Slapton Ley is a lagoon on the south coast of Devon, separated from Start Bay by a narrow shingle beach, known as Slapton Sands. It is the largest natural freshwater lake in the south west of England.
The 1.5 mile long lake is within a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is made up of two parts (the Lower Ley and the Higher Ley). The lake is surrounded by reedbeds, marshes and woodland habitats with rare species thriving in the unique conditions.
It is managed by the Field Studies Council in partnership with the owners Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, Natural England and South Hams District Council. All the partners meet regularly at Slapton Committee meetings.
The Field Studies Council at Slapton Ley manages the 214 hectares nature reserve as an “outdoor laboratory” for education and conservation for over 50 years. The Centre established in 1959 is a base for educational courses and research, which integrate with reserve management.
The A379 Kingsbridge to Dartmouth road runs along the shingle ridge offering access to car parks. Take Sands Road to the village of Slapton and to find the Field Centre.
Torcross Hide – the shelter provided by Torcross village and the surrounding hills makes the open water areas perfect for diving duck and grebes.
Stokely Bay Hide – depending on the direction of the sun this hide gives good views over the open water areas towards and over the reedbeds in Stokely Bay.
Walking north up the shingle ridge provides further views over the open water and reed fringes plus scrub and grassland habitats. Views over the sea can be rewarding at most times of the year. Sea watching from the beach can be good in spring and autumn provided there is a good wind blowing with an easterly direction in it. Calm days should be used to scan for divers and grebes as many of these species may be present in winter.
A visit in Spring or Autumn can be very productive for migrants. Hirundines can be found hawking insects, warblers singing from the reedbeds or woodlands,
Mostly reed swamp dominated with a few open patches of water. The willow islands move depending on water levels and wind direction.
In spring and summer, Reed and Sedge Warbler can be seen breeding in the reed beds and Cetti’s Warbler are often heard proclaiming territories from deep in cover.
In winter Bittern often frequent the Higher Ley, with usually flight views best seen from Slapton Bridge.
Public Car Parks available at Torcross, the Memorial Car Park and Strete.
The SW Coast Path runs along the shingle ridges allowing full access and a public footpath leads around the back of the Lower Ley to either to Slapton village or for a longer walk through toe Deer Bridge.
The Higher Ley is closed to public access but can easily be viewed from the public foot path.