Headwaters of the Exe Project

The Headwaters of the Exe project is working with farmers and land managers to ensure good water quality in the upper catchment of the River Exe. It forms part of South West Water’s Upstream Thinking programme, with funding from South West Water and the Exmoor National Park Authority. The project is working closely with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest.

A short film about Upstream Thinking, featuring the Headwaters of the Exe project, can be seen here

The Headwaters of the Exe project was formally launched by Stanley Johnson at Hawkridge Village Hall in January 2016. The project will run until March 2020 and covers an area of 27,559 hectares, including the upper Exe, the Rivers Barle, Quarme, Pulham, Haddeo and smaller tributaries, as well as Wimbleball Lake.

The programme will deliver a range of work, including:

  • Advice to farmers, foresters and game shoot managers;
  • A capital grant fund;
  • Training events, site visits and demonstrations to promote good practice;
  • Rights of way maintenance to reduce erosion and run-off in high risk areas;
  • Monitoring to identify any localised water quality issues relating to sewerage; and
  • Control of invasive species.

Click here to download a leaflet about the project

The programme of support for farmers consists of advice, training and events.  Specialist advisers from FWAG SW are available to carry out free farm advisory visits to 50 farms in high priority parts of the catchment and provide confidential reports. Farmers who receive a visit are also eligible for a capital grant offering 50% of costs up to a maximum of £4,000 per holding to support work on the farm that will help protect water quality. This amount has increased from the original figure of £2,500 per holding thanks to additional funding of £100,000 which has been made available by ENPA. Free soils tests are also available to farmers in the catchment. The total grant budget available to farmers, woodland owners/managers and game shoot owners/managers in the catchment is now £250,000. Of this sum £200,000 has been allocated for grants on farms, plus additional funding for soils tests. To date over 35 farm visits have been carried out and 23 grants applied for. More grant applications are expected soon.

For further advice, to request a free soil testing kit or to receive a farm visit please contact Adam Lockyear, FWAG SW’s Senior Farm Conservation Adviser, on 01823 660684 or

There is a similar programme of support for woodland owners and managers, including events, advice and capital grants. Woodland creation is encouraged in appropriate parts of the catchment. To date six woodlands have been visited and provided with bespoke reports

ENPA’s specialist woodland officers can provide free advice – please contact Graeme McVittie, ENPA's Senior Woodlands Officer, at

Game Shoots
The catchment is a premier game shoot location, which is vitally important to the local economy. The project is able to offer capital grants and advice to shoot owners and managers for improvements to water management. Please contact Adam Lockyear for further advice (contact details above).

The widespread network of public rights of way, permitted paths and open access land are an important asset for Exmoor.  However surveys have shown that silt and mud can rapidly enter rivers and streams from these tracks and paths.  A programme of work has been developed by Exmoor National Park Authority’s rights of way team focusing on those paths which have the highest risk of erosion and run-off affecting watercourses. To date South West Water has contributed over £30,000 to the repair of rights of way with significant run-off issues. This figure has been matched by ENPA for the repair of over 14km of rights of way across the catchment, with the work being carried out by local contractors. Additional funding of over £16,000 has been contributed by the Environment Agency for this work.

For further information about this work please contact Dan Barnett, ENPA’s Access and Recreation Manager, on 01398 322297, 07866 448367 or

Localised monitoring is being carried out to collect data relating to sewerage and water quality, particularly looking upstream and downstream of discharge points for the smaller sewage treatment works. This monitoring is being undertaken by volunteers through the Riverfly Partnership and the River Exe and Tributaries Association. South West Water is contributing £2,500 over five years to support these surveys. The work will provide an evidence base for action under any future funding programmes.

EcologyThe catchment includes the River Barle Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition, partly because of the presence of non-native invasive species including Japanese knotweed, montbretia, Himalayan balsam and signal crayfish.

The programme is supporting the control of non-native invasive species in the Exe catchment through existing partnership projects, including the River Barle Invasive Crayfish Project and the Exmoor Knotweed Control Project. South West Water is contributing £10,000 over five years for the trial of several methods to control knotweed on organic land where there is currently no control method available through the Knotweed Control Project. South West Water has also contributed £2,500 to support the work of the River Barle Invasive Crayfish Project.

For further information on either of these invasive species projects please contact Ali Hawkins, ENPA’s Conservation Officer (Wildlife), on 01398 322282, 07970 099108 or

Further information

If you would like to know more about Upstream Thinking a short film is available here. For further information about the Headwaters of the Exe project please contact:

Katherine Williams, Exmoor Hill Farming Network Officer, on 01643 841455, 07970 795808 or