SPAs are a European designation classified in accordance with the EC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds. The designation is attributed to sites for rare and vulnerable birds, listed in Annex 1 of the birds directive, and for regularly occurring migratory species. The first UK site to be designated was in the 1980s and there are now more than 250 sites that have joined that list.
The designation requires EC member states to take measures to protect, manage, and control all species of naturally occurring wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats.
Under the EU Habitats Regulations (1994) the Exe Estuary (including Dawlish Warren) is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) because it supports internationally important populations of birds such as the Slavonian Grebe and the Avocet, as well as Brent Goose, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Blacktailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Natural England (NE) must work with other bodies around the Exe Estuary to ensure that the condition of the habitat and the status of the birds within the SPA is favourable so careful monitoring and management is an ongoing activity.
The Exe qualifies, under article 4.2 of the designation, for its internationally important population of more than 20,000 wintering wildfowl and waders including:
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa islandica)
Dunlin (Calidris alpina alpine)
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Wigeon (Anas Penelope)
Dark-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla)
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta),
The Exe also qualifies under article 4.1 of the directive by supporting populations of European importance. This includes the Annex 1 bird species the Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) and Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus). The average number of avocets visiting each year, taken from a 5 year average in the early nineties, is 359 individuals, which represents at least 28% of the wintering population in the UK. The average number of Slavonian Grebe is 20 individuals representing at least 5% of the wintering population in the UK (source Information: JNCC).
Conservation objectives are agreed for the SPA and are the starting point from which management schemes and monitoring programmes may be developed. The Exe Estuary Management Partnership is the body which brings together the organisations responsible for managing the Exe Estuary SPA in order to agree and deliver the Management Plan. The SPA designation means that the potential impact of proposed plans or projects must be assessed. NE use appropriate assessments to gauge the conservation implications for the site and will provide consent only once it has been proven that the proposal will not adversely affect the conservation value of the site.
If you are planning a new activity or development on or around the Exe Estuary please look out for the forthcoming Planning Guidance leaflet which the Partnership is currently preparing. It provides information on the planning process, and the types of licenses or consents that might be required. For more information on habitat mitigation in this area, see Teignbridge District Council’s advice on habitat mitigation.
If you think that an offence has been committed under the Habitats Regulations or the Wildlife and Countryside Act, please contact Natural England.