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Exe Estuary Management Partnership

For people, for wildlife, for the future

Exe Estuary Management Plan Review: Consultation Report 2021


Introduction

All online responses from the public consultation are included within Annex 1, whilst all emailed responses are included in Annex 2. This document contains the key and recurring issues and actions raised during the consultation, which have been discussed with the Executive of the Exe Estuary Management Partnership (EEMP). This document will help identify new priorities for the period of the new five-year Exe Estuary Management Plan, by informing updated policies and objectives. Although the Management Plan will contain indicative issues and actions, these will be included in more detail within annual Delivery Plans over the five-year period.

Not all detail from the public consultation is included in this report, however, all responses are included in Annexes 1 and 2. The EEMP aims to achieve a balanced approach which involves and takes into consideration the needs of the various stakeholders, whilst delivering management of the estuary. Not all suggestions can be taken forward. Reasons for this will be given in this report, for example, opposing views on the natural environment. Whilst the EEMP takes into account the views of all stakeholders, the competent authorities within the Exe Estuary Management Partnership have a legal duty to protect and, where possible, enhance the SPA, SAC and SSSI. Language such as this which is used within the Management Plan is taken directly from statutory legislation which is in place on the Exe. The Management Plan will need to take into account all relevant policy documents such as the 25 Year Environment Plan and the South Marine Plan, with detailed guidance provided by the MMO regarding incorporation of the latter into the Management Plan (included in Annex 2).

Themes are cross-cutting and link to other sections. This needs to be taken into consideration and there should be some cross-referencing to set context in order to highlight the importance of certain themes. There is particular crossover in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Issues raised through the consultation which are not covered by the remit of the EEMP will be relayed to the appropriate bodies for their consideration.

Following discussion with the Executive on 3rd November, and taking into consideration additional input from Partners / key stakeholders and the Forum workshops, the new Management Plan for the period 2022-2027 will be drafted and sent to the Executive for comment, alongside the Consultation Report. The Executive will be invited to comment by the 15th December. A final draft of the Plan will be circulated to the Partnership Committee for comment, prior to approval at the January meeting. The approved Plan will be launched at the Exe Winter Forum in February.

Delivery of the Management Plan is documented through Delivery Plan Highlight Reports, which are taken to the Executive and Partnership Committee of the EEMP.

Prioritisation of Sub-Themes and Issues

Partner / Key Stakeholder Consultation:

Sub-Themes that you think the EEMP has been most effective in addressing:

  1. Promoting Understanding of the Exe
  2. Wildlife, Habitats and Designations
  3. Flood and Coastal Risk Management

Sub-Themes that your organisation was most active in addressing:

  1. Wildlife, Habitats and Designations
  2. Water Based Recreation
  3. Tourism

Public Consultation:

Sub-Themes that you think the EEMP has been most effective in addressing:

  1. Wildlife, Habitats and Designations
  2. Education and Interpretation
  3. Water Based Recreation

Sub-Themes that you think the EEMP has been least effective in addressing:

  1. Water Quality
  2. Water Based Recreation
  3. Navigation, Commercial and Other Uses

Sub-Themes that you think the EEMP should focus on over the next five years:

  1. Water Based Recreation
  2. Water Quality
  3. Flood and Coastal Risk Management

Issues from the public consultation which are of high importance to address:

  • Water quality
  • Sedimentation
  • Continuing to balance the recreational use of the estuary with the needs of wildlife (responses received highlighting concerns from both parties)
  • Climate change
  • Antisocial behaviour / enforcement

Summary of Public Consultation Online Responses

1. Education and Interpretation

Issues:

Some views from the public consultation indicated that there is insufficient visitor engagement in some areas of the estuary, and insufficient understanding by the public of the estuary’s statutory protections, and how best to use its resources.

Actions:

Assessment of the effectiveness of education and interpretation might be helpful to know what works / what doesn’t and what needs to be done differently / needs more resourcing. A review could be carried out on the provision of signage, visitor centres / engagement hubs, local newspaper articles, direct engagement / education sessions, ensuring a holistic approach with partners and ensuring the responsibilities of partners are made easily available.

