Wildlife on and around the Exe

The Exe Estuary is famous for its wildlife – in particular the huge number of birds which over-winter in the area (including avocets, black-tailed godwits, bar-tailed godwits and brent geese.  Why not use the train to visit reserves or go to special events?

The RSPB in conjunction with ALRUG produced a leaflet about where to watch birds on the Exe (please note that this leaflet is intended to be printed and folded and part of it is upside down on screen).

Wildlife cruises

The RSPB organises regular cruises on the River Exe from November through to March each year.  RSPB guides are present on each sailing so the cruises are excellent fun for beginners and experts alike. The cruises start from Trout’s boatyard in Topsham, only 10 minutes walk from Topsham station. Bookings are now open for the 2021/22 season of cruises and more information about the cruises and how to buy tickets can be found on the RSPB website. Booking is essential.

Stuart Line Cruises also organises Guided Bird Watching Cruises.  The  cruises last around 3 hours and include commentary.

Where to see wildlife

There are various reserves and other places where wildlife can be seen in the local area:-

  • Bowling Green Marsh is just 15 minutes walk from Topsham station and the Exe Estuary Trail also passes close to it.  If you visit at high tide in winter you should see hundreds of birds roosting, including avocet.  There is a public hide where ducks and other birds can be seen at any time.  There is also a viewing platform overlooking the rivers Clyst and Exe.  This is best visted other than at high tide, where feeding waders and wildfowl can be seen on the exposed mudflats.
  • Darts Farm is home to a large variety of birds, insects and other wildlife. The RSPB shop is part of a large shopping complex in beautiful farmland, with ponds and wetland areas. A branch off the Exe Estuary Trail brings you out opposite the farm.
  • Exminster and Powderham Marshes (Can be reached by going to Topsham and taking the ferry across the canal but please check before travelling.  Alternatively can be reached on foot from either Starcross or Exeter St Thomas although it is approximately 2 – 3 miles.).  These areas are also important high tide refuges for birds in winter, and provide scare breedings grounds for birds such as lapwing and redshank in summer.
  • Cricklepit Mill in the centre of Exeter is the headquarters of the Devon Wildlife Trust. There is a visitor centre, and you can see live milling on the second Friday of each month.  There is lots to see in the wildlife garden, including sparrowhawks, otters and herons.
  • The Exe Reed Beds and the Old Sludge Beds both lie within the Exe Estuary.  There is public access through the Old Sludge Beds from the public right of way along the Exeter Ship Canal.  There is no access to the Exe Reed Beds but there are good views from the public right of way along the Exeter Ship Canal and from Topsham.
  • The Devon Wildlife Trust also owns part of the Dawlish Warren reserve, which can be reached by direct trains from the Avocet Line.


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