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If you go down to the Wetlands today, you’re in for a big surprise...

Volunteers at the Axe Estuary Wetlands

Monday 18 February

THE mysterious structure taking shape next to the Information Centre at the Axe Estuary Wetlands is believed to be the world’s first combined Sand Martin Cliff and Bat Cave (if you know different, please do let us know!).

The construction was designed by Doug Rudge and Fraser Rush of the East Devon District Council Countryside team, and when it is complete there will be room for over 250 families of sand martins and potential roosting space for several thousand bats.

Experts expect the sand martins to return from their sub-Saharan winter holiday during March, although parts of the structure won’t be ready before mid-May. It will also play a part in the aesthetics of the site, as it will screen a new toilet block which is due to be built later this year.

Sand Martins are amber listed Birds of Conservation Concern, which means that they are a threatened or declining species. This is partly because they suffer from natural river bank flooding during the summer – their burrows are often low down in the vertical face of river banks, and so the slightest rise in water levels during the breeding season will flood the nests. The purpose-built sand martin bank is designed to be immune to the floods on the Wetlands.


Some 11 species of bats have been recorded on the Axe Estuary Wetlands so far and the Bat Cave will be suitable for most of these. (Some bats prefer to roost in trees, even with a desirable residence like this on their doorstep!)

The majority of the building work has been undertaken by a magnificent team of highly motivated and unflappable volunteers working in rain or shine - or even snow.  Without their superb efforts, the project would not have been possible and EDDC’s Countryside team would like to take this opportunity to say a huge ‘Thank you’ to all involved.  

The group will be continuing the  building work on Tuesdays until the project is completed – if you would like to join them, please call the Countryside team on 01395 517 557 or email . There is always work to be done - the ‘Cliff’, as it is affectionately known, will ultimately be at the edge of a large pond which will be created during the summer.

Councillor Phil Twiss, EDDC’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment, said “We’re also enormously grateful to the Axe Vale and District Conservation Society. Their very generous contribution towards the Sand Martin Cliff and Bat Cave has allowed us to continue to develop the Axe Estuary Wetlands as one of the South West’s premier wetland wildlife sites.

“From its formation in 2008, the Wetlands has gone from strength to strength as an important educational venue for schools and colleges, as well as a wonderful visitor attraction and a popular amenity for local people. Our aim is to keep finding ways of improving the Wetlands as a wildlife haven and a place where people can enjoy and appreciate the wonders of nature”.

Sand Martin Bingo

To find out more about this unique and fascinating project, come along to the Winter Bird Festival on the Axe Estuary Wetlands on Saturday 23 February. You can chat to the designers and the volunteers who are constructing the ‘Cliff’. It’s also your big chance to play Sand Martin Bingo – so don’t miss it!

The day starts at 8.00 a.m. with a bird ringing demonstration (weather permitting) and there will be bird-themed fun throughout the day for all the family, including games and activities for children and bird identification sessions with the Guides in the Hides.

The Axe Estuary Wetlands nature reserve is open free of charge to the public at all times, as are all the EDDC nature reserves. For more information visit our website at”


Holy bat-caves Robin! Volunteers making the backboard for the ‘Cliff’.

For further press information please contact the Council’s Press Office on:

01395 517 559,

East Devon District Council, Knowle, Sidmouth, Devon EX10 8HL

Page last updated on 18 February 2013