2. Climate Change Mitigation

Issues:

Typical issues related to climate change include flooding, erosion, and poor air quality (which exacerbates the impacts of climate change). There appears to be a lack of evidence of these issues and what this means for the Exe Estuary and its wildlife.

Actions:

Consideration to traditional coastal defences, and less traditional defences such as tree planting in the upper Exe, could help to address flood and coastal erosion issues. Improving green infrastructure and promoting green travel to and around the Exe could help address poor air quality, as well as exploring measures to enhance the estuary as a carbon sink, e.g. planting sea grass. Raising awareness of the key climate change issues and impacts in the Exe Estuary among local communities / tourists, could help to identify targeted actions that people are empowered to take to make a difference to their local environment. If some key indicator species for climate change could be identified for the Exe, a monitoring scheme could be developed to assess both positive and negative factors (e.g. changing wildlife migrations, fish/shellfish numbers).

3. Climate Change Adaptation

Issues:

Sea level rise and increased storminess will impact estuarine infrastructure and habitats (e.g. changes at Dawlish Warren), which partners / statutory agencies / landowners need to properly understand and plan proactively. Coastal squeeze of Exe Estuary SPA habitats will likely become an increasing issue, need to find ways to allow the coastal habitats to move and or be replaced (within the estuary) to ensure that the important and designated wildlife and habitats are able to persist into the future. Low-lying land within the EEMP boundary (e.g. Exminster Marshes) are likely to be more affected by increased and sudden flood events. This may impact ability to farm effectively and there may be associated impact on water quality and soil erosion and runoff. Increased drainage into the marshes from new housing (e.g. at Matford) could likely increase spikey / flashy flood events and increase potential for pollution incidents in the marshes too.

Actions:

Review climate change/sea level predictions for estuary, particularly with the now decreased life expectancy of the Dawlish Warren Beach Management Scheme. Explore how this may impact habitats, species and flood and coastal erosion risk management in the estuary and consider whether authorities should accelerate adaptation. A holistic and coordinated approach should be taken to managed realignment and compensatory habitat provision in the estuary (including adjacent land and the catchment), to provide mitigation and adaptation / resilience to climate change, and it is suggested that rather than ‘encouraging’ such activity, the EEMP should lead the development and delivery of these. The partnership should actively engage stakeholders, explore new partnerships (including universities) and hold authorities to account for delivering objectives. Engagement could include supporting Local Planning Authorities in spatial planning around the estuary that supports adaptation, working with landowners to understand measures that can be taken to restore floodplain and reduce impact (agri-environment schemes).

4. Natural Environment

Issues:

Differing views were expressed for this sub-theme, with some suggesting that wildlife and the environment are forgotten, and some responses suggesting that there is too much emphasis on protecting wildlife (including disturbance) and the environment. Some views expressed concern about increasing control over human activities, whilst others stated the importance of a strong nature recovery plan at a time of climate and biodiversity emergency. Although some concern was expressed about the tone of the language used within the Management Plan, statutory environmental regulations which are in place set out the language which must be used by competent authorities which manage the estuary and its designated features. The Management Plan must incorporate the Management Scheme for the Special Protection Area (Regulation 34, Habitats Directive), and all competent authorities have a duty to protect and, where possible, enhance the SPA, SAC and SSSI. Through the framework of the Management Plan, the Exe Estuary Partnership will aim to achieve a balanced approach which involves and takes into consideration the needs of the various stakeholders of the estuary, whilst delivering these protections of the natural environment.

A number of issues were raised for this sub-theme, related to fish / shellfish, water quality, climate change mitigation/adaptation, disturbance, potentially increased use of the estuary, effects of change at Dawlish Warren with a request to review whether measures which are in place are fit for purpose and to reach out to users who are not currently engaged. It was also noted that the SSSI condition assessment is long overdue and is needed to inform action.

