Preserving your Past for the Future



South Efford Marsh


View from the tidal gate back towards Aveton Gifford - top: low tide - bottom: high tide & rain (04/01/2014)


Marsh Update & Devon Wildlife Trust 'Discovery Day'

Construction work by the Environment Agency to create the new tidal gate was undertaken in 2010/11 along with other necessary work, and finally the gate was opened to allow the water level inside the marsh to rise to the required level to start the slow processes which would eventually  turn the southern end of the marsh into saltmarsh. The EA held an Open Day to celebrate the launch of the new "South Efford Marsh" in April 2011, and soon after this, handed over direct management of the wildlife reserve by leasing the site to Devon Wildlife Trust. However the EA still owns the site and continues to monitor the flow of water both into and out of the marsh to maintain correct levels for saltmarsh creation, and to monitor the changes in ecosystems and physical changes within the marsh with a series of research programmes.  
In the two years since it was opened the reserve at South Efford Marsh has slowly developed under the management of Devon Wildlife Trust. The tidal gate needed some adjustments since it was installed but the balance is right now, and at the Open Day on 25th January this year DWT was pleased to report that there was just the right amount of water coming in to create the intertidal habitat they are aiming for.  The Open Day was a chance for them to show just how much has been done and how the changes are progressing; the recent rain held off for one day, in fact the sun did come out in the afternoon, and well over 100 visitors were shown round the marsh on guided walks.
In the past the fields at South Efford marsh were over-grazed and classified as “species poor”. In these last two years a lot of work has gone on to manage the grazing – it needs to be grazed a certain amount to allow the growth of a more diverse number of plant species, but not so much that everything is eaten off. Permanent posts for electric fencing now control where the cattle are allowed, and pasture pumps have been installed for drinking, keeping them out of the watercourses through the marsh.  Cattle now graze there under licence, and are taken off altogether for several months allowing the pasture to rest. This management is now beginning to take effect, and the site is gradually improving.


The wetter reserve is gradually beginning to attract more birds, particularly waders. Visitors on Saturday were thrilled to see a Glossy Ibis. It had been feeding on the marsh for the previous few days, and in spite of constant disturbances from the conducted walks, it continued to feed on the marsh for most of the day accompanied by a small flock of Little Egrets. A Kingfisher was seen by most of the groups, Goldcrests, a Stonechat, Pied and Grey Wagtails were seen, Greenshank fed on the river over the bank, and small flocks of Shelduck were there in the earlier part of the day. However, the biggest excitement for the visitors seemed to be when otter tracks, prints and spraints were found. They obviously weren’t put off by all the construction work and are continuing to live there undisturbed by recent changes.
Visitors were shown how the areas of saltmarsh are developing at the southern end, and got the chance to talk to Anissia White who is doing her PhD research there. Controlled amounts of saline water in the lower end has killed off the original grasses and rushes, and the growth of saltmarsh plants has now begun – marsh samphire (or glasswort), sea purslane, sea aster and spartina (common cordgrass) were recorded in a survey last summer. The area is developing naturally as well; small creeks are forming, and there is a change in the invertebrate life in the estuary mud too with the change in salinity. Numbers of small fish are still in the drainage ditches, but just how they will be affected by the changes will be seen over the next few years.


In the autumn of 2013 planning permission was granted for a new bird hide, and in spite of awful weather at the end of the year it was ready for use in the new year. Unfortunately the same awful weather has delayed badly needed work on the perimeter pathway round to the hide, and visitors to the Open Day were well-advised to wear wellies! In spite of that, the hide proved a popular attraction, and it’s easy to see how much use it will get in the future, looking out over both the new saltmarsh at the front and over the river behind.


The footpath ends at the hide, and in normal circumstances the lower part of the reserve is not open to the public. On Saturday the walks went right around the marsh, and there was the opportunity for visitors to see the new tidal gate which controls the flow of water coming in to the marsh, then coming back up the landward side past the three old quarries which used to supply stone to the adjoining estate.   

The Open Day was a great success. DWT members from further away thoroughly enjoyed their visit to one of the Trust’s newest reserves, and local people too from AG and neighbouring villages came to look round, many of them for the first time. The marsh is a beautiful place, and it was good to see so many people enjoying it, and getting the chance to find out how the reserve is developing. We were so lucky with the weather too – by Sunday it was pouring again!


         Glossy Ibis and Little Egret           Otter tracks                            (both pictures courtesy Mike Wynne Powell)


        Welcome hot drink from DWT         Hide and See!


