Location South Milton Ley SX685422
Road Access Via South Milton to the NT car park
Habitat SSSI – large reedbed with boardwalk. Surrounding margins are hedges, trees with grassy area
Size 18 ha
Access Devon Birds members only
Site Manager Vic Tucker
Tenure Freehold held by Devon Birds

Bearded Tit 17.11.2011 S Milton Ley © H WilliamsReed cutting at South Miton Ley Jan 2016Kumlien's Gull South Milton Ley 28.3.15Boardwalk South Milton Ley

Places to GoSouth Milton Ley

South Milton Ley Reserve is a 16 hectare wildlife refuge that was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1984.  It includes Devon’s second largest reedbed and together with the South Huish Meadowlands in the adjacent valley and nearby coast is visited by up to 200 bird species in a typical year.

Devon Birds acquired the core reedbed in 1976 and has added to the original landholding in stages to form buffer zones.  Active management of the Reserve by Devon Birds has increased the reedbed by two hectares and extensive planting in the buffer zones has provided shelter and food for the birds.

The water level in the Reserve depends on the height of the sandbank at the mouth of the Ley.  Wave action can build up the sandbank and flood the Reserve for up to half-a-mile inland for weeks at a time.   The floods usually occur in winter and subside when a storm breaches the sandbank.

Access to the Reserve is restricted to Devon Birds members.


The Reserve is located in a shallow valley that discharges across South Milton Sands into Thurlestone Bay.  The Reserve can be reached either through the village of South Milton or through Thurlestone.  The South Milton route leads to a National Trust car park on the South side of the Reserve at South Milton Sands.  This car park also overlooks South Huish Meadowlands.  The Thurlestone route leads to a private car park on the North side of the Reserve, which has an elevated view of Thurlestone Bay.  The car parks are very busy in summer and on sunny days can be full well before noon.

The Reserve can be reached from either car park by short walk along the South West Coast Path and taking the track that runs past Beach Cottage and Sandbank.  This track runs to a South West Water pumping station.  If the Ley is not flooded the lower path into the Reserve can be taken but in times of flood it is advisable to take the path above the pumping station.

Alternatively, the Reserve can be reached from the public footpath that crosses it adjacent to South West Water’s sewage treatment plant.

Access within the Reserve

A track runs the full length of the Reserve on the North side from the South West Coast path to Mill Lane, the inland limit of the Reserve.  There is however no access from Mill Lane.  Similarly, a track runs along the South side of the Reserve but stops about half-a-mile short of the South West Coast path.

Crossing the reedbed is possible at the South West Coast path (but no access to South side of Reserve), at the boardwalk about half-a-mile inland, at the public footpath and at the Eastern limit of the Reserve adjacent to Mill Lane.

In winter, the tracks can be very wet but do not flood except near the South West Water pumping station.

South Milton Ley – An updated management plan

Back in 1976 Devon Birds purchased their first parcel of land. It was part of the reed bed at South Milton Ley and over the following 30 years more land has been added to create the nature reserve as we know it today.  In 1993 the first management plan was agreed and formed the basis of developing the reed bed for the conservation of birds and other wildlife. This management plan has now been completely revised and updated in a new all-embracing document from Alan Pomroy.

The South Milton Ley Compendium and Management Plan sets a standard far in excess of previous documents on any of the Devon Birds’ reserves.  It is very timely to have this history and working document becoming available following the Devon Birds’ Council review of all nine of the reserves they manage or own.

Alan makes reference to the original plan in 1993, which could have been simply updated but he has drawn together all of the available reports and documents written since then to give us a concise description of the Ley’s history, development and current features in a digital version, making it a “one stop resource”. It is a lengthy document but now easily accessible, even if only occasionally for some non-avian aspects, and the Management Objectives and Annual Work Plan sections will be in regular use for many years to come.


The reedbed is crucially important for special marsh-dwelling birds:  Cetti’s, Reed and Sedge Warblers breed, as do Reed Buntings.  Cetti’s Warbler, a nationally rare resident, is now successfully established with up to five pairs breeding due entirely to the targeted habitat creation undertaken by Devon Birds.

The reedbed is also used as a roost by thousands of migrating Swallows, and in winter by Starlings, also smaller numbers of Pied Wagtails.

Along the Ley’s margins are trees, bushes, hedges and grassy areas enabling many other birds to breed.  Summer visitors, like Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers, and residents: Goldfinch, Blackbird and Stonechat are examples.  Winter visitors include Redwings and Fieldfares.  The Ley provides food and sanctuary year-round for many other species.

Good numbers of wintering Chiffchaffs can be found around South West Water’s sewage treatment plant.

Star visitors in the last year include Aquatic Warblers, Bearded Tits and Little Buntings

Rare Harvest Mice are present, as are for instance Grass Snakes, Badgers, elusive Otters and Eels. 

Scientific bird-ringing is undertaken, expanding our knowledge of migrating birds which – combined with international efforts – helps to conserve their threatened transiting and wintering habitats, and contributes to safe-guarding their future.

Detailed information about the flora and fauna of the reserve can be found in the current management plan.


The reserve requires ongoing management to maintain the health of the reedbed, keep the ditches and drains open and access paths clear. Current management objectives are described in the South Milton Ley Nature Reserve: A Compendium and Management Plan 2016-2020 document together with a comprehensive history of the reserve and much more related information.