Bystock Pools is one of the largest and most visited nature reserves in Devon, encompassing 70 acres of elevated land 3 miles northeast of Exmouth, towards the southern end of a broad, five mile-long ridge covered mostly by unfenced commons and plantations, known as the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. The popularity of the reserve is due to the varied habitats, of meadowland, deciduous and pine woodland, heath (wet and dry) and water, resulting in a great diversity of plants and animals.
Riparian life is centred on several small pools, a stream, boggy patches and, the most photogenic feature, a lake or reservoir, lined on all sides by tall trees and containing several tiny islands. Over 2 miles of paths cross the different landscapes, and there is plenty to see at all times of the year. Creatures of note include birds, dragonflies, damselflies, bats, glowworms, dormice, lizards, newts and frogs, while the heath is regularly grazed by ponies, who help reduce the growth of scrub.
Land in the reserve was originally known as the Squabmoor Plantation, a mix of heath, planted trees and natural woods, and while the pools and their associated springs are also natural, long employed as one of the water sources for Exmouth, the lake is a constructed feature, originally used as a fishpond, and once served both by a boathouse and a pumping house, the ruins of which can still be seen, in the pathless woodland on the west side. Water from the lake flows under a low dam into a larger reservoir a short distance downstream, then later meets the coast near Budleigh Salterton.
Bystock Pools Nature Reserve is part of the East Budleigh Common section of the Pebblebed Heaths, and may be reached by roads along the north and south edges. The recommended start point, if exploring all the reserve, is at the north, along Lympstone Common Road half a mile east of the B3179, though the most photographed feature, the lake, lies along the south edge, reached by another minor road, Wright's Lane. Along here are one entrance right next to the lake, with parking for just a couple of vehicles (meant to be reserved for disabled drivers), and another with more parking spaces at the southeast corner of the reserve, also used for walks to Squabmoor Reservoir.
The path from the north entrance first crosses the Meadow, the main location for summer wildflowers, then enters the North Heath, a mostly treeless enclosure covered by bracken, ferns, heather and gorse. Here it forks, one branch following the eastern edge, which is bordered by a pine plantation, all the way to the South Heath and the southeast entrance, while the other goes west, between two patches of deciduous woodland, the Copse to the north and the larger Brock Wood to the south. There are several small ponds hereabouts, viewable from a boardwalk section of the path. Another route follows the western edge of the heath, slightly elevated at first then descending to the Long Ponds, which are the biggest of the natural pools though still usually just a few inches deep. Further south, a path leads to the southern entrance, down a slope and right along the eastern half of the lakeshore. The lower section is wheelchair-accessible. The surface of the reservoir is dotted with numerous lily pads, and this is a very pretty location, especially on calm, sunny days when the trees are reflected in the water.