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Venn Ottery

A rugged open landscape, where a series of shallow valleys gives rise to distinct changes in vegetation, from heathery commons and wet heaths to boggy flushes and wet woodland

Welcome to the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, the largest block of lowland heath in the county.


Venn Ottery occupies 26ha of this rare and valuable habitat, in the northernmost extent of a 1400ha complex of sites. Walking the reserve, look out for the rounded pebble-shaped stones, formed from the eroded bed of a wide desert river which flowed here 235 million years ago.


Crossing the tussocky grassland today, a visitor will encounter large areas of wet and dry heathland, mires, a raised bog, gorse, birch and willow scrub, and in summer, maybe the small number of cattle and ponies who help keep scrub in check through low-intensity grazing, maintaining open conditions for heathlands plants and animals.



This wild place offers a chance to meet some of those heathland specialists: pale heath violet, stonechat, Dartford warbler, and grayling butterfly, and in wetter heathy areas pale butterwort, bog pimpernel, sundews, bog bush-cricket and raft spider.


Other residents are more secretive: around willow scrub and wet woodland fringes, lunar hornet clearwing moth and purple emperor butterfly have been seen, while a rustling at path edges may be the only hint of a common lizard, scuttling to deeper cover.


Channel surfing

Old peat diggings have created numerous wet hollows. The reserve is criss-crossed by channels, runnels, pools and ditches, home to early marsh-orchid, black bog rush, white beak-sedge, and a high number of different dragonflies and damselflies.


Some 21 species have been recorded on the Pebblebeds, including golden-ringed dragonfly, keeled skimmer, downy emerald and small red damselfly.


Mercurial splendour

The rarest is the internationally threatened southern damselfly, which depends on clean, slow-flowing watercourses with a balance of open and vegetated banks. Since 2009 a project has been ongoing to re-establish and secure the population here.

Southern damselfly


Slowing the flowing

Dams have been installed to regulate water flow, cover and to stabilise the channels, part of a range of management operations carried out by the reserve officers. Elsewhere on the site former agricultural fields have reverted to sallow carr and wet woodland, while a 1.9ha linking field is being restored to heathland.


Another DWT reserve Bystock Pools near Exmouth lies at the south of the Pebblebed Heaths.




Species and habitats

Grassland, Heathland, Wetland, Woodland
Nightjar, Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Nearby nature reserves

5 miles - Devon Wildlife Trust
Exe Reed Beds
7 miles - Devon Wildlife Trust
Old Sludge Beds
7 miles - Devon Wildlife Trust

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Newton Poppleford, East Devon
Nr Exmouth
Map reference
SY 064 923
Best time to visit
Apr - Oct
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Opening Times
Open at all times
25.00 hectares
This site is very wet and muddy. Access is not easy. Can be very wet, muddy, boggy and slippery. It is not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs.
Walking information
Can be very wet, muddy, boggy and slippery. It is not suitable for pushchairs, the simplest route into the reserve is via the RSPB neighbouring reserve. Allow 1 hour to explore.
Park in RSPB part of Venn Ottery Common
Dogs must be on lead
Grazing animals
Reserve manager
Devon Wildlife Trust
Tel: 01392 279244