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Old Sludge Beds

Paths and boardwalks allow you to get among the reed beds and ponds of this wetland reserve.

We probably could have come up with a better name for this often over-looked nature reserve! But the 'Old Sludge Beds' does at least hint at the history behind the place.


This site was once the resting place for much of Exeter's treated sewage. However, in 1969 the job of cleaning up after the city came to rest with the South West Water plant which sits next door. Today the Old Sludge Beds is an altogether more welcoming place to wildlife and people. 


Don't miss out

Despite this lots of visitors to the Exe Estuary and even many local people still miss out on its natural charms. This is a shame because its boardwalks and paths bring you close to some interesting wildlife and provide good views of the neighbouring Exe Ship Canal.


A water rail moves through the water

Water rails visit here in winter. Photo: Sherie New


In spring and summer the reserve is an important place for migrating songbirds including Cetti's warblers. Old Sludge Beds is also a great reserve for insect watching, with dragonflies offering some of the most spectacular action. Visit on a warm evening and you'll also be rewarded by the sight of bats looking to clutch a meal as they fly above the pathside reed beds and ponds.


In winter the pace of wildlife slows. Even so, the Old Sludge Beds can still offer the chance of seeing a bittern or a water rail skulking in the reeds. 


Explore the Exe Valley from here

A trip to Old Sludge Beds can be combined with a visit to look over the nearby Exe Reed Beds nature reserve. For those wanting more, why not take the River Exe Wild Walk which links the reserve to Devon Wildlife Trust's Cricklepit Mill in the heart of historic Exeter?

Species and habitats

Wetland, Woodland

Nearby nature reserves

Exe Reed Beds
0 miles - Devon Wildlife Trust
Cricklepit Mill
3 miles - Devon Wildlife Trust
6 miles - Devon Wildlife Trust

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Walk from University of Exeter Boathouse car park Countess Wear Swing Bridge Countess Wear
Map reference
SX 950 889
Great for...
spring migrant birds
Best time to visit
Jan - Dec
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Opening Times
Open at all times
5.00 hectares
Boardwalks and paths are level, some steps. Access is along a 2km path from the University Boathouse, pass to the right (canal side) of the South West Water treatmnent plant. There are no benches/resting places until you reach the reserve itself. Contact the Trust for disabled access information
Walking information
Access is along a 2km path and there are no benches/resting places until you reach the reserve itself. Allow an hour to walk from the car park and around the reserve.
Park in the boathouse car park when turning off from the main road.
Dogs must be on lead
Grazing animals
Reserve manager
Devon Wildlife Trust
Tel: 01392 279244


Factsheets and guides for your visit