North Devon Catchment Overview

The North Devon catchment covers an area of some 2,300 km sq (900 square miles) and includes the areas drained by the River Taw and its tributaries, the River Torridge and its tributaries, and the North Devon Coastal Rivers that flow directly into the sea. (see map right).

There are many other ecologically, socially and historically important sites in the catchment and a network of good quality river courses, with six Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and 62 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Steeply sloping tributaries drain from the high ground of Exmoor and Dartmoor to the low-lying Taw and Torridge estuary, or, for the small coastal catchments, directly to the sea.

Annual rainfall ranges from more than 2,300mm (90in) in the upland areas of Dartmoor and Exmoor to 800mm (31in) at the coast. The England and Wales average is 920mm (36in).

Landuse & practice

North Devon is a catchment with varied landscape, including the rare Culm grasslands, marshland, parts of the two National Parks of Exmoor and Dartmoor, and woodlands. Much of the countryside in the catchment is recognised for its environmental and cultural value including an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and 500 Scheduled Monuments.

The main urban areas are Barnstaple, Bideford, Braunton, Combe Martin, Great Torrington, Ilfracombe, Lynton and Lynmouth, North Tawton, Okehampton and South Molton. These densely populated towns are surrounded by a mostly rural catchment with properties scattered over the entire catchment area.

View from Castle Hill - Torridge

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North Devon Catchment Activities

There are a wide array of activities and projects now under way in the North Devon Catchment and several others that are being developed as a result of the Catchment Partnership's ongoing work to improve the health and functioning of this important catchment landscape.

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North Devon NIA: 50.953000, -4.141000
Pearl Mussel Pilot Project : 51.078160, -4.058338
Taw River Improvement Project: 51.078160, -4.058338
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North Devon NIA
289393_origOne of 12 nationally important landscape-scale wildlife schemes in England. A partnership project within the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with Devon Wildlife Trust as the lead partner.


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Pearl Mussel Pilot Project
Westcountry Rivers Trust was commissioned to investigate possible reasons the population of Freshwater Pearl Mussels have gone into decline.


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Taw River Improvement Project
In 2012 the Taw River Improvement Project (TRIP) was created in response to the development of the Catchment Restoration Fund. TRIP aims to address the issues currently causing the River Taw catchment to fail under the Water Framework Directive guidelines.



Latest North Devon Catchment News

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North Devon Catchment Intervention Programme



Data & Evidence

It is vital that participatory, stakeholder-led catchment planning is underpinned by robust data and evidence.

For coherent, integrated spatial plans to be created, stakeholders (1°, 2° and 3°) and technical specialists in a partnership need to work with an impartial broker/facilitator to collate and scruitinise all of the data and evidence relating to environmental infrastructure and ecosystem services provision for their area/catchment of interest.

Data and evidence for catchment management planning can come from a huge array of sources (see right).

The North Devon Catchment Plan

As a society, we place numerous societal and economic demands on the landscapes around us which put strain on our catchments ability to provide the crucial services on which we rely – clean water, food production, protection from flood and drought and places to live and enjoy recreation. The Catchment Based Approach aims to bring people together to understand and address these competing demands.

The North Devon Catchment Plan will adopt a stakeholder‐led ‘ecosystem services’ approach to catchment planning. This involved the host organisation working with stakeholders to identify areas within the catchment which play, or have the potential to play, a particularly important role in the delivery of clean water and a range of other benefits (services) to society.

Only when these areas had been identified was it then possible to identify groups within society who benefit from the services they deliver and to create mechanisms through which these beneficiaries can contribute financially to support or enhance their delivery.

Where beneficiaries already make financial contributions, the aim must be to ensure that these contributions are spent as cost effectively as possible to derive the greatest achievable environmental outcomes.

Through this process the stakeholders will develop;

  • A shared understanding of the pressures affecting ecosystem service provision in the catchment
  • A shared vision for a catchment landscape with a blend of environmental infrastructure that may be able to deliver all of these vital services optimally in the future 
  • A clear understanding of what is currently being done to realise this vision and what additional actions may be required to bring it to full reality.

Creating a Sustainable Future: Ecosystem Services and Spatial Planning

Our aim is to talk to and work with a wide range of organisations and communities across the North Devon catchment that have an interest in, are affected by, and/or have an effect on the water bodies within this catchment boundary.

"...Ultimately, the Catchment Based Approach is about the community coming together to work out what they want from the catchment so they can make better decisions about how to fund and manage shared resources more sustainably in the long term..."

While the Environment Agency has a good understanding of the challenges in the catchment, it is vital that we make best use of our collective knowledge and understanding to build up a comprehensive picture of what’s happening across the area. We appreciate that a great deal of work may already have been done and would like to capture this existing knowledge where possible to build a clearer picture of current status.

Discussions with stakeholders will aim to identify how a Catchment Partnership could best be established to help draw this activity together, to inform and influence the best outcomes holistically across the whole catchment in the future. The partnership will draw strength from its individual elements but also bring consistency across the region by linking multiple plans and initiatives through a common theme. We hope stakeholders will see the benefits of a broader and more integrated approach to their interests.

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1285639_origAre you interested in the North Devon river catchments? Do you have increasing pressure on limited budgets and resources? Do you want to make the most of our combined efforts?

If the answer is 'yes' then you need to attend the North Devon Catchment event on the 15th September...!

The Westcountry Rivers Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust, North Devon Biosphere Reserve and North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have been asked by Defra to investigate what we get from the river catchments that drain the North Devon area and how we can make better use of our shared resources. 

We have pulled together a huge amount of data and evidence about the area and would like the opportunity to present it to you as we know this will just be the tip of the iceberg. You and your organisation will have a vast amount of knowledge and information relevant to this area and we want to make sure it is taken into account in the planning of future projects and funding.

The event will be held on the 15th September at Cedars Inn (EX31 2HE) and opens at 9:00am for a 9:30am start and will finish at 4:30pm. We are trying to get an idea of numbers so please book your place using the link below.


If you know of someone else in your organisation or from other groups who would be interested in the way the North Devon river catchments are managed then please so let them know about this meeting.

If you are interested in learning more about the North Devon Catchment Partnership or you want to let us know about the work that you are doing to enhance this spectacular landscape - then please drop us a note using the form below...