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Dart Estuary – Natural Beauty for All

The river’s final stretch

Our local estuaries & coast are a defining feature of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Dart Estuary is the final stretch of the River Dart where its fresh waters meet and mix with the salt water of the sea. The Dart is very fresh water dominated and following heavy rain within the catchment upstream, fresh water can dominate as far out as Dartmouth Castle!

As with most estuaries in the south west, the Dart is a drowned river valley or ‘ria’, formed over the last Ice Age – the deep river valley carved out by rushing waters and drowned by the post glacial sea-level rise. During the Ice Age the sea level was some 120m lower than now and probably flowed down to meet the sea to the east of what is now Start Point!

Despite their apparent beauty and relative calm waters, the everchanging salinity and exposure from the tides and weather make estuaries a very challenging environment for wildlife to thrive. For those that can survive their dynamic and extreme conditions estuaries are immensely food-rich, supporting massively productive and globally important ecosystems. An ecosystem that also serves us with cleaner water, food and oxygen, multi-watersports playgrounds and harbours, and areas of quiet, tranquillity and outstanding natural beauty.

Seals, kingfishers and ospreys are not uncommon here and for a lucky few, glimpses of seahorses, otters, dolphins or porpoises are just possible too. Those local to the Dart do not take these riches for granted and play an active part in keeping our waters special – our local problems tend to be from the cumulative impact of small but all too frequent issues – every positive effort really does count.

The special nature of the Upper Dart Estuary is now celebrated in its designation as a Marine Conservation Zone – extra emphasis is now encouraged on its conservation and all relevant authorities have an appropriate duty of regard for its care. Dart Harbour has a leading role within the long-term stewardship of the estuary and encourages its customers and stakeholders, visitors and locals to join them in its pride of care.

The South Devon AONB Estuaries Partnership, of which Dart Harbour is a member, has a clear aim of ensuring the balanced conservation management of our estuaries and their surrounding water catchments for all – we are a part of our estuary. The Estuaries Management Plan gives guidance on actions that we should all make, no matter how small.

For more information, visit: or contact the South Devon AONB Estuaries Officer,  phone 01803 229335 or email [email protected]