In this section:
Farming is an integral part of our landscape that has undergone numerous pressures in recent years and now more then ever needs our support and custom. Through careful management farming has the potential to enhance wildlife and biodiversity.
The majority of the farmland adjacent to the Exe Estuary is grazed for Beef production. This mainly occurs on the low lying areas where damp soils and the likelihood of flooding restricts the production of arable crops e.g. the lowest part of the Clyst Valley and most of the Exminster and Powderham marshes.
There is very little grazing for dairy production on the Exe except for in the Clyst Valley. Arable farming constitutes the remainder of the farmed landscape mainly along the margins of the Clyst, along the valley of Kenn, and on the drier parts of the land behind Starcross and Dawlish Warren.
Fish and Shellfish are an essential part of the aquatic environment and healthy stocks are a key indicator of the health of the environment, such as water quality. The fishing industry is a historically and culturally important aspect of the Exe, providing locally caught fresh seafood. There is a delicate balance to be found between exploitation of stocks and providing locally caught sustainable food.
Regulating the fisheries is the responsibility of the Environment Agency who has various powers to protect fish stocks and reduce exploitation through the creation of bylaws and by restricting the number of licences.
The shellfisheries on the Exe are managed by the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee (DSFC) who are responsible for managing the stocks and fulfil obligations to wildlife legislation for conservation designated sites such as the Exe Estuary. On the Exe they have implemented bylaws to cover mussel harvesting, shore crab harvesting, a minimum size for winkles and the protection from over fishing of shellfish beds. DSFC have an enforcement role on the estuary and make regular patrols and inspections of fishing vessels and equipment. They also advise fishermen and shellfish farmers of appropriate techniques.
Shellfish beds are the basis of an important and varied fishery which local residents have managed for generations and which has provided marketable grades of cockles, winkles, oysters and mussels.
Mussel and oyster beds are present on the Estuary between Powderham and Starcross, in the mouth of the Estuary and on the East of the estuary near Lympstone. Molluscan shellfish farming is the largest single commercial fishery on the Exe. The industry is based on the growing on of Pacific Oysters on racks on the foreshore and the rearing of Mussels in beds. The main shell fisherman on the estuary, with the rights to these grounds, is Myles Blood-Smyth of Exmouth Mussels. Exe mussels are on the menu of various restaurants around the Estuary such as The Seafood Restaurant in Exmouth (see our places to eat section for more information).
With the gradual decline of shipping towards the end of the 19th century shellfish collection and salmon fishing became the main industries in the Exe Estuary.
Under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act (1975) the Environment Agency has a general duty to maintain, improve and develop salmon, trout and freshwater fish and eel fisheries under its jurisdiction. Illegal exploitation of salmonids in the Exe has in the past been a major cause of concern. Levels of poaching on the freshwater river have declined in recent years, but there are concerns regarding illegal exploitation in the Estuary by fishermen using drift nets. The River Exe Salmon Action Plan was published in December 2003 by the Environment Agency and sets out the bylaws regarding national salmon and rod fishing:
- Limited fishing season from 14th February to 30th September
- No salmon to be retained before 16th June
- Use of artificial lures are only allowed before 16th June
- No fishing is permitted with work or maggot
- No spinning on the Exe above Exe Bridge
Anyone using a net to fish for salmon must have a licence issued by the Environment Agency, anybody caught netting without a licence will be prosecuted. There are currently 10 net licenses issued for the Exe for the use of seine nets.
If anyone suspects nets are being set illegally they can call the Environment Agency on a free phone hotline on 0800 807060.
Exeter museum has an exhibit showing the largest salmon ever caught in the Exe at 42 inches and 62.25lbs!
The Exe Estuary is a bass conservation area meaning that no netting for bass may take place and there is a minimum catch size of 37.5 cm, this is in order to allow this slower growing species to reach reproductive maturity and spawn. Anybody caught illegally netting for bass in the estuary will be prosecuted.
There are some small scale recreational or low scale commercial gathering of whelks, winkles, cockles, clams, oysters and the digging for lugworm and rag worm for bait. Angling for estuarine bass, salmon, flounder and mullet is a very popular sport on the Exe. At present there are no restrictions on these activities except for the angling of salmon and the minimum catch size for sea bass. There are currently no records of the state of stocks of whelks or cockles.
Crab tiling is the collection of peeler crabs from the intertidal mudflats on the estuary. In order to grow crabs must leave their hardened case (exoskeleton), expand by taking on sea water and then harden their skin to create a new exoskeleton. When going through this process the crab is called a peeler crab as it is peeling out of its skin. Before the skin is hardened again the crab is very vulnerable to predation so will look for sheltered areas to wait out the process.
The bait collectors each have their own sets of crab tiles on the estuary which are generally sections of drain pipe or roof tiles that the peeler crabs will shelter under. On collection, the crabs are sold or used as fishing bait for anglers.
Crab tiling has taken place for many years and local crab tilers often recall their grandfather's crab tiling on the same site.
Surveys of the amount of crab tiles present on the estuary have taken place since 2000 with the latest count reaching 30,302 in 2004. The activity is managed by Bylaw 24 which limits the area in which crab tiles can be laid in order to maintain sustainable quantities of shore crabs on the estuary, any tiles outside of this area may be removed. The Exe Estuary Management Partnership has worked with the crab tilers in the past to create a voluntary code of conduct to help ensure that their activities are sustainable.
It is important that the partnership continues to monitor the distribution and quantity of crab tiles to ensure that it is in accordance with Bylaw 24 and the code of conduct is being adhered to. The partnership regularly work with Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and Natural England to carry out crab tile surveys. The most recent completed and documented survey was carried out in 2012, and the findings are presented here.
Many businesses are in place to support the marine leisure industry on the Exe such as ferries, boatyards, and marine engineers.