Coastal change around the Exe Estuary

Our coast is constantly changing and so coastal change is not a new issue. Natural processes involving tides, waves, wind, and rain wear away (erode) parts of the coastline, creating unstable cliffs and steep, pebbly beaches. These same processes can also bring fresh sand, rocks and sediment to other parts of the coast, which grow (accrete) as a result.  The draft Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for the Exe Estuary, which sets out the priority areas for new and improved coastal defences, has been submitted to Defra.

Old photos and paintings help us to understand past coastal change and show an Exe Estuary which looks unfamiliar in places, such as at Dawlish Warren. In the 1930s there were homes on the far end of the Warren, yet by the end of the 1940s these had all been washed away and the ‘hook' at the end that we see today had also disappeared beneath the sea.

Aerial photo of Dawlish Warren - 1946

We don't know for certain how climate change impacts such as sea level rise and more frequent, more intense storms will affect our coastline in future but we can be confident that the Exe Estuary will change again and will look different to our children and grandchildren. We need to plan for these changes that are widely predicted and manage our coastline in a way that meets the needs of both humans and nature.

A number of organisations are involved in managing our local coastline, including local authorities, the Environment Agency and Natural England. The Exe Estuary Management Partnership is involved in a partnership project called Living with a Changing Coast (LiCCo) which is running until September 2014. The project aims to work with coastal communities in England and France to help them better understand and prepare for the challenges of climate change, sea level rise and coastal erosion.

You can find out more about the LiCCo project at the LiCCo website. For example, factsheets on the past, present and future of the estuary.

A range of educational materials by the LiCCo project are available for Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils in local schools to support the cross curricular study of weather, climate, coastal processes and estuarine wildlife. For more information see our education page.

The Exe Press newsletter provides regular updates on the LiCCo project and related works including the Dawlish Warren - Exmouth Beach Management Scheme.

Watch LiCCo's short video, exploring different views and opinions on coastal change and how it will be managed in years to come.

To find out more about LiCCo please contact the Exe Estuary Officer or telephone 01392 383000.


The River Exe has a history of flooding, with records of flooding in Exeter dating back to 1250. The most dramatic flooding event in recent memory were the floods of October 1960, where 320mm of rain fell over the month. On October 27th, 700 cubic metres of water per second travelled down the River Exe, causing flooding in low-lying areas of Exeter. This flood event caused an £8 million flood defence system in 1970, involving  three flood relied channels. More information and pictures can be found here.

The 2012 Flood Management Plan for the Exe catchment can be found here.

To check current flood risk in your area - click here

The Environment Agency provides general advice on flood risk, how to protect your property from flooding and how to reduce flood damage.  If you are a business and are looking to adapt to climate change impacts you can find a range of resources and information at Climate South West.  


More Information

Our Planning For Our Coasts page details the approach of agencies to mitigate against future problems, such as coastal change and flooding