DWT becomes new owner of North Devon's Horsey Island

Horsey Island nature reserve. Photo, Martin Batt

• Devon Wildlife Trust purchases Horsey Island, near Braunton
• A ‘significant wildlife haven’ with some very special birdlife
• Purchase made possible with help of local resident
Dozens of golden plovers in flight

Photo, David Tipling/2020Vision

Devon's leading conservation charity is the proud new owner of Horsey Island, in North Devon.

Devon Wildlife Trust has purchased the 80 hectare wetland which forms part of the northern edge of the Taw Estuary, close to the village of Braunton. The undisclosed purchase price was met by the charity after it received a generous donation from a local resident and bird watching enthusiast, Mr Mark Ansell.

After a breach to its sea wall in 2017, Horsey Island now consists of an extensive intertidal salt marsh and wetland. It is a haven for wildlife and is especially important as a feeding and roosting place for thousands of birds including many rarities. A flock of more than 1,200 golden plover has been seen roosting and feeding. Ospreys, spoonbills, glossy ibis and great white egrets have all been recorded there in the recent past. These and many other seasonal sightings have made the site popular among birdwatchers.

With the addition of Horsey Island Devon Wildlife Trust now manages 57 nature havens covering well over 2,000 hectares of the Devon countryside. The Trust aims to improve the site still further as a place for nature and provide opportunities for people to enjoy the spectacular bird life in this quiet corner of North Devon.

Horsey Island has a long and interesting history. The land was reclaimed from the sea in the nineteenth century to create farmland. Two earth bank defences were constructed. The first, was built in the early 1800s as is known as ‘Great Bank’ (not part of the new nature reserve owned by Devon Wildlife Trust) and runs between the site and Braunton Marshes further inland. A second, outer bank was constructed in the 1850s.  

However, in recent times Horsey Island’s defences have been compromised. In 2017 a major breach occurred to its outer wall, inundating its interior with sea water. Rising sea levels and more frequent violent storms have since widened the breach. Today its interior is open to the tide and in the place of what was once farmland a fascinating system of tidal creeks, salt marsh and mudflats has been formed.

Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Director of Conservation and Development, said:

“Horsey is an exciting, dynamic place which is now being shaped by natural processes, dominated by the daily tides which ebb and flow into the reserve. Shifting sands and muds are starting to be colonised by salt marsh plants. It is now an exceptionally important location for roosting and feeding wading birds and stands as one of the best locations in the county to see murmurations of wading birds from the security of the Coast Path”.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, Harry Barton, said:

“The purchase of Horsey Island is a wonderful opportunity. It will allow us to protect and enhance a stunning area of intertidal habitats in North Devon. Over the coming months we will be developing ambitious plans for the site in discussion with local stakeholders so that it reaches it full potential as a stunning place for wildlife and the local community.”

Devon Wildlife Trust has a successful track record of managing newly created tidal wetlands elsewhere in the county. In 2012 it took on the management of a similar nature reserve at South Efford Marsh, near Kingsbridge, in South Devon. Since then the charity has successfully overseen its transition from rough grassland to saltmarsh and mudflats. The nature reserve has become one of Devon’s premier birdwatching venues.

Visiting Horsey Island

More information about visiting Horsey Island is available here.