Actions:

It is recommended that the EEMP should work with Natural England on ensuring up to date condition assessments are carried out for Exe Estuary SSSI and then used to inform necessary conservation action. Nature Recovery was highlighted as an important theme to deliver, including habitat creation, restoration and enhancement. The need for provision of compensatory habitat should be identified within the estuary system and secured, and the potential for the establishment of sea grass beds should be explored. Tackling Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) such as Pacific oyster was included (which would also link to fisheries, planning, recreation, etc.). It was requested that sufficient enforcement of byelaws is carried out, with support for the Harbour Authority in obtaining powers to properly enforce the byelaws, and improved promotion of current management measures. Increased monitoring of wildlife, habitats and water quality should be undertaken, with measures put in place where necessary to protect the natural environment, whilst ensuring good engagement of stakeholders / users to help inform such measures and achieve a balanced approach.

5. History and Archaeology

Issues:

Although much historical and archaeology is available, and also links to the environmental changes over the past year, there appears to be little communication with stakeholders about these issues. It would be good to profile this in order to provide baselines for further works and impact assessments. More focus needs to be provided from relevant authorities.

6. Water Quality

Issues:

Water quality has been identified as a pertinent issue through the public consultation. This influences just about all users of the estuary, as well as commercial use and the natural environment and wildlife. Issues include sewage outfalls and discharge, inadequate water testing, diffuse pollution from the catchment and man-made development (and identifying sources), effects from various projects (e.g. Dawlish Warren Beach Management Scheme potentially causing sedimentation issues), pollution into the river and canal from various activities, and implications for shellfish waters and the ecological health of the estuary. Concerns were also raised about the ability or available resources which would enable monitoring, education, and enforcement.

Actions:

More attention needs to be given to these issues in this five-year Management Plan. However, the EEMP has a very specific role, working with organisations and engaging others in that process. The new Management Plan needs to include strengthened policies and a new objective to reflect the issues. The EEMP will work with the relevant organisations (such as the East Devon Catchment Partnership, Environment Agency, Natural England, D&S IFCA, Exeter City Council and South West Water) and will ensure that stakeholders are engaged and educated on what they can do to make a difference, including improved land and water management. Regular and robust testing of water quality could be encouraged, and probable sources of contamination identified.

7. Waste Management and Recycling

Issues:

Issues range from abandoned boats / items from leisure craft to inadequate waste bins on the seafront. Sewage discharges was mentioned again, as well as lack of pump out facilities for boat holding tanks and possible leakage from historic landfill sites under industrial estates such as Shutterton Brook. Feedback also suggests that while clean-ups are good, prevention is better so measures to avoid / reduce waste should be considered.

Actions:

The EEMP should work with organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society to identify sources of waste and help coordinate measures to avoid / reduce waste, providing the communication routes to help raise awareness about good practice and supporting waste and recycling initiatives adopted by businesses and groups.

8. Pollution Response

Issues:

The issues raised through the public consultation relate to water quality, including effluent from riverside workings, sewage outfalls, discharge of grey and black water. A lack of enforcement was suggested. The narrowing of the estuary entrance has increased the speed of the current, so booming is unlikely to be effective around HW spring tides.

Actions:

Prevention of pollution was suggested as a first step. The EEMP should engage or work with other key partners such as Exeter City Council, to ensure that pollution incidents are responded to and addressed through measures such as contingency plans in order to protect the estuary and its users. Mapping and listing of current water purity sites, licenced effluent discharges to the river, etc. may be helpful. Recognising the strong links between the estuary and its catchment, the plan should highlight the need to develop and deliver programmes of work that, working with other partners, tackle urban and rural catchment pollution and the processes these may affect, e.g. geomorphological changes in the river and estuary due to sediment movements, which may impact biodiversity, navigation and shellfisheries among others.

9. Flood and Coastal Risk Management

Issues:

The public consultation revealed that stakeholders wanted better communication about the effectiveness, longevity and future prospects of the Dawlish Warren Beach Management Scheme. Long term impacts are not known / publicised, stakeholders want to know what this means for future sea level rise predictions in the wider estuary if Dawlish Warren breaches in advance of predictions. The impact on the features of SSSI by storm damage and breaching the sand dunes of Dawlish Warren is also of concern.

