North Devon: The Quintessential UK Surf Ecosystem

Picture of By Trent Hodges

By Trent Hodges

Conservation Programs Manager, Save The Waves

As surfers, we value places with good waves, but there are other factors that keep us enchanted and hooked to our favorite coastal zones.

The wildlife that surrounds us in the water and on land reminds us of our connection to the earth, while a supportive and stoked community and surf culture fosters a sense of connection and place. 

North Devon, the recently nominated World Surfing Reserve in the UK, and the first true cold water reserve in the world, embodies the definition of a surf ecosystem and is why it has been selected as the next World Surfing Reserve.

Recap: What is a Surf Ecosystem?

A surf ecosystem is more than a wave: it’s the environment, the plants and animals, and the human interactions that make a place special. 

In more technical terms, we officially define surf ecosystems as: “the land to sea interface that creates the conditions for breaking, rideable waves, and the flora and fauna and human communities that are dependent upon it.”

Protecting surf ecosystems in turn protects marine habitats, maintains the integrity of the wave, and safeguards local livelihoods.

North Devon is such a special place. And it’s worth our conservation efforts and attention.

Biodiversity: The Environment

North Devon is recognized as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as a UN Biosphere Reserve. The myriad of riparian ecosystems and estuaries, grasslands, as well as vitally important sand dunes, support an abundance of wildlife.  Over-wintering bird species such as the short-eared owl and merlin are found in the grasslands while the rich coastal waters are home to common dolphins, gray seals, basking sharks and other notable species.

Geophysical: The Waves

Not only do these ecosystems provide essential habitat for biodiversity, they protect the coastline from the impacts of climate change and produce the sand that shapes the A frame peaks of Croyde Beach and other outstanding waves in the North Devon region.

The renowned A frame of Croyde Beach is a perfect example of the complex geophysical components of a surf ecosystem that create perfect surf.  Oyster Reef, a big wave spot on the right swell, refracts the direct swell energy that moves into Croyde Bay at an oblique angle which results in the teepee structure of the sought after waves at Croyde.  These complex interactions of swell angle, bathymetry, and coastal refraction result in great surf and the reef itself provides habitat for marine species, showcasing the interaction between healthy ecosystems and healthy surf.

The cold waters of North Devon create everlasting homes to marine and terrestrial species. It’s the quality of the ocean and seabed that produce an amazing habitat for living creatures and amazing waves. Without the coastline rocks, cliffs, and dunes the swells energy could not shape the way they do. The diverse ecosystem offers waves of all shapes and sizes. 

Surf Culture: The Community

North Devon has been a traditional gathering for the British since the Victorian Times as city dwellers would make their way from London to enjoy the open coastline.

While traditionally a fishing and farming community, North Devon has become known as one of the pillars of the surf world in the UK drawing surfers from all over the country.

In 2012, the award-winning Museum of British Surfing was given a permanent home in Braunton. This national museum receives around 3,000 visitors each year. Located on the same site, are the headquarters of Surfing England, the National Governing Body for surfing in England. Many of the country’s finest wave riders call North Devon home, including big wave surfer Andrew Cotton. 

Surfing in the cold and sometimes harsh environment of northern England requires a passionate individual. The local surfers of North Devon are battle ready when it comes to big swells and cold water surfing. Luckily the many types of waves in the area offer something for the everyday surfer to the novice to the professional. A true area that offers waves for everyone which is why almost everyone in the area understands the importance of the surfing resources in the area. You know everyone is happy in North Devon when the waves are good.

A Designation That Will Make a Difference

While North Devon exists between a nexus of marine protected areas and land protections, there are unique threats to the surf ecosystem that will be addressed by the World Surfing Reserve and the expansive Local Stewardship Council.  The loss of coastal access, water quality and persistent sewage problems in local watersheds, the impacts of climate change and encroaching development on open coastal spaces are some of the threats the WSR will tackle.  

The waves of North Devon and surfers are standing up to protect what they love and to ensure this incredible zone stays healthy for the next generations.

Learn more about the North Devon World Surfing Reserve here.

Protect the places you love.

Donate today and make a global impact for our coastlines. 

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