Onboard the new boat helping to protect the Exe Estuary
PUBLISHED: 12:18 11 July 2019
A new patrol boat is making waves on the Exe Estuary, helping to protect wildlife and waters users. CHRISSY HARRIS went to find out more
In Exmouth Marina, Sama Euridge has just finished scrubbing the deck of the Branta Isca in preparation for her next voyage.
It won't be long before the freshly cleaned, bright white Quicksilver 605 Pilothouse boat is back out on the river, helping to make sure the water is a safe place for everyone to enjoy.
The Exe Estuary is a fantastic spot for kayakers, paddleboarders, bait collectors, fishermen, sailors and more. But this globally important habitat is also home to thousands of birds and marine animals.
It's up to conservation expert Sama and her colleague Amelia Davies to help maintain a harmonious balance between people and nature. As 'habitat mitigation officers', their job is to talk to water users about codes of conduct and offer advice about how to make sure local wildlife is not disturbed.
"Every year, we have this massive influx of birds," says Sama, talking about the 20,000 or so waterfowl that arrive on the estuary every year. "The birds just need to rest and feed to build up their fat reserves after travelling thousands of miles.
"Some of these birds will have never seen humans before so we're just asking people to give them some space."
Loud noises from jetskis and barking dogs can disturb the feathered visitors and other marine wildlife but Sama says proximity is the main problem. Preventing people getting too close to the refuge areas in Exmouth and Dawlish Warren is one of the key roles of the patrol boat scheme.
"We just need to be a little bit more aware of how our behaviour impacts on wildlife," says Sama, who volunteered with the Devon Wildlife Trust and the National Trust before taking up the job here in 2016.
"Most people don't set out to disturb the wildlife. Often, they don't realise it's there."
The patrol boat was launched last year by the South East Devon Habitat Regulations Executive Committee (SEDHREC), a partnership between Teignbridge, Exeter and East Devon councils.
The £27,000 Branta Isca - named after the family of birds 'Branta' (which includes the iconic Exe brent goose) and the Roman name for Exeter 'Isca' - was paid for using money from housing developers in the region.
It's hoped the scheme will go some way towards protecting wildlife against the impact of a rising local population.
"The new boat will play a key role in our educational and outreach programme for the Exe Estuary," says Neil Harris, delivery manager for SEDHREC.
"The Exe has a variety of habitats which together provide one of the most important sites for wildfowl in Europe. The protection of these designated sites for nature is a legal obligation."
Sama and Amelia have worked with local police officers to learn more about potential offences. The habitat mitigation team has recently been accredited with the power to enforce byelaws and public space protection orders.
But they are not issuing fines - something people misunderstood when the patrol boat scheme was first launched.
For the most part, however, the job is plain sailing. Sama says water users are more environmentally savvy today than they've ever been and are usually happy to find out more about life on this constantly changing estuary.
"It's really great to watch the brent geese arrive," says Sama. "The birds all have totally different characters and they bicker constantly, making this burbling noise. Quite often, they'll just charge at each other if another bird gets into their space."
Recently, there have been sightings of an osprey and a Slavonian grebe. Grey seals often make an appearance and the area supports more than 2,000 species of invertebrates, including the scarlet and Jersey tiger moths.
"We all want to be here because it's such an incredible place, " says Sama. "So let's do what we can to protect it."
To find out more, see southeastdevonwildlife.org.uk