As its name suggests, Fire Beacon Hill was the site of one of the beacons used to inform Elizabethan London of the approaching Spanish Armada. At that time the entire East Hill escarpment would have been covered in lowland heath vegetation, similar to that found here. Unfortunately, just this small patch remains, as lowland heath has disappeared due to forestry plantation and agricultural improvement, making this habitat increasingly uncommon.
On a clear day you can almost see from Berry Head to Portland, the entire length of Lyme Bay, and on a windy day you are on an eye level with soaring buzzards and ravens.
Yellowhammers breed on the Local Nature Reserve, as does the nationally scarce dartford warbler. Look out for them skulking amongst the low growing bushes. A good tip to spotting ‘dartfords’ is to look out for the more conspicuous stonechat. These beautiful birds sit prominently on trees and shrubs making a distinctive call, like two stones being hit together. When you see a stonechat, look in the bushes beneath and you may see a dartford warbler, using the stonechat above as a sentry keeping watch.
Nightjars are heathland specialists that can be heard at night hunting for moths over the nature reserve. During the day they remain perfectly camouflaged, nesting on the ground.
Grayling butterflies breed on the nature reserve. About the same size as a tortoiseshell, graylings are often disturbed into flight while sunbathing on the paths.
A small number of Exmoor ponies and Belted Galloway cattle are grazed in a fenced area of the site as part of the management plan.
The site is a good example of partnership working in action, being owned by Sidmouth Town Council, who in turn lease the site management responsibilities to the RSPB Aylesbeare team. East Devon District Council Countryside team assist the RSPB with management work and run events on site.
From the A3052, heading towards Sidmouth from Newton Poppleford, turn left off the main road at the Bowd Inn, signposted Ottery St Mary. Take the first turning right and then next left, 100 metres further on there is a public footpath to the right, leading directly up to the top of the hill. The site does not have a postal address. The nearest postcode is EX10 0LR.
View parking and walking routes on the Fire Beacon Hill map.
All East Devon District Council Nature Reserves are open to the public at all times and are free to visit.
The steep gradients and uneven nature of the footpaths and bridleways make it unsuitable for wheelchair access.
The site is criss-crossed with bridleways, footpaths, fire-breaks and the East Devon Way, so exploring on foot is easy. Paths may be muddy in wet weather.
Please keep dogs under close control, and clean up after them.