Cirl Bunting

Strete Gate

Grey seal

Off Start Point


Dark Green Fritillary

Mackerel shoal

Oyster Catchers at dusk

Salcombe Estuary


The South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 340 square kilometres (131 square miles) of coastline, estuaries and countryside and includes a rich variety of habitats and species.


Greater Horseshoe BatThe habitats in the AONB range from salt marshes, reedbeds and eelgrass to hedge banks, oak woodlands and coastal grasslands. You will find guillemots, dolphins, grey seals and harbour porpoises along with dormice, greater horseshoe bats, cirl bunting, cuckoo bees and glow-worms.


Our natural environment provides a varied, colourful landscape tapestry which enriches and supports the lives of residents and visitors.

Its importance is recognised in a range of designations that include Special Areas of Conservation, reflecting the importance of parts of the AONB at a European scale, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, that highlight importance at a national scale, and local nature reserve and county wildlife sites, recognizing parts of the AONB that are of more local importance.

South Devon's top 10 natural events

Nature’s calendar creates a series of spectacular natural events throughout the year and the South Devon AONB is the venue of a really impressive selection including:

What When Where
The swirling spectacle of bird migrations and roosts in the AONB including murmurations of up to 20,000 barn swallows and up to 500,000 starlings.

End of August to early September (Swallows)

November and December (Starlings)
Slapton Ley Reedbeds, best seen from the coastal path or car parks.
1400 very noisy breeding Guillemots in the largest and most important colony on the Channel Coast. March to July Cliffs below Berry Head.
Thousands of waders feeding over estuarine mudflats as the tide goes out … and comes in again. Every day Estuaries of the Salcombe-Kingsbridge, Yealm, Dart and Avon.

Vast clouds of breeding midges emerging out of the reed fringes and forming 30 ft tall plumes that resemble swirling smoke from a chimney.

April / May Slapton Ley perimeter reedbeds beside the A379.
Grey seals hauled out on rocks in a familiar ‘banana’ shape and giving birth to seal pups. All year but breeding over the winter months. Pear Tree Point off Start Point and the Mew Stone near the mouth of the Dart.
Summer migrations of crabs and lobsters. June-September The whole South Devon AONB coastline and its estuaries.
The breeding cycles of Polychaetes (ragworms), and Echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins sea cucumbers) all triggered by the Lunar cycle. Spring following a rise in water temperature and around the emergence of a new moon and full moon. Estuaries, sandy and muddy parts of South Devon AONB’s beaches.
Atlantic Salmon migrating and leaping over rocks up the South Devon rivers to their spawning gravels high on Dartmoor. September-November especially after heavy rain. Bridges over shallow sections of the river Avon.
The shimmering of large areas of sea close to the shore as shoals of Mackerel break the surface while chasing sand eels in turn chased by seals and seabirds and the occasional fisherman. Early evening July-August. Close to shore along the whole South Devon AONB coastline.
Basking shark and turtle migrations. April to October, but best spotted on days with a calm sea state. From high cliff tops along the whole South Devon Coastline.


Are there other natural events you feel are synonymous with the South Devon AONB, or have you seen something really awe inspiring in the natural world while you’ve been out and about in the South Devon AONB?  Please tell us about it, we’d love to hear your story and share it with others.  Your responses will help shape the Special Qualities list for the South Devon AONB and the event sand activities programme to raise awareness of why this area receives special protection as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Your views

Starfish off Wembury coast. Copyright Paul Naylor.Wildlife forms one of the most awe inspiring elements of Natural Beauty, the reason for South Devon being designated an AONB.

If you have a wildlife encounter you would like to share, or feel our habitat and species list is missing something you feel is worthy of mention and synonymous with the South Devon AONB, then please tell us about it, we’d love to hear your experiences and views.

Your responses will help:

  • Shape the Special Qualities list for the South Devon AONB;
  • The events and activities programme to raise awareness of why this area receives special protection as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;
  • Projects and activities to help keep this area nationally important.