Next phase for the Man Sands marshland project

The wetland and Man Sands beach

The team of English Riviera countryside rangers have been working on a long-term project at Man Sands to return what was farmland to its original marshland state, to encourage birds to use this habitat. Find out all about the evolution of the project, and what the next phase is for the Man Sands marshland.

Beginnings of the project

The project started in 2005 with the removal of crumbling sea defences from the beach and field drainage immediately behind this. This created a large wetland area, which has evolved into a series of pools of standing water and marshland; the perfect habitat for a variety of different birds.
In 1989 Man Sands marshland was farmland
The countryside near Man Sands beach in 1989, before it was restored to marshland
In 1989 Man Sands marshland was farmland
A bird hide was originally built as a temporary structure made of hazel and bamboo to create a simple screen with a bench behind it. This was well used by the local bird-watching community and so the team decided to build a more weatherproof and permanent structure. In 2012 a permanent hide with a roof, benches, hinged windows and interpretation boards was built at the top of the marsh.


A popular spot

The bird hide provides the perfect spot for watching the many species that visit the marshland. Several bird species use the marsh all year round, including mallard, moorhen, water rail and heron. In the winter they are joined by visiting birds such as snipe, teal, gadwall and a range of wading species. 


The next phase

Mansands beach and surrounding farmland has been part of ongoing conservation work for a number of years. This initially started when manmade sea defences were removed and the decision was made to not replace them and let natural processes take place.

As a part of this initial work a wetland site was created behind the beach, which over the years has begun to really develop around the beach fringes. We now have a well-established reed bed and pools in this area with breeding records for Cetti’s warbler and Reed warbler over the last few years alongside the more common wildfowl.

The countryside rangers taking care of Man Sands
A National Trust ranger van parked at Man Sand beach
The countryside rangers taking care of Man Sands


The developing wetland near the beach is very precarious and is regularly adversely affected by storms and rain fall events causing the loss of the standing water and reed bed as well as the flooding/washing away of the South West Coast Path making it impassable.

These events are likely to become more regular over the coming years and with the potential for sea level rises, the South West Coast Path could be lost completely and the wetland become a salt marsh. This project was always likely to be very fluid due to the nature of the site and the next phase of the scheme is to look at safeguarding both the South West Coast Path and the fresh water wetland.

After a number of discussions with Natural England and the South West Coast Path Association it was felt that undertaking large scale flood defences and damming near the beach to protect the path and wetland would be against the aims of natural processes, unpractical and unviable due to the likelihood of continued storm and flooding damage.


We have a plan

Work will be going ahead to create a new alternative route for the South West Coast Path further up the valley near the bird hide, and use this as an opportunity to create a new area of standing water and reed beds further from the beach.

This can develop and remain undisturbed from potential storm damage providing a more stable habitat for the flora and fauna using the site as well as creating conditions to encourage other species to colonise. There will also be some new infrastructure work to ensure that appropriate grazing can be undertaken on the site to control vegetation on the site.

This work is due to start this summer (July/August 2019) as we need the area that we are working on to be as dry as possible. We are aware there may be some disturbance to wildlife as part of this work and we will be working closely with the contractor to take as many precautions as possible to keep this disturbance to a minimum. 

The proposed new walkway at Man Sands
Proposed new walkway at Man Sands beach, Coleton Fishacre, Devon
The proposed new walkway at Man Sands

If you have any concerns or questions regarding this work  please feel free to contact the local ranger office on 01803 752776.