There are concerns that additional drainage into the Exminster marshes from local housing development could increase the flashiness of water response in the catchment which will impact farming operations. The Exminster Marshes water level management plan is overdue a review and provides opportunity to think about best catchment management given climate change impacts and local development pressure.

Actions:

Any revised predictions from the EA should be shared with partners and stakeholders. Use this to review flood and coastal risk management plans for the estuary (Shoreline Management Plan, Exe Estuary F&CERM study), and encourage coastal risk management authorities to accelerate adaptation. Links back to holistic approach to managed realignment / coastal planning / compensatory habitat. Additionally, Exminster Marshes Water Level Management Plan should be reviewed.

10. Spatial Planning and Development

Issues:

Potential impacts from development included water quality, more dog walkers on the estuary, coastal squeeze of Exe Estuary SPA habitats, and compromised green spaces and access to rivers. A concern was raised about developer money being used for increased restrictions on users of the estuary.

Actions:

The EEMP is encouraged to assess and co-ordinate where appropriate with other agencies, and support Local Planning Authorities in spatial planning around the estuary that supports adaptation. All three planning authorities should adequately recognise and promote the objectives of the EEMP through their own local plans and development management functions. New development should conserve existing historic buildings and character, take into consideration water quality, and there should be investment in new or improved facilities which promote the enjoyment and understanding and access to the Exe Estuary. Softer education and countryside parks are welcome through developer contributions.

11. Farming and Farmed Landscapes

Issues:

It was suggested that lack of statutory frameworks means policy becomes weak. Farming practices need to be sustainable within the catchment, delivering more for nature and reducing harmful agricultural run-off into the estuary.

Actions:

Continued development and working with relevant stakeholders in East Devon is to be encouraged. Working with partners to ensure implementation, e.g. SWW catchment initiatives and WCRT initiatives. Also working with farmers and landowners to provide corridors for nature in the estuary, support wet habitats, reduce run-off and encourage entry into agri-environment schemes and farm clusters. There is opportunity for landscape scale ELMS scheme.

12. Fisheries

Issues:

Concerns were expressed about the loss of mussel beds on Bull Hill, the spread of invasive Pacific oysters, the amount of hand gathering taking place, and the effects of water and habitat quality on fish / shellfish and wildlife. A lack of understanding of actual impacts was noted, which need to be properly defined and quantified with causes and reasons.

Actions:

The commercial and recreational fisheries activities need to be managed sustainably and in line with legislation. D&S IFCA should continue to manage these activities, continuing to develop the handworking byelaw after a pause in progress due to resources. The EEMP should work with relevant authorities to help coordinate and inform management and raise awareness of sustainable fishing practices (e.g. promoting codes of conduct). The partnership should continue to work with Natural England to ensure effective coordination of Pacific oyster management actions at landscape level. There should be clear direction from Natural England on what further action needs to be taken to manage Pacific oysters.

13. Water-Based Recreation

Issues:

There are conflicting views expressed on the issues of water-based recreation, with some stating issues of speeding and disturbance, whilst others suggest that recreational use has a low impact on the environment and other users. Some responses have the view that more education and enforcement is needed, and other suggestions include amending watersports areas, so they are more fit for purpose and cause least disturbance to wildlife. A lack of a holistic recreational strategy that takes into account the roles of the EEMP and SEDHRP was raised, and a lack of clarity on the effectiveness of existing water-based recreation management measures.

Channel depth was raised as an issue on the Exe. There was also a suggestion that a risk assessment of the estuary byelaws is overdue, and is a requirement of the Marine Safety Code.

