The spit is a combination of dunes, grassland, ponds, salt marsh and mud flats.
The warren is the main roost for wild fowl and wading birds of the Exe Estuary.
The Nature Reserve is an internationally important habitat for many wild species of plants, insects and birds.
Its tiny lilac flowers appear briefly around the end of March to early April. These can bee found growing amongst the drier short dune grassland.
Sand Crocus Autumn Lady`s tresses
In Wet meadow and dune slacks, orchids are found such as the Southern Marsh and Autumn Lady`s tresses (Spiranthes Spiralis)
The most common of plants species is the Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) is the main colonising species on sand dunes. It is adapted to survive in environments that offer little water. The roots of these pioneer plants stabilise the sand, making it possible for other species to move onto the dunes.
The grass is most vigorous on seaward slopes, where it is buried regularly by windblown sand. At these sites, new healthy white roots develop in the fresh layer of sand. The growth becomes less vigorous when the sand accumulation diminishes.
Common to the reserve is the Ragwort plant, providing a food source for the yellow and black striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth
For about 3 hours before and after high tide several thousand birds gather on the Warren`s shores. These include important flocks of Dunlin, Grey Plover, Bar Tailed Godwit and Oystercatchers, Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal also shelter in the inshore waters.
Sandwich Terns arrive in the summer to feed their young on sand Eels.
The plovers avoid the shingle embankments as these are used by the larger waders such as the indigenous Oystercatchers. The reserve is an important high tide roost for many of the waders and other seabirds of the area. The incoming tide, encroaches on the feeding grounds forcing the birds onto the spit at the estuary mouth, and once this is covered onto the shingle banks and sands of the warren. If the tides are particularly high, the birds may be forced onto the beaches and the adjacent grasslands.
The large numbers of waders and other birds that the food supply and roost sites on the Warren attract, sustain a significant population of predatory species such as the Sparrowhawk and the Peregrine Falcon.
Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve is open to the general public.
Dawlish Warren can be reached by car off the A379. At the bottom of the hill, in Dawlish Warren village, turn into Beach Road. Drive through the entrance tunnel under the railway (NB height restriction 2.54m) and park in the far end of the large pay and display car park. The reserve is beyond the wooden ‘field gate’.
There is open access to most of the Reserve, including the bird hide, at all times. However, there is no public access to the golf course and the mudflats. Dogs must be on a lead over most of the Reserve and are not allowed in some areas Admission to the Reserve is free, although there are car parking charges.
A route from the main car park to the promenade and the Visitor Centre is available for those with wheelchairs and pushchairs. Much of the rest of the site has soft sand which makes access difficult.
There are several way marked routes for you to follow through this unique habitat, and the Reserve has a Visitor Centre that will provide you with fascinating facts and information about the surrounding area and its wildlife as well as, arranging guided tours of the area for those who require it.
Teignbridge District Council owns the public parts of the site. Anyone wishing to bring visiting groups or use the Nature Reserve for fieldwork, must get permission. Teachers, group leaders and students must book with the Wardens before finalising their topic or arrangements.
Dawlish Warren is located at the west side of the mouth of the River Exe that separates it from Exmouth. The beach is smooth and sandy with patches of grass banks in dunes further inland. The terrain can often provide shelter for bathers during the hot season when the weather hits its peaks. The sea water is a clear blue and moves slowly north usually with a gentle current. It is protected from sewage due to the modern sewage systems of downstream towns such as Dawlish. The dog restrictions and litter prohibition further enforce the cleanliness of the beach, and this has gained it the seaside blue flag award.
During the summer season the waters are active with bathers and sea-sporters. Jet-skiing is common, and locals provide the hire of such vehicles. Overlooking the activities is a team of lifeguards, constantly vigilant and enforcing a feeling of safety and security for families. On the mainland the Warren provides many amenities for the visitor.
The amusement arcades and small funfair are a familiar scene to those seeking seaside entertainment, though this is just a fraction of what Dawlish Warren has to offer.