The Headwaters of the Exe project (HotE) is working with farmers and land managers in the upper catchments of the River Exe to promote and support sustainable land management. As part of South West Water’s Upstream Thinking Programme, the third phase of the project (UST3) was relaunched in April 2020 with a commitment for funding until March 2025.

The project area comprises the upper Exe, Rivers Barle, Quarme, Pulham, Haddeo and their tributaries (see map below).


Project Achievements

Between April 2015 and March 2020 (UST2), Headwaters of the Exe carried out 60 advisory visits to farmers and woodland owners, followed by Water and Environment Plans for each holding. Access to capital grants was facilitated and 22 events and demonstrations were held. The pesticide amnesty coordinated the removal of 192 litres & 5.5kg of pesticides and 2,500 litres of sulphuric acid silage additive from the catchment. Work to restore 6km of rights of way was completed, improving access on 17km of paths. The project also supported existing partnership projects, the Exmoor Knotweed Control Partnership and the River Barle Invasive Crayfish Project.

Read South West Water’s review of UST2 – Upstream Thinking 2015-2020


Opportunities for April 2020 – March 2025

In April 2020, project management passed from Exmoor National Park Authority to FWAG South West. The two organisations will continue to work together closely, as well as with other organisations and groups including Exmoor Hill Farming Network, Exmoor Society, HotE Advisory Group, the Riverfly Partnership, Exmoor Mires Partnership and University of Exeter.

As before, project targets are to improve water quality through measures that will also provide benefits to maintaining and increasing the stock of natural capital within the catchment. Project themes include:

  • Nutrient management;
  • Run-off and soil erosion;
  • Maintaining, restoring and connecting semi-natural habitats;
  • Pesticides and animal health products;
  • Invasive non-native species; and
  • Natural Flood Management.

We are committed to delivering advice on beneficial management to 3,000ha of new land holdings, and developing work with 3,000ha of holdings previously engaged. The following sections summarise some of the ways in which this will be delivered.


Whole Farm Plans

Farm visits are tailored to the needs and aspirations of each holding. Focussed advice could include grazing management, nutrients and manure management, yard infrastructure, soil husbandry, natural flood management and agri-environment schemes, including Countryside Stewardship. Training and events will also cover many of these themes.

Land managers who receive a visit are also eligible for a capital grant offering 50% of costs up to £4,000 per holding. This is to support work that will facilitate beneficial changes to land management and capital works that will help protect water quality. There will also be as small number of larger grants awarded on a competitive basis for investments up to £10,000.


Vet medicines

Faecal Egg Counting can reduce a farm’s reliance on wormers by targeting their use to times when it is needed, helping to save cost, reduce chemicals in the environment and manage wormer resistance. In the previous phase of the project, one-to-one training was given to those interested in learning how to carry out faecal egg counting. Drop-in sessions were also run at Cutcombe Market with microscopes available to use and an adviser on hand to help. This support will be offered again when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, the project has a limited number of microscopes free to borrow and use on-farm.



The project is committed to promoting safe use, storage and disposal of pesticides, aiming to prevent chemicals from reaching watercourses.

A quad-mounted weed wiper is available free to hire which can be used to control creeping thistle or soft rush. Appropriate pesticide certificates are needed to operate the weed wiper (PA1 and PA2F) and Exmoor Hill Farming Network arrange training and assessment courses for these licences. Please contact Katherine Williams for more details: [email protected].

Confidential audits of pesticides held on farm and arrangements for removal by a specialist contractor are offered free of charge. The amnesty is anonymous. Environment Agency waste licences, which are organised by the contractor, require details but these are not passed on to South West Water nor used by FWAG SW beyond the delivery of the project.


Forestry and Woodland

The project can offer advice and assistance with Woodland Management Plans or woodland creation. This can cover the whole land holding or be targeted to specific issues or areas. Woodland creation is encouraged in appropriate parts of the catchment and assistance with Countryside Stewardship schemes is available.

Capital grants, as outlined above, are also available at the same funding rates for forestry and woodland enterprises.


Game Shoots

The catchment is a premier game shoot location, which is vitally important to the local economy. The project can offer capital grants and advice to shoot owners and managers for improvements to water management. 


Invasive non-native species

The programme is continuing to support The Exmoor Non-Native Invasive Species Project. For further information on invasive species please email [email protected] or call 01398 322259.


Water Quality Monitoring

Localised water quality monitoring is being undertaken by volunteers through the Riverfly Partnership and the River Exe and Tributaries Association. Sites have been selected to look upstream and downstream of discharge points for the smaller sewage treatment works. For more information or to register interest in volunteering with the Riverfly Partnership, contact Fred Leach, Coordinator for the Upper Exe, [email protected]

Additional catchment monitoring and spot sampling is being developed to assess the success of capital works and land management implemented. All monitoring data will provide an evidence base for action under any future funding programmes.



Get in touch

For further information on any of the above or to request a visit, please contact Anne May, Farm Conservation Adviser, via email [email protected] or phone 01823 660684.