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Beaulieu River
Beaulieu river at longwater lawn.jpg
The Beaulieu River at Longwater Lawn, near Lyndhurst
Country England
Region Hampshire
District New Forest
Physical characteristics
Main source Lyndhurst, Hampshire
River mouth Needs Ore Point, Hampshire
Length 20 km (12 mi)
Basin features
  • Left:
    Beaulieu Abbey Stream
  • Right:
    Hatchet Stream

The Beaulieu River ( BEW-lee), formerly known as the River Exe, is a small river draining much of the central New Forest in Hampshire, southern England. The river has many small upper branches and its farthest source is 8 miles (13 km) from its 4 miles (6 km)-long tidal estuary. Unusually, the river, including its bed, is owned by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.


The current name, Beaulieu is French, meaning "beautiful place". The original name, Exe, is Brythonic, deriving from the Ancient British word *Iska meaning "fishes" or "fish-place" and cognate with the modern Welsh word Pysg (fishes).This derivation applies to many similarly named rivers throughout Britain including the Axe, Exe and Usk, with the names evolving local distinctions over the centuries.


The Beaulieu River rises near Lyndhurst in the centre of the New Forest, a zone where copses and scattered trees interrupt the relatively neutral sandy heath soil, however with insufficient organic uneroded deposition over millennia to prevent an upper charismatic dendritic drainage basin of many very small streams. This explains the multitude of tiny headwaters across the New Forest. Many coalesce into the flow southeast and then south across the forest heaths to the village of Beaulieu. There the river becomes tidal and once drove a tide mill in the village. The mill ceased operations in 1942. Below, the tidal river (estuary) continues to flow south-east through the Forest, passing the hamlet of Bucklers Hard and entering the Solent at Needs Ore. For its final kilometre, it is separated from The Solent by a raised salt marsh known as Gull Island.

Below Beaulieu village the river is navigable to small craft. Bucklers Hard was once a significant shipbuilding centre, building many wooden sailing ships, both merchant and naval, including Nelson's Agamemnon. Since 2000 the navigable channel at the entrance to the river has been marked by a lighthouse known as the Millennium Lighthouse or the Beaulieu River Beacon.


The river has two main tributaries, the Beaulieu Abbey Stream to the left and the Hatchet Stream to the right. In addition there are a series of artificial lakes near the mouth of the river, known as the Black Lagoons.

Water quality

The water quality of the Beaulieu River was as follows in 2019:

Section Ecological
Length Catchment Channel
Beaulieu River Good Fail Moderate 20.0 km (12.4 mi) 3.075 km2 (1.187 sq mi) Heavily modified
Hatchet Stream Moderate Fail Moderate 7.916 km (4.919 mi) 9.523 km2 (3.677 sq mi) Heavily modified
Beaulieu Abbey Stream Moderate Fail Moderate 2.535 km (1.575 mi) 2.253 km2 (0.870 sq mi) Heavily modified
Black Lagoons Good Fail Moderate 0.119 km2 (0.046 sq mi) Artificial

Film appearances

The river was used as a backdrop for some scenes of the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons – the tree-lined waters were used to portray the 16th century River Thames.


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