Area: 1,336.5 hectares.

The site is in the County Structure Plan Nature Conservation Zone and Mineral Consultation Area. Partly in North Devon and Torridge Coastal Preservation Area. 

The site formerly included most of Fremington Quay Cliffs SSSI and part of Greenaways and Freshmarsh SSSI, which are notified separately.

Description and Reasons for Notification: 

The Taw-Torridge Estuary is of major importance for its overwintering and migratory populations of wading birds. In addition, rare plants grow along its shores. 

The Estuary’s wide tidal range is reflected by the very large areas of mudflats and sandbanks present. Together with beaches and saltmarshes, the area provides a rich and varied source of food for many birds and other animals. 

The site regularly supports nationally important numbers of curlew Numenius arquata, golden plover Pluvialis apricaria and lapwing Vanellus vanellus. Other species of waders such as redshank Tringa totanus, dunlin Calidris alpina and oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus are also abundant, so that the total number of waders present at any one time can reach over 20,000. 

A typical zonation of estuarine plant communities is displayed among the saltmarshes. Glassworts Salicornia spp., common saltmarsh-grass Puccinellia maritima and cord-grass Spartina spp. occupy the lower levels; sea aster Aster tripolium and annual seablite Suaeda maritima characterise the middle marshes while red fescue Festuca rubra and sea rush Juncus maritimus are found in the uppermost areas. Common reed Phragmites australis and sea wormwood Artemisia maritima occur in places and the rare rock sea-lavender Limonium binervosum and great sea-stock Matthiola sinuata are also locally present. Saltpill Duck Pond provides additional variety with its brackish water and islands fringed by willows Salix spp. 

The Taw and Torridge support typical estuarine species such as mullet Mugil sp. and flat fish, also bass Dicentrarchus labrax and pollack Pollachius pollachius and, on migration, salmon Salmo salar, sea trout S. trutta and eel Anguilla anguilla. Many invertebrates are found in the extensive sandbanks exposed at low tide. Mudflats occur more towards high water mark, and are characterised by peppery furrow-shell Scorbicularia plana. Rocky outcrops, seawalls and stones on the banks provide a substrate for algal growth and beds of mussels Mytilus edulis.

Marine Protected Area

Comprising the upper Taw Estuary and the upper Torridge Estuary. This is a great nursery area for fish, in particular for sea bass.

Estuaries are important contributors to ecological productivity, and have an important function as nursery areas.

This site contributes the second largest area of coastal salt marshes and saline reedbeds in the region.

Salt marshes are considered to be one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. The economic value of productivity of marshes has been estimated in 1997 at £9,900/ha/yr. Many birds, juvenile fish, crustaceans and molluscs use marshes as nurseries, including commercially important fish species such as sea bass. Salt marshes are important for climate change, and are known to accumulate sediment and organic matter at a rate that compensates for sea level rise, as well as providing carbon storage at approximately 10 times the rate observed in temperate forests. The IUCN states that salt marshes are “critical components to future carbon management discussions and strategies”.

Intertidal sand, muddy sand and mixed sediments have an important role in fundamental ecosystem processes, including nutrient cycling. Intertidal sediments are important spawning and nursery grounds and provide habitats for various fish species, which contributes to commercial and recreational fisheries benefits. Soft-bottom environments create complex microhabitats supporting abundant populations of microphytobenthos. Estuarine soft sediments support a diverse group of microscopic and macroscopic organisms.

Subtidal sediment provides important nursery grounds for many ecologically and commercially important fish and support seabirds. Marine sediments have an important role in the global cycling of many elements, including carbon and nitrogen. Nitrogen and phosphorous remineralisation provide a significant contribution to the nutrients required by primary producers in the water column. Marine sediments may act as temporary or permanent sinks for pollutants, particularly toxic metals.

Habitats and special interest protected:

Low energy intertidal rock;

Intertidal coarse sediment;

Intertidal sand and muddy sand;

Coastal salt marsh and saline reedbed;

Subtidal sand;

Subtidal mud;

European eel Anguilla anguilla;