East Devon Catchment Overview

east devonAt approximately 750 sq km, the East Devon catchment drains the rivers Exe, Otter, Sid, Axe and Lim. Only 7% of the catchment is developed compared to the national average of 16%. The main urban areas are Exeter, Crediton, Tiverton and Cullompton.

This catchment has a varied landscape and stretches from the Blackdown hills to the Jurassic coast. The river Exe rises in the Exmoor national park and discharges at Exmouth. The rivers Sid and Lim have very steep descents down to their respective estuaries at Sidmouth and Lyme Regis.

The East Devon catchment contains three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and constitutes 66% of the catchment. East Devon’s varied landscape provides ecologically important habitat, East Devon contains 4 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), 1 Special Protected Area (SPA), 1 National Nature Reserve (NNR) and 29 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). There are also areas in the catchment where the benefits of the water environment is recognised and designated as protected areas. These areas can be designated as protected for several reasons, whether they are important habitats, bathing waters or areas around drinking sources.

There are 103 river water bodies in the catchment as well as 4 lakes, 4 estuaries and coastal waters and 10 groundwater bodies. In 2009 30% of water bodies in the East Devon catchment where classified at good ecological status or better under the Water Framework directive. The Environment Agency has investigated the possible reasons for failure and found that diffuse pollution from agricultural sources account for 54% of the water bodies not achieving good status and barriers to migratory fish account for 23%.

Land use

East Devon is predominantly agricultural, with lowland cattle and sheep farms constituting 38% of the farming conducted. The population of East Devon is approximately 132 457 with the main urban areas being Exeter, Crediton, Tiverton and Cullompton. Exeter is the county town of Devon and has a population of 119 600.

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East Devon Catchment Activities

There are a wide array of activities and projects now under way in the East 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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Otter Valley: 50.753401, -3.276198
Axe & Exe River Improvement Project: 50.782727, -2.994937
Tale Valley Project: 50.752607, -3.280369
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Otter Valley

The Otter Valley project aims to improve the raw water quality by changing land use as part of the Upstream Thinking project. The specific issue here is agricultural nitrate leaching into groundwater. By providing farm advice on how to reduce pollution whilst saving money Otter Valley aims to encourage land use change in the catchment.

To find out more about the objectives of Otter Valley click here.

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Axe & Exe River Improvement Project
In 2012, the Axe & Exe River Improvement Project was allocated funds from the Catchment Restoration Fund to improve the Health of the rivers Axe and Exe in east Devon.


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Tale Valley Project
In 2002 the Tale Valley Trust funded the Westcountry Rivers Trust to deliver a three year farm advice project within the Tale Valley

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Latest East Devon Catchment News

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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 East Devon Catchment Plan adopted 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 have developed;

  • 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

The WRT Ecosystem Services approach

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