South Efford Marsh is a wildlife reserve beside the river which is open to the public. It is on the outskirts of the village at Bridge End, and can be reached by crossing the bridge and taking the lane to the right just before the hill. Parking near the site is very limited; the nearest car park is by the Timbers roundabout.
South Efford Marsh was created in the 1780’s by enclosing an area of foreshore and mud flats in the estuary with a banked retaining wall. Since that time it was used as a grazing marsh until 2009 when it was bought by the Environment Agency as part of their Habitat Creation Programme. After the installation of a tidal gate to regulate the flow of water into the marsh this 17 hectare site is now an enclosed area of riverside pasture and developing saltmarsh containing both fresh and salt/brackish water habitats. Although the Environment Agency still owns it, the marsh is now leased by the Devon Wildlife Trust who manages the reserve. The EA continues to maintain a keen interest in the marsh, and monitors the tidal regulating gate which controls the flow of water in and out.
Visitors are welcome and there is no entrance charge, but because of the sensitive areas of feeding and nesting birds on the marsh no dogs are allowed. A footpath from the entrance takes walkers around the northern half of the perimeter; visitors are discouraged from walking down the more open southern half of the site as this will disturb nesting and feeding birds. In recent years great improvements have been made to the path, and to adjacent fencing which keeps grazing cattle from straying over to the banks.
A bird hide at the end of the perimeter path looks out over both the Marsh and the surrounding estuary. The fields are grazed by cattle for part of the year subject to a grazing agreement, and this helps to keep the grass short enough to encourage the growth of a more diverse variety of plants, and also to attract waders and wildfowl during the winter months.
At the northern end reed and willow lined ditches run through the site attracting birds such as sedge warblers, reed buntings, and kingfishers, and in the winter the ditches also attract over-wintering water rail – seldom seen but often to be heard. The banks adjacent to the river are covered in gorse and wild flowers such as black knapweed and birds foot trefoil, and is a real haven for butterflies. Amongst other species this area attracts linnet, whitethroat, chiff chaff, dunnock, wren, goldfinch, goldcrest and the common lizard.
A tidal sluice has been installed at the southern end of the reserve to create pools and shallow areas of salt and brackish water, attractive feeding grounds for waders and wildfowl. Plants here include sea spurry, sea arrow-grass and sea club-rush, and in a survey done in the summer of 2013 new saltmarsh species were already beginning to grow here – marsh samphire, sea aster, sea purslane and common cordgrass (spartina) – seeds brought in from the river with the incoming water. At this end of the marsh visitors may see red and green shank, black tailed godwit, green sandpiper, oystercatchers and dunlin, and it is a regular feeding site for swallows, swifts, and house and sand martins. Wintering curlew also use the marsh for roosting and feeding at high tide.
Otters could be found on the marsh when it was in private ownership, and it is encouraging to find that they were not disturbed by all the building works with heavy plant and frequent vehicles needed to install the new tidal gate; there is ample evidence that they are still on the marsh and the surrounding area.
Over the past years there have been sightings of birds which are unusual and even rare in this area – wood sandpiper, over-wintering water pipits, woodchat shrike, glossy ibis, and a spoonbill, with sightings of osprey over the estuary. Sightings on the marsh are often included on Devon Bird News.
An Open Day on Jan 25th 2014 was held to show visitors to the reserve all the changes which had taken place in the last two years since the site was declared open. The rain held off for the day and over 100 visitors enjoyed their tour round the site including a visit to the newly erected bird hide. A report and photos of the day can be seen by following this link.