Exceptional Estuaries

Exceptional Estuaries

Nigel Mortimer - South Devon AONB

Where land meets sea

Estuaries are one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, providing food and habitat for thousands of species!  The mixing of fresh and salt water creates a transition zone between the land and the sea and fascinating wildlife appears as a result!

Estuaries are also very important for us, with habitats like seagrass, saltmarsh and mudflats acting as a natural filtration system, giving us cleaner, clearer water, protecting us from flooding and taking lots of carbon out of the atmosphere!  All of these benefits we receive (for free) are known as 'ecosystem services.'

Scroll down to meet some of our exceptional estuarine wildlife and to learn how you can help protect them!


Otter on riverbank

Estuaries are home to a fantastic variety of wildlife, both above and below the water!  Some of Devon's most charismatic and secretive species inhabit the upper reaches of our estuaries, including the Otter and more recently, after a 400 year absence, the Eurasian Beaver!


Photo, Bertie Gregory/2020Vision

Devon's estuaries also provide great habitat for spectacular birdlife like this Spoonbill, as well as a whole host of wading birds and even the occasional Osprey! If you want to have a chance of spotting some of this amazing wildlife then grab your binoculars and head to one of our DWT nature reserves such as South Efford Marsh or Horsey Island!

Lug worm

Photo, Jack Sewell

Mud, glorious mud!

But if it wasn’t for all of the mud found in estuaries then none of this amazing wildlife would live there!  The mud provides habitat for thousands of invertebrates such as crustaceans, molluscs and worms, which then become food for the birds and other wildlife! 

Check out these estuary wildlife spotter sheets

Seahorse swimming through seagrass

Super Seagrass

Seagrass is the only flowering plant which lives in the marine environment and is commonly found within estuaries.  Seagrass provides habitat for some of our most amazing marine wildlife, like seahorses and cuttlefish! 

Around the world Seagrass is responsible for around 10% of all carbon buried in the ocean, despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor.  Their roots store carbon 35 times faster that rainforests, but estimates suggest that globally we are losing an area of seagrass the size of two football pitches every hour!



Photo, Dan Bolt

Cunning Cuttlefish

Masters of colour and disguise and the smartest invertebrate in the ocean, cuttlefish too live amongst the seagrass and shallow reefs surrounding our estuaries!  They will travel in to estuaries to lay their eggs, attaching clusters of what look like black grapes to the blades of seagrass.

Click below to download, print and colour in your own seahorse or octopus postcard!

Protecting our Estuaries

Estuaries are not only vital habitats for a huge range of wildlife, as well as providing us with important ecosystem services, but they are also crucial to our local economy, way of life and our mental health and well-being!

But there is only so much pressure our estuaries can take! High levels of sewage and nutrients entering our estuaries can lead to reduced water quality and major problems such as eutrophication and dead zones, which are unfortunately now common around the world.

The Wildlife Trusts have been fighting for our estuaries and seas for decades and thankfully now some of our estuaries in Devon have been designated as Marine Conservation Zones.  But these designated areas will only go partway in protecting our exceptional estuaries and the wildlife which lives within them and so we must all take action if we are to protect them for the future!  Why not make a start by watching and sharing  'The Drip' below?

South Devon AONB

The Drip

This wonderful animation produced by South Devon AONB takes us on a thought provoking journey through the murky depths of our estuaries and issues of our own waste only to surface in an engaging and brighter optimism for a healthier future full of home-grown heroes! 

If 'The Drip' has inspired you to help protect our estuaries, then check out our awareness posters below? 

SWW Logo


Thanks to South West Water for supporting the production of these online resources.  Head over to our You Tube Page to watch some amazing underwater films!