   Aerial view pre the tidal gate       Marsh at maximum flood time (2013) Tidal gate (closed)



In 2010 The Environment Agency began negotiations with the local community by putting forward a proposal to purchase the land that formed the grazing marsh at South Efford in order to restore it to an area of saltmarsh. Initially this was met with a very mixed reception, but after several months of negotiation the plans were accepted and work began to make the necessary changes to regulate the flow of water into the marsh.  The article below about the history of the marsh was written in response to the initial proposals, and does not reflect recent changes or opinions.

South Efford Marsh

an extract from: KNOW YOUR PARISH by Ken Doughty (published mAGpie Apr/May 2009)

Like all estuarine rivers, the Avon used to spread out across the river floor, flooding the adjoining marshes on high tides. This changed in the late 18th century when South Efford House came into the ownership of Christopher Savery, a lawyer from Modbury, who also owned the surrounding land. This included South Efford Marsh and the lime kilns which stood at Bridge End. He “improved” one of these by adding turrets to it so that the view from the house was enhanced.

Another improvement was far more useful and involved the building of banks round the marsh creating an environment, where livestock could be grazed. According to the Rev Swete who travelled through the parish in 1789-80, this had trebled the value of the property and presumably led to the erection of other banks since this narrowing of the river’s bed would have increased the risk of flooding elsewhere. (The most northerly arch of the bridge over the river and other arches under the causeway are now on dry land as a result of these changes.)

In the early part of the 20th century, the marsh was taken over for the sports organised during the Aveton Gifford regatta and photographs show the events, the spectators and the marquee erected for the occasion. The banks made a natural amphitheatre for spectators to watch events, which included a great variety of races. A programme of August 14th 1923 lists these, which included races for children of various ages, the length being extended as they got older; a farm labourer’s race for the over forties; married ladies, egg and spoon, potato, 3-legged races and even a marathon round and round the area of the marsh.

All this was before the existence of the recreation area to the west of the village, which was provided in the 1960s from spoil from the widening of the hill to Kingsbridge, which is where various events are held nowadays.

The next major occurrence affecting the marsh was during WW2, when a German ‘plane dropped a bomb which exploded on the bank roughly opposite the creek to Duke’s Mill. The crater filled with water on each high tide, most of which receded on the ebb. This provided a marvellous swimming pool for the people of the parish with a change of water being provided daily. The breach also allowed the ingress of water to the marsh area in which two to three acres of mud formed and rushes grew. The boys of the village in particular relished the playground created by the situation. Rodney Bone remembers swimming in the crater, having mud fights and catching mullet in the central stream.

In those times there were vast flocks of waders to be seen; Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Widgeon and Teal during the autumn migration and in the winter. There are fewer birds to be seen there now, but that applies to the whole of the estuary.

There was enough grass to tempt Harold Widger’s sheep to venture on it on one occasion and John Freegard recalls helping Harold chase them off before they became trapped, using dog and tractor to drive them through the rising water.

During a period of flooding which occurs from time to time, water got into South Efford barns where pigs were then kept. Fortunately, they had the sense to climb up into a manger so they escaped being drowned.

The crater remained until 1956, when the old quarry at South Efford was re-opened, a causeway constructed across the marsh and the bank was re-instated.

Another breach occurred in 1994 at the extreme south western end and John Freegard actually saw this occur from his eyrie at Pond Farm and was able to contact Peter Dunster who had the marsh then. They were able to move the cattle who were grazing there, onto Harold Widger’s land to the south of the marsh. The river authority later re-instated the bank at considerable expense using a large crane for the purpose.

Since these events the area has continued as valuable farm land and attracts different species of bird.The present proposals relating to changes to South Efford marsh need to be viewed in the light of its history.


Grazing cows                                                                      Tidal gate                                                                              View back to Aveton Gifford

From the Environment Agency

Apart from when it was temporarily reconnected with the estuary by a wartime bomb-hole, the marsh has remained separate from the estuary.

Now, as part of its Regional Habitat Creation Programme, the Environment Agency has restored the link. The newly created inter-tidal habitat will benefit both wildlife and people.

Mike Williams, Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, said: ‘We are working with Devon Wildlife Trust and the local community to manage the site in the long term.

‘Public access will be encouraged and we hope to be able to create opportunities for schools and colleges to learn more about saltmarsh and estuaries. We will monitor the changes that take place over coming years.’

The Environment Agency is using a new design of tide gate which will carefully control water levels in the lowest-lying parts of the marsh.
The gate will close automatically to prevent increased flood risk to properties around the marsh. Water will drain out again as the tide falls.

The Environment Agency is also creating shallow freshwater pools higher up the marsh to improve the habitat for waders, ducks and other birds.


click to view Google Maps


 For further information see: the Devon Wildlife Trust