Since 1927, when Henry Williamson published his novel, Tarka the Otter, the land of the two rivers has been ‘Tarka Country.’ Williamson portrays Tarka swimming under Bideford Long Bridge, by the eastern end of which hunting parties once assembled. 19th C. advertisements for the Royal Hotel mention Otter hunting amongst the 'diversions' available in the local area. Thanks, however, to more sympathetic modern attitudes this charismatic, yet elusive, mammal still uses various areas on the outskirts of East-the-Water.
The Torridge was once noted for its Salmon, a fishery mentioned in the Domesday book and which still operated from the wharves well into the 20th C. Swirls around the water’s edge may give away the presence of circling Mullet, which can often be seen from the bridge. Twaite Shad, a herring-like species meriting protection under the Bern Convention, has also been found in the Torridge.
Alongside the wharves the falling tide reveals mud and sand on which seabirds can roost or feed. Curlew and Little Egret are often to be seen to the North of the Wharves and Redshank may often be found feeding alongside them. Groups of gulls can occasionally include something much more interesting than the usual Black-headed Gull and the Herring Gull, with Mediterranean, Iceland, Ring-billed, Laughing, and Franklin’s all having been spotted. Along with a roost of Starlings beneath the Long Bridge, winter occasionally also brings a Kingfisher into the area. The old railway bridges provide well used roosts for Feral Pigeons.
No systematic study of the invertebrates has yet been undertaken, but the waste-ground at Kynoch’s and the Tarka Trail are both potentially rich sites, whilst the river mud will have its own unique fauna.
Many of the plants now associated with the wharves are ones that have taken advantage of the sites industrial decline to colonize neglected areas, thereby contributing significantly to East-the-Water’s exceptional floral diversity. Species such as Beaked Hawks-beard, Greater Quaking Grass, Centaury, Wall Pepper, and Ox-eye Daisy provide eye-catching displays. Devon rarities, Virginian Rose, Lesser Caucasian Stonecrop, and the early subspecies of Red Bartsia, all persist unobtrusively on the old Kynoch’s site. Elsewhere the wharves neglected corners have provided a refuge for other notable species, such as Eastern Rocket (which has one of its few remaining North Devon strongholds on Clarence Wharf) and the locally rare Small Mellilot (which has a tiny colony in Ethelwynne Brown Close). The derelict railway line has been colonised by common species such as Winter Heliotrope and Alexanders, but also has some more unusual plants, with Galingale in a soggy spot beside it and Mediterranean Spurge having successfully colonized the face of a disused trackside quarry. On the local pavements may be found Rue-leaved Saxifrage, Danish Scurvy-grass, and Keel-fruited Cornsalad, all species that flourish in the spring before dying away in the heat of summer.
In areas subjected to salt-spray or occasional spring-tide flooding, various plants typically associated with rocky shores, such as Buck’s-horn Plantain, Sea Beet, Sea Fern Grass, and Sea Couch may be found, whilst a population of Hard-grass survives near the pill that runs across the Kynoch’s site. Since the moorings have been less actively used, patches of true salt-marsh have developed alongside some of the wharves. On these may be found salt-marsh specialist species such as Common Cord-grass, Sea Purslane, English Scurvy-grass, and Long-bracted Sedge.