Here are a few birdwatching ideas for people with very limited mobility who might be staying with us at Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges. Of course, there’s plenty to see from your veranda too – but sometimes we all like to go exploring.
We recently took Barrie, aged 91, out for a scenic tour of wildlife and birdwatching hotspots near Exeter, and thought we’d share how it went. Perhaps it will help other people wanting to get close to Devon’s wildlife without having to trek far.
Barrie doesn’t use a wheel chair, but also doesn’t have the energy to go far and can’t really manage steps or even slopes. He is fairly frail, making options a bit limited. More active people, including stronger wheelchair or scooter users, would have much more choice of where to go, so bear that in mind when reading on, and don’t think these are the only options for different abilities. The Tarka Trail, for example, in North Devon, has plenty of car parks leading to relatively flat trails, including paths taking you right through ‘Tarka The Otter’ country. If you’re staying at the eco lodges, do come and ask for more personalised suggestions on where to go.
Bowling Green RSPB reserve at Topsham, near Exeter
First stop on our day out was, Bowling Green RSPB reserve at Topsham, just outside of Exeter. It’s possible to drive right up to the big modern hide at the Bowling Green reserve. If you have a blue parking badge, there is one parking space you can use right at the hide, otherwise it’s a drop off and park elsewhere. The best bird watching will be around high tide. We saw widgeon and pintail close up. The picture with this post is from inside the hide.
Next stop was Topsham town. Topsham offers views over the Exe Estuary and there’s a short level path called the ‘Goat Walk’ that runs along the edge of the River Exe. During the winter months there is usually something to see at low to mid tide, such as avocet. You’ll need binoculars, or better yet a scope. There are regular benches along the Goat Walk. There are public loos at the Topsham Quay.
Our third destination was the Exminster Marshes, EX6 8DZ. To get there we had to cross back over the River Exe, using Bridge Road, where we could have had a quick look at the canal, from the University Boat Shed car park, or we could have stopped off at the River using the Countess Weir car park on the other side of the road. Just be aware that you can’t turn off this road – you have to go to the end and right round a roundabout if you want to be on the other side.
Exminster Marshes were great, you could look out over the marshes through field gates, and we saw a hen harrier hunting. At the end of station road there’s a small car park, from where you can get up to the canal tow path if you can manage the slope.
Food shops and loos
Need some civilised loos during your day out? Try Darts Farm shopping centre, EX3 0QH, where you’ll also find a lovely deli counter.
Exmouth, the sea and mudflats
Another trip we’ve done is to drive to Exmouth, where you can park on the seafront near Orcombe Point facing the sea, and ‘broaden your horizons’ without leaving the car. Nearby, there are also parking spots at the Imperial Recreation Ground, which is very close to one of the winter wildlife refuge spots designated at this end of the estuary. But the views are not so easy if you cant get out of the vehicle, or if you’re low down so the vegetation impedes your line of sight.
Accessible birdwatching on Dartmoor
If you want a taste of Dartmoor but can’t easily leave your vehicle, the roads above Okehampton Army Camp offer lovely views across the north moor.
If a short walk or scoot is feasible, the car park at Meldon Reservoir is very close to the dam. A few steps will get you views across the reservoir and the valley below it.
For woodland, you can drive right into the heart of Yarner Wood NNR on Dartmoor. Spring is always a good time, once the pied flycatchers arrive but before too many leaves!
Accessible birdwatching in North Devon
The car park at Fremington Pill (Barnstaple) looks out over the estuary. Fremington Quay has a bustling cafe too.
Birdwatchers sometimes park on Burrows Lane, beyond Appledore.
Many thanks to Richard Knott, ecologist with the Dartmoor National Park, for his suggestions and tips. If you have anything to add, please leave us a comment.