Frequently asked questions

Why are the Wildlife Refuges needed?

The Exe Estuary is a very busy estuary, surrounded by densely populated locations. The Estuary is popular for dog walking, walking, wildlife watching and a variety of water sports. 69% of local people living within 1 km, visit roughly every other day.

The Exe also has a variety of habitats which together provide one of the most important sites for waterfowl in the South West. As a relatively small estuary, the Exe has limited space for people and birds. Evidence shows that disturbance from recreational activity is currently influencing the distribution and behaviour of birds on the Exe. Bird watches at Dawlish Warren roost found that the roost was flushed around five times per hour. When more people were present, fewer birds were recorded.

The protection of internationally important wildlife is a legal obligation. Currently there are 8.8 million visits per year to the Exe Estuary from people living within 10km. This is predicted to increase by 2.4 million by 2030 as a result of providing much-needed homes for local people.

We cannot wait until disturbance reaches a point where the number of birds decline before taking action. A precautionary approach is taken to make sure these species are protected. The Exe Disturbance Study clearly makes the case for taking these precautions, which is backed up by our Position Statement, supported by all our partners.

What difference can I make?

Your involvement is crucial. Your actions and those of thousands of people who use the Estuary can make a positive difference to this beautiful place. We need your valuable experience and help to share information about the new Wildlife Refuges, especially with people who are new to the Estuary.

What activities can affect the Exe Estuary wildlife?

Dog walking, walking, fishing, bait collecting, kite surfing, windsurfing, canoeing, sailing and personal watercraft. These take place on the intertidal, on the water and along the shore.

What happens if the weather changes and my water craft ends up in the Wildlife Refuge?

Take all necessary precautions to stay safe at all times. This could mean that you have to enter the Wildlife Refuge. As soon as possible and when it’s safe, please recover your craft at the shore or make your way out of the Wildlife Refuge.

Will I receive a fine if I accidentally cross into the Wildlife Refuge areas?

No because the Wildlife Refuges are not subject to enforcement and there are no plans for this to happen. You may meet one of our friendly Habitat Mitigation Officers on foot or in a boat, whose job it is to help people understand why the Wildlife Refuges are in place, when and where they are located.

Are the Wildlife Refuges affected by the tides?

No – it is important that high tide roosts are protected as well as access to feeding grounds at various states of the tide. If not disturbed, protected bird species still prefer to wait and rest in and near the eelgrass areas at high tide, too.

How can I share my views?

The consultation has now ended. You can email

Read more about the evidence showing disturbance.

What happens next?

A final report was compiled by SEDHRP and presented alongside the Exe Estuary Management Partnership consultation report to the  South East Devon Habitat Regulations Executive Committee (SEDHREC) on 23 October 2017, when the recommendations were approved. You can read about the approval of the proposals. You can read the report and recommendations to the SEDHREC meeting.

Preparations to help people learn about the areas have begun. In 2018, the Wildlife Refuges will be marked by buoys and an education programme will include new signs, leaflets and advice from the Habitat Mitigation Officers who work on and around the Estuary. The areas will be monitored to see how effective they are at reducing disturbance to wildlife.


Exeter City Council
East Devon District Council
Teignbridge District Council