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Exe Estuary Management Partnership

For people, for wildlife, for the future

Dawlish Warren Beach Management Scheme – Post-Scheme Review


Last Updated

Exe Estuary Stakeholder Forum 6th September 2022

Thank you to all who were able to attend the Forum and feedback to Environment Agency (EA) draft proposal for future management along Dawlish Warren spit. Following change on site being greater than predicted following the 2017 scheme, the purpose of the event was to share latest proposals for management going forward and receive feedback from the wider Exe Estuary community, prior to identifying a ‘preferred’ management approach.

During the Forum it was highlighted by Martin Davies, Coastal Advisor representing the EA,  that any recommendations for ‘proposed management going forward’ was an attempt to find a balance and common-ground between flood and coastal erosion risk and environmental management, including highlighting any potential conflict between these and other drivers, issues and interests using a ‘this is what we think, what do you think?’ approach to help summarise information and facilitate feedback.

Some key messages were also highlighted to help provide context, including recognising the need to support the long-term sustainable management of Dawlish Warren spit; that the spit will continue to change with ongoing beach lowering and erosion; that existing geotube, groyne and relic gabion defences are unsustainable, work against natural processes and need to be removed by 2050;  that risk to the wider estuary will increase due to effects of climate change and the spit gradually losing its wave barrier function and that Authorities and stakeholders need to be aware and plan for this eventuality.

There was an excellent response to questions raised, with returns from each of the tables being captured within the questionnaire which posed the following key questions (with a summary of highlighted responses in quotes) below.

‘Do you agree/disagree or have comments on each of the following?

1. Groynes – reducing maintenance and removal?

Groyne are used for sand management, but as beach levels lower, they will i) have limited benefit; ii) are unsustainable; iii) seen as interrupting natural processes affecting SSSI and SAC.

They have done a much better job than some of the daft ideas which have recently wrecked the natural environment of the warren’

‘Groynes are an effective way of retaining sand and should be maintained/reinstated.

‘Until (and only if) the beach level lowers, they should be retained.

‘Retain as they help to protect warren & SSSI & SAC’

‘Leave as long as possible’

‘Not sure! Balance is key!’

‘To help manage the sand and assist groyne management, possibly remove every other groyne to see if it assists the sand movement’

‘.. Protecting amenity and flood protection is paramount’

‘Groynes at the far end that have no function should probably be removed’

2. Dune ‘trials’ – to actively remove sections of dune within Central section?

Active removal of sections of dune to i) restore natural processes and improve condition of SSSI and SAC; ii) reduce sand losses down-drift.

‘Again, another daft idea. Why not listen to people who know what they are talking about.’

No – the dunes should be protected with Gabions. The sea will quickly remove any sand placed on the beach. Do we never learn?’

‘The effects of this are unknown and should not be considered.

‘Keep dunes to protect SSSI/ SAC/ Warren’

‘Dunes are a fantastic habitat and may encourage biodiversity. They would need protection and engineering support as they establish themselves’

‘Cannot assess the worth of this’

‘This is a terrible idea’

‘No – once sand taken away, cannot be put back – let nature take its course and don’t interfere’

‘What would the trials be? Planting would/ may be beneficial’

3. Geotube – to actively remove once exposed?

Geotubes are temporary defences to maintain localised and estuary-wide sheltering function until i) removal by 2049 and ii) earlier if become exposed to restore natural processes and improve condition of SSSI and SAC.

‘Who advised these were to be used in the first place? They are an eyesore’

‘Dawlish Warren is essential for the protection of low land around the estuary, and the nature reserve. Gabions should be reinstated’

‘What exactly is the planning provision that dictates removal by 2049? Planning decisions set for the future can be amended.’

‘Why so confident that the condition of the SSSI and SAC will necessarily improve? Surely the lesson of the last intervention is that consequences are hard to predict’

‘Remove geotube will threaten distal end and whole estuary’

‘Have they really worked?’

