Developments on the Axe Estuary Wetlands
(by Doug Rudge, Countryside Contracts Officer, East Devon District Council)
Those who are familiar with the Axe Estuary Wetlands will know how much it has changed in the last few years.
For those of you that have yet to experience the delights of this magical place or if you haven’t been for a while, then now is the time to come and find out what you have been missing.
The Axe Estuary Wetlands is the name for the Council-managed marshes that lie to the west of the river Axe, between Seaton and Colyford. Seaton Marshes and Colyford Common were joined by Black Hole Marsh and Stafford Marsh in 2008. Together they provide a rich mosaic of habitats that are a haven for wildlife; and with five hides, two viewing platforms, 2 pond dipping platforms, 2 free car parks and around 3 kilometres of paths, there is no reason why human visitors shouldn’t flock here too.
The Wetlands Classroom
Education is a key priority for EDDC and when the Field Studies Base was completed in February 2011 it was intended to be used to host parties of visiting schoolchildren. However it soon became clear that it wasn’t really big enough, so we decided to build a separate classroom for 50 students in Stafford Marsh.
When designing the Field Studies Base we were able to make sure that the floor was raised above the level of the predicted 1 in 10 year flood events. With the classroom, however, we were restricted to a maximum roof height of 4 metres above the flood plain, which meant that the floor would be around 1 metre below the water level in the event of such a flood.
This created some interesting design challenges, which were solved by installing vents in the floor. These vents would be too heavy for pests to push open and too small for people to pass through. In the event of a flood they would be lifted out by the rising water and float out of harm’s way until the water had receded.
The building itself is made of wood to blend in with the natural environment. External grade wood has been used for all main support posts, floor joists, wall studs and external wall cladding. The internal floor cladding and the wall cladding below the predicted maximum flood height is made of marine grade plywood. A gap has been left between the floor and the internal wall cladding to allow water to pass freely in and out of the cavity, which is uninsulated.
Cupboards have been fitted along the full length of one wall. Shelves in these cupboards are fitted above the maximum predicted flood level so that stored materials are not damaged by the floodwater. Only non-perishable items such as chairs, fishing nets and buckets are stored in the cupboards at floor level.
Electric lights and 240v electrical sockets have been installed, all above the predicted maximum flood level.
The classroom has been designed to give a strong ‘outdoors’ feeling while still providing all the necessary shelter from the weather. It has large picture windows overlooking the marsh and, with these windows open, the sounds and atmosphere of the wetlands come right into the classroom.
Most importantly of all, we wanted to build in a ‘wow’ factor. Our Tuesday volunteer group built a boardwalk through the reedbed which, although it is already a thing of beauty, will only really come into its own when the reed is properly established. Imagine the effect it will have on small children visiting for the first time, as they set off through the jungle of 2 metre tall reed stems in search of the classroom...
Anyone interested in booking the classroom for a school visit or hiring it for any other purpose should call Meg Knowles on 07734 568821 or the countryside service on 01395 517557
The next phase of development for the Axe Estuary Wetlands is the land lying to the north of the new Tesco Store and to the south of Seaton Marshes LNR, due to pass into EDDC ownership in the very near future. At 10 hectares, Sheeps Marsh is 35% bigger than Black Hole Marsh.
Because Sheeps Marsh is within easy walking distance of the town it is likely that this will be the first part of the reserve to be visited by holidaymakers or day trippers to the town. For some of these people it may even be the first time they have ever been to a nature reserve. Our plan is to turn this area into a miniature version of the main reserve, with examples of all of the habitats that are present further up the estuary. Hopefully this will whet their appetite and encourage them to explore the rest of the reserve.
The current thinking is illustrated below, although there is still a lot to do before we can start the earthworks: complete the transfer of the land; finalise our preferred design; arrange for a professional flood risk assessment; obtain Environment Agency approval; and apply for and obtain planning permission. With luck, the digging will be completed in 2012.