid red eye.