‘Leave as long as possible’

‘Not sure! Installed at great expense so inclined to think that they should be left in place for as long as possible to get best value’

‘Geotubes are currently exposed and do not appear to be effective due to storm damage. They should be replaced with revetment to protect the distal end’

‘Build new revetment (dycel?) to ensure the distal end remains a natural shelter’

‘You don’t have any choice; they will be exposed by weather and/or vandalised so you will have to remove them as they degrade’

‘More research required. How will flooding be prevented?’

4. Relic gabions – to actively remove along the Distal section?

Relic gabion baskets will continue to degrade and i) become less effective in reducing the impact of waves within the estuary; ii) unless actively removed, will continue to impact natural processes and condition of SSI and SAC.

‘These are a hazard on the beach and add to the appearance of a rubbish tip.’

‘Gabions should be replaced’

‘But they are in place and doing a sea defence job and should therefore be retained.’


‘Impact how?’

‘Is this the right question? The estuary is ‘silting up’ rather quickly. The river flows and the many brooks keep is usable for small craft at high tide and perhaps it is better for migrating birds’

‘Leave to natural degradation’

‘Disagree. Repair or replace gabion baskets and matressing to continue protection of dunes’

‘The damaged relic gabions make the site look very poor and as though they are not looked after. The monitoring and removal of damaged wire and broken sections should be increased, to increase safety and appearance’

‘Leave them alone. They are still serving a purpose and policy of ‘tidying’ would be the best and least expensive course’

5. Other Feedback

The whole exercise to date has been misguided and an appalling waste of money. People in offices not listening to people who have worked on the river Exe all of their lives’.

The case for pro-actively retaining the warren should be considered. It makes sense to try and retain this natural wave barrier for many reasons including: –

Environmental – Why is Natural England actively supporting an agenda which will destroy all the natural resources protected by the Warren, both directly behind the Warren and up the estuary?

Flood Defence – Is it acknowledged that wave height in the estuary would substantially increase if the Warren was lost and thus compromise existing flood defences?  

Cost – Rather than plan and build flood defence for all the assets up the estuary (e.g., 4 miles of mainline railway to the west, similar length of branch line to the east) would it not be cheaper to pro-actively defend the Warren?     

Failing to maintain the warren and allowing nature to take its course is a frightening prospect. the cost of protecting individual communities must surely strongly outweigh the cost of maintaining the warren’

‘It looks like massive & costly civil works, let nature run the course!’

‘What happened/ what were the impacts up estuary at the last warren flattening in the 1940s?

It would be useful to understand consequences of warren flattening upstream and timescales’

‘General consensus that the Warren needs to be protected to safeguard infrastructure and homes, but needs to be balanced with environmental impact… gut feeling is to avoid ‘active’ interventions and let things deteriorate gradually’

‘There comes a time when long term protection for this area needs to be sorted. This time has now come for this to happen. Perhaps a barrage or barrier is a viable option. The protection of people, property, businesses, infrastructure, and utilities – paramount.’

‘The recharge was mindless as all the fishermen pointed out. If the sand had been pumped into the bight to set up a massive self-sustaining dune habitat it might have worked. To save the Warren you need rock armour and habitat formation. in front of the Warren to divert the force of the storms and trap sand. Simple…’

‘Emphasis in this questionnaire is on the SSSI and SAC but finally at the meeting mention was made of the Estuary, communities, and people around it. Birds are and can relocate because of climate change and are. Nature will wind its own way. We do not know enough yet, so caution to the risk to people and communities.

‘Suggest that a full investigation and modelling is carried out before any further action… The Exe should be looked at and compared to other areas (Chichester Harbour?) before any action taken. EA should budget for additional prevention within the estuary up to Exeter.’

A summary (based on an approximation of the number of responses from each table and individuals) is identified below.

Groynesremoveremove in phasesremove relic groynes onlyretainunsure
Dune ‘trials’yesnounsure
Geotube removalyesyes – but build revetment insteadnounsure
Relic gabion removalyesrepair/ replacenounsure

Following further review and more detailed analysis of all the responses received, a summary report will be produced and circulated in readiness for the next Forum event in February.

A copy of the presentation and summary of responses received from the Forum can be found on the EEMP website.