Dawlish Warren

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Dawlish Warren


The nature reserve at Dawlish Warren extends for 500 acres and is located on a long sand spit at the mouth of the River Exe.

The sand spit is home to many species of wildlife.
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.


The Warren has a warm sunny climate and low rainfall. This allows some rare plants to grow here that could not withstand colder, wetter parts of Britain.

The reserve has recorded over 600 different types of flowering species of flowering plant life, and is famous for its collection of orchids and the unique Warren Crocus (Romulea columnae) – only found at this location. The crocus is protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 – Schedule 8
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


Each Autumn up to 23,000 wildfowl and wading birds travel to the Exe Estuary from the far north to escape the cold. They start arriving in August and stay until late March. The Warren is vital for their survival providing the main roosting, or resting place on high tides.
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.

Oyster Catcher Tern Godwit

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.

Disabled Access

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.

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