Area: 431.4 hectares.
The site lies within South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Description and Reasons for Notification:
This small secluded estuary, located on the south Devon coast, contains fine examples of estuarine, saltmarsh, freshwater and oak-hazel woodland habitats. It supports an important breeding bird community and additionally, provides feeding and roosting grounds for waterfowl on passage and in winter.
The Erme Estuary is about 5 km in length. At its mouth it is characterised by extensive sandflats locally colonised by seaweeds such as flatwrack Fucus spiralis and Enteromorpha sp., with an often steep and rugged shoreline. Upstream, mudflats predominate, which support areas of saltmarsh dominated by common cord-grass Spartina anglica, with sea-purslane Halimione portulacoides, sea aster Aster tripolium and glasswort Salicornia spp. At the head of the estuary, the saltmarsh grades into a succession of wet meadows lying beside the River Erme. These are subject to varying degrees of flooding and salinity and support areas of soft rush Juncus effusus and common reed Phragmites australis. A number of artificial fish ponds and other freshwater pools occur. These have become partially silted up and carry fringing belts of reedswamp and support a wide variety of freshwater flora and fauna.
The slopes above the estuary are formed of Lower Devonian slates and grits and are extensively wooded. Orcheton Wood is a fine example being dominated by pedunculate oak Quercus robur and having an understorey characterised by the abundance of hazel Corylus avellana and holly Ilex aquifolium. Bramble Rubus fruticosus, bracken Pteridium aquilinum, bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta and great woodrush Luzula sylvatica dominate the ground flora which is very diverse and contains such plants as columbine Aquilegia vulgaris, wood spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides, goldenrod Solidago virgaurea and butcher’s-broom Ruscus aculeatus.
The site as a whole supports a diverse breeding bird community which includes heron Ardea cinerea, kingfisher Alcedo atthis and cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus. It also provides feeding and roosting grounds for wildfowl and waders on passage and during winter. The estuary and the River Erme is a spawning run for sea trout Salmo trutta, and is frequented by european otter Lutra lutra.