Actions:

It is noted that the presence of the Harbour Master has made a difference with water users and will improve behaviour with regular patrols. The habitat patrol boat and foot patrols are also working to educate people. The role of the EEMP is to engage with water users and help raise awareness of responsible behaviour in a balanced way. The partnership will continue to work with groups who continue to help share responsible behaviour with their members. Partners should review existing measures and their effectiveness and there is a suggestion to create a holistic recreational strategy to ensure appropriate protection for wildlife and habitats. Consideration should be given to reviewing watersport areas and importance was given to maintaining a navigable channel.

14. Tourism

Issues:

Economic issues driving growth need proper planning, and so need to be in context to other plans. There are various issues expressed which relates to high numbers of visitors to the estuary and promotion of the estuary to tourists is questioned when mitigation measures need to then be developed.

Actions:

Promotion of the estuary should be branded as a whole, so that potential visitors and locals are better informed on the wide variety of qualities that the estuary offers resulting in improved understanding and appreciation of what is here. Specific suggestions include spreading activities away from the dock area and increasing the number of landing places.

15. Public Transport, Access and Land Based Recreation

Issues:

The provision of disabled toilets should be a priority in the revised Plan. The lack of availability and poor design of some existing facilities deters use of the trail and needs to be addressed. Accessibility through “kissing” gates was also raised as an issue. With increasing popularity of the Exe Estuary Trail, more needs to be done to encourage responsible and considerate use to ensure a positive and enjoyable experience, as well as improving safety of the on-road segments of the Exe Estuary Trail or exploring better off-road provision. Other issues included lack of launching sites onto the estuary, better provision of information and better promotion of the Trail to disabled user groups.

Actions:

The EEMP should work with relevant partners to help address the issues above and improve information available to users, including the health and well-being benefits of using the Trail for people of varied abilities, health condition groups and ages. There needs to be a balance achieved of encouraging use and access, whilst promoting responsible and considerate behaviour on the Trail and the importance of wildlife and the natural environment. Disabled facilities should be improved where possible, working with local businesses and authorities.

The Devon Countryside Access Forum has prepared an advisory note on trails to assist in future management of the Exe Estuary Trail (included in Annex 2).

16. Navigation

Issues:

The main issue relating to navigation is the movement and silting of the channel and estuary approach. Concerns have been raised about safety implications of this. Additionally, safe access onto the estuary is limited, and improved education is requested for water users who breach byelaws. A request for the Harbour Authority to provide a risk assessment of byelaws was again requested.

Actions:

Maintenance of the channel was raised of importance, through dredging and movement of channel markers. Concern was raised over the transport of sand from Dawlish Warren, with a request to address this issue. Ongoing enforcement and education would help promote responsible use of the river and estuary, and the EEMP should work with partners and local users to address issues as they arise, including improvement of safe access.

17. Commercial and Other Uses

Issues:

There appears to be a shortfall in communication between some users of the estuary and those that manage the Exe. The EEMP should work to remedy this, encouraging engagement with local users and commercial businesses. It is suggested that the Port User Group does not provide adequate feedback to the wider stakeholders or takes comments from them back to the Harbour Authority.

Actions:

Improved communication is required, to allow stakeholders to discuss plans and issues with the Harbour Master to help set the agenda for the Harbour Board. Better awareness of the role of the EEMP is also needed.

Further comments / suggestions

  • “Overall, much work has gone into this plan, and is to be applauded. The Officers provide excellent service and facilitate much regarding the River. However, it would be better served by having a more defined objective, and to declare its role / relationship with its supporting Councils, and to serve the general public and stakeholders by providing pressure on each Council/Authority in order to hold them to account in a way which better serves public interest.”
  • “Climate change is going to accelerate the changes around the estuary. The plan and partnership need to think big and bold and deliver ahead of impacts being felt if there is to be a sustainable future for the estuary.”
  • “We recommend that the revisions effectively reflect our main concerns and recommendations”.
  • “Need for a holistic and forward looking approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation for effective conservation of wildlife habitats (including the functionally linked land around the estuary used by wintering birds).”
  • “Need for a holistic approach to managing land and water based recreation.”

All responses to the public consultation can be found in Annexes 1 and 2.