Nature reserves in Devon you have to explore
- Credit: Archant
Escape the crowds and seek solace in one of the many nature reserves Devon has to offer. Think peaceful picnic spots, stunning views and spectacular wildlife – here are 7 reserves that are too good to miss.
1) Aylesbeare Common (RSPB)
Situated in the Special Area of Conservation protected Pebblebed Heaths, on the fringes of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Aylesbeare is a wildlife haven.
Boasting birds of international conservation importance, enjoy a stroll across the heathland buzzing with downy-emerald dragonflies, damselflies and Dartford warblers. Why not switch up your routine and take a dusk walk to spot the rare nightjar hunting across the common? Be sure to look out for adders too, basking on the pebbled paths.
2) Bystock Pools Nature Reserve (Devon Wildlife Trust)
Of the 50 nature reserves managed by Devon Wildlife Trust, Bystock remains a firm favourite among locals and tourists. With a mosaic of rich woodland, lily-pad filled pools, heathland and summer wildflower meadows – this is tranquil place to escape.
Bystock is renowned for its dragonflies, but you can also see kingfishers, the great-spotted woodpecker and glow-worms in the hedgerows, heathland and woodland at dusk; glowing as they signal for a summer mate. The network of boardwalk and benches make for a relaxing ramble, offering many a quiet picnic spot.
3) Dart Valley Nature Reserve (Devon Wildlife Trust)
If it’s a bit of local wilderness you’re after, Dart Valley is your place. It’s spacious and dynamic oak woodland valley and tumbling River Dart makes for a dramatic destination on the edges of upland Dartmoor.
The steep-sided valley means you might be clambering over boulders as you follow the river, but plentiful sightings of the silver-washed fritillary and dippers will spur you on. Field signs of otters are common and as dusk falls, tawny owls and both lesser-and greater-horseshoe bats begin their night time foraging.
4) Berry Head (National Nature Reserve)
This stunning headland on Devon’s south coast promises a truly memorable summer day out. A short walk up from the historic fishing town of Brixham, Berry Head is home to some magnificent coastal species and important habitat.
Look out for the striking guillemot, the commanding fulmar, the elusive harbour porpoise and the peregrine falcon – the fastest animal on the planet! Berry Head also has an iconic lighthouse, an award winning local café - Guardhouse Café - and a variety of coastal walks; so make sure you leave enough time to explore all it has to offer!
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Comprising two different nature reserves (Seaton Marshes and Colyford Common) - this is the perfect spot if wading birds are what you’re looking for. The bird hides and boardwalk along the estuary offer close up views of the mud flats, river and marshes.
Kingfishers are commonly seen in the summer close to the hide, as well as reed buntings, little grebes and sedge warblers. The nearby Black Hole Marsh is a saltwater lagoon supports dense invertebrate populations and islands for wading birds to roost. Some of the best views of the wetlands can be enjoyed from the famous Seaton Tram as it runs along the Axe Valley – giving unrivalled views of the nature reserves and bird life.
6) Exe Estuary (RSPB)
As one of the largest estuaries in Devon, it’s no surprise that the Exe is famous for its wildlife. Despite welcoming over 40,000 overwintering birds, summer wildlife is just as special.
The nearby Exminster Marshes and Bowling Green Marsh RSPB reserves host an array of waders and wildfowl (including the iconic avocet) as well as short-eared owls – best visited at low tide form the viewing platforms and hides. Stuart Line River Cruises run throughout the summer, offering spectacular views and commentary about the estuary and its wildlife. You can also enjoy a walk or cycle along the scenic Exe Valley Trail on either side of the estuary, finishing at the mouth of the river at either Exmouth or Dawlish.
7) Dawlish Warren (National Nature Reserve)
If you fancy 500 acres of unspoilt, unique beauty, Dawlish Warren is a must-see reserve this summer. Positioned on a 1.5-mile sandspit at the mouth of the Exe Estuary, this mosaic of scientifically significant grassland, dunes and salt marsh is an environment protected by national and international law.
Its temperate climate makes it home to over 600 species of flowering plants such as southern marsh orchids and the sand crocus, as well as thousands of birds including godwits, oystercatchers, and Brent geese. A lively visitors centre, boardwalk and bird hide offers a relaxing nature-filled day, as well as being able to enjoy spectacular views across to Exmouth and the Jurassic coastline.
This article was updated by Martha Griffiths in June 2021.