About The Axe Estuary Ringing Group

The Group, which now has over 40 members, was set up in November 2006, with the aims and objectives being:

  • To monitor and study the breeding, wintering and migration patterns of birds along the Axe Estuary and;
  • To gather data to help the development of the Axe Estuary Wetlands and its environs. 

It has an active programme of ringing sessions several times each month throughout the year at various locations around the Estuary. These sessions include: mist-netting; whoosh-netting; use of Abberton and other traps; winter cannon-netting of wildfowl; colour-ringing of Shelduck and Black-tailed Godwits; public demonstration days; and illustrated PowerPoint presentations to community organisations.

Cetti's Warbler - Colyford Common Nov '09 (c) Steve Waite

The Group work from a new modern field centre located at the Axe Estuary Wetlands.  You can find more information about the area the Group operate in HERE.

If you are interested in helping out or joining the Group, please contact the Group leader, Mike Tyler at axeestuaryringing@gmail.com to find out more.


The Ringing Group Area


The Axe Estuary Ringing Group operates on and around the Axe Estuary, a small Estuary in east Devon.



The official boundary of the Axe Estuary Ringing Group starts from the sea shore, follows the B3172 up the east side of the river and stops at the A3052. The western boundary is along the Colyford Road.

Inside this area, some of the land is privately owned, but there are three Local Nature Reserves, managed by the East Devon District Council.  This is where most of the Group's ringing activities are carried out.  A summary of the reserves can be found below - courtesy of Fraser Rush the Reserves Officer.

Seaton Marshes LNR
Having been in Council ownership for many years, this 10.5 ha (26 acre) grazing marsh was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1999.  Seaton Marshes lies within the area that was reclaimed from tidal saltings in the seventeenth century.  The LNR comprises two fields, separated by a modern flood bank and known originally as Little Ragged Jack and Great Ragged Jack.

Seaton Marshes - March '10 (c) Steve Waite

The timing of the flooding regime, combined with summer grazing by cattle, creates perfect conditions for many birds in the winter.  At peak times the LNR can hold more than 250 wigeon, 100 teal and 100 shelduck, together with smaller numbers of shoveler, black-tailed godwit, snipe, curlew and a wide range of other winter visitors.

Within Seaton Marshes is the Borrow Pit, which was dug in the early 1980s to create the large flood bank across the marshes.  It has been managed as a nature reserve for many years by the Axe Vale and District Conservation Society and is now part of the LNR.  As the only large area of deep water, the Borrow Pit supports a number of species not found elsewhere in the area.  Little Grebe usually breed here and Mute Swan have done in the past.  Little Egrets frequently roost in the trees on the island and a number of warblers can be found in the surrounding scrub and emergent vegetation, particularly during the spring passage.

Borrow Pit - Oct '11 (c) Steve Waite

Colyford Common LNR

Colyford Common - Oct '11 (c) Steve Waite

A diverse area of marshland at Colyford Common was notified as a Local Nature Reserve in 2002.  Comprising land acquired by the District Council as well as land belonging to the Mayor and Burgesses of Colyford, the LNR totals 13.5 ha (33 acres). 

In contrast to Seaton Marshes, most of Colyford Common is subject to tidal inundation, although it lies at the very top of the tidal gradient and the amount of land covered by the incoming tide is highly variable.  On a few occasions every year, usually in late autumn or winter, three quarters of the LNR is flooded, whereas on most tides the only noticeable effect is deeper water in the ditches.  What makes the area very special is that the area of land flooded by the tide is not restricted by man-made sea defences.  Instead each tide finds its own height relative to the natural topography.

A few areas of the nature reserve remain above the height of even the highest tides and these areas are managed in a variety of ways to encourage a greater diversity of wildlife.  To the north of the tidal marsh there is a wet field which has been made even wetter by alterations to the way it drains into the boundary ditches.  The field has been planted with clumps of reed which will gradually spread to cover the entire area, favouring the wetter conditions which have been created and ultimately forming a dense reed bed.  The reed is now really begining to take hold and more of the clumps are likely to join up this year to form larger areas; full coverage of the area will probably take another three or four years.

Colyford Common - Oct '11 (c) Steve Waite

To the north of the new reed bed is a small, dry field, formerly under agriculturally improved grass but now cultivated with a mixed crop of wild bird seed.  The field will be ploughed and re-sown every spring (or perhaps every other spring if biennial crops are used) and it becomes a haven for a wide variety of birds during the autumn and winter months.  It attracts not only large numbers of seed eating species such as goldfinch, linnet and chaffinch but also unusually high numbers of insectivorous species such as dunnocks and various thrushes.  The crop has potential for less common species and occasionally holds a few brambling, skylark and reed bunting.

'The Crop Field' at Colyford Common - Oct '11 (c) Steve Waite

At the southern end of the nature reserve and clearly visible from the bird hide is a freshwater lagoon which was created in the Autumn of 2007.  This area will be kept flooded to provide winter feeding for species such as teal and little egret but, perhaps more exciting for the birdwatcher, it is partially drained in mid-summer to attract passage waders.

Black Hole Marsh and Stafford Marsh

In the spring of 2008 EDDC acquired two fields to the south of Colyford Common.  Both fields had been drained and improved in the past to provide productive pasture.  They comprise 7.3 ha (18 acres) known as Black Hole Marsh and 1.8 ha (4.4 acres) known as Stafford Marsh.
Black Hole Marsh has large embankments to the north, east and south with higher ground to the west and is therefore hydrologically separate from any of the adjacent marshes and from the tidal river.  This has allowed the creation of a large new lagoon covering the entire marsh, without effecting any neighbouring property.

Black Hole Marsh - Oct '11 (c) Steve Waite
Stafford Marsh - Oct '11 (c) Steve Waite

Other areas  used for ringing which are not managed by EDDC include a reed bed on the western side of the Axe Estuary adjacent to Colyford Common, and Colyford Marsh.