Walk - Riviera Line - Dawlish Warren Station - Nature Reserve

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. From Dawlish Warren Railway Station, head left under the railway arch and into the Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve.

Admission is free with open access to most of the reserve including the bird hide. Visitors are welcome to walk around the dunes surrounding the Visitors Centre, but there is no public access to the golf course, or to the mudflats to the north and west. Please observe the visitors’ guidelines displayed in the reserve, designed to preserve this as a special place. Because of roosting birds, visitors are excluded from the area east of Groyne 9 for 2 – 3 hours either side of the high tide between late August and late March. Dogs are not allowed in this area or on the mudflats at any time, and in the dunes area they need to be on a short lead. The mudflats are the winter feeding ground for Brent Geese and other birds.

  1. Going through the car park, pick up the footpath at the far end and follow it past the Visitors Centre and on through the reserve as it curves around to the right to meet the beach.

The Visitor Centre has displays about the reserve and a number of booklets and leaflets. It is open from April to September usually from 10.30 to 5. The Wardens are based here. There are no toilets on site although there are toilets on the resort area. A route for wheelchairs and pushchairs is available from the main car park to the visitors centre. However, much of the rest of the site has soft sand which makes access difficult for wheelchairs.

The nature reserve at Dawlish Warren is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as being a Special Area of Conservation and one of over 2,000 worldwide Ramsar sites. The Ramsar convention was signed in 1971 in the Iranian town of Ramsar to protect, conserve and utilise the sustainability of international wetlands. 

The Exe Estuary is the South West England's most important feeding area for wildfowl and waders. It is home for up to 20,000 waterbirds from as many as 20 different species. It is particularly important for its large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Brent Geese, and Avocets form one of Britain's largest winter flocks. At high tide up to 8000 wading birds rest at Warren Point.

Other birds to be seen in large numbers in the reserve are thousands of dunlins and oystercatchers, several hundred curlews, as well as ringed and grey plovers, and a few dozen sanderlings, knots and turnstones. Larger species can be seen roosting in flocks along the tideline, with the smaller birds gathering on the mud and gravel. Occasionally grey herons, kingfishers and even peregrines can be seen fishing in the area. Little egrets are rare in Britain but increasingly common in this part of the south west. They are sometimes spotted flying through, and in hard weather a snow bunting is occasionally sighted on the beach. A short-eared owl occasionally sits in the dunes near the point, while reed buntings sing from the central bushes, sometimes accompanied by cirl buntings from nearby farmland.

Sandwich Terns arrive in summer to feed their young on Sand Eels. Birds such as skylarks and linnets are found breeding in the dunes.

Because of the warm sunny climate and relatively low rainfall, some rare plants grow here that couldn’t withstand colder, wetter parts of Britain. The site supports over 600 plant species. In 1997 a tiny petalwort, a very rare liverwort, was found. Not much bigger than a pin head, it looks like a miniature lettuce. It is one of Europe’s most threatened plants and is internationally protected. The rare sand crocus, known unofficially here as the Warren crocus, is only found in one other place in the UK. Its tiny lilac flowers appear briefly around the end of March to early April. In the wet meadow and dune slacks (the valley or trough between dunes) Orchids such as Southern Marsh Orchards and Autumn Lady’s-tresses can be found.

  1. On the beach turn right and walk down to the sea wall.

Dogs are allowed on Dawlish Warren Beach (between groynes 3 and 9) throughout the year.

  1. From the sea wall turn inland at the cluster of buildings which include a pub, and walk past the car park. Continue straight ahead under the railway arch. Turn right to reach the station.

Dawlish Warren Station opened in 1905 as Warren Halt but not on this site. It was situated nearer to the sea wall by the footbridge which was built in 1873. The platform was originally 46m long. In 1907 it was renamed Warren Platform when the platform was extended to 120m long. In 1911 it changed its name to Dawlish Warren. In 1912, the present day station was built, 400 metres nearer to Starcross with a 180m long platform. From 1935 to 1940 and then from 1952 to 1964, camp coaches were stationed in the goods yard. These were old retired passenger coaches converted to basic sleeping and living spaces that could be rented by holidaymakers. By 1959 there were 9 coaches. Nowadays the current coaches, replaced in 1982, cater for British Rail Staff Association members.

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