Funding boost confirmed for Lower Otter Restoration Project

Multi-million pound funding for proposals to restore the Otter Estuary to its natural and historic flood plains to avoid a catastrophic failure of sea defences has been found.

Which reminds Owl that not much has been heard from the FAB interconnector project recently. This is the Fablink project planned to lay cables between Menuel in Normandy and Exeter via Alderney where attempts are being made to harness the strong tidal race to generate electricity.

The Cables (there are four) will make their landfall under the Lime Kiln car park in Budleigh then be buried under the West bank of the Otter to South Farm Road, then head out towards a site near the Airport mainly following roads  but cutting through a gap in the pebble bed heaths. Its construction will last a couple of years and will be disruptive to the local communities with road closures etc.

The FAB website has nothing later than a press release of July 2019 on it and Owl has found from the New Civil Engineer that the project has been delayed due to Brexit uncertainty, with French energy regulator CRE stating that it cannot anticipate how interconnectors will be regulated post-Brexit or how they will impact the European energy market. Owl would also add that France is having serious problems with its nuclear power generation programme.

Daniel Clark

The Lower Otter Restoration Project has been awarded around £8.5 million as part of Project PACCo – Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts – with the Otter Estuary one of two pilot sites with the other is in the Saâne Valley in Normandy.

The preferred option, for the project, led by landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency, would see the Big and Little Marsh floodplains around Budleigh Salterton restored, with breaches created in the Little Bank, the Big Bank and the River Otter Embankment to allow water to flow through.

The Lower Otter Estuary in Budleigh Salterton.

The Lower Otter Estuary in Budleigh Salterton. (Image: PACCo)

The funding will support the Lower Otter Restoration Project’s aims of climate change adaptation by working with natural processes to provide benefits for people and wildlife.

Sea defences at the mouth of the River Otter, built 200 years ago to claim fresh farmland from the sea, along with other man-made alterations to the river over the centuries, mean the Otter is no longer as naturally connected with its floodplain as it once was.

It follows the significant risk that a major flood or extreme tidal event could lead to catastrophic failure of embankments, with unpredictable environmental and social impacts, with recent years having seen part of the South West Coast Path that runs along the embankments closed to the public for significant periods due to erosion caused by such events.

Funding for the £12 million Lower Otter Restoration Project, with will also see the relocation of the town’s cricket club, is also being provided by landowners Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency.

Budleigh Cricket ground

Floods have left part of their current Ottermouth home under water on three occasions in the last 10 years, with a plan to relocate to Janie’s Field on the outskirts of the town having been agreed.

Dr Sam Bridgewater, head of Wildlife and Conservation at Clinton Devon Estates, said: “The European funding approval is a major milestone for the project and we are on the verge of another as we are submitting our final planning application to East Devon District Council for consideration.

“Before the coronavirus emergency we had planned to hold an exhibition in Budleigh Salterton so that local people could see the latest proposals. Because that’s no longer possible we will host a virtual exhibition on the project website once the planning application documents are ready.

“To reach this point the project partners have consulted extensively with the local community over the last seven years, with their input and responses helping us shape the direction of the restoration project.

Option 3 – Big and Little Marsh Floodplain Restoration (estimated cost £8-9m) for the Lower Otter Restoration project

Option 3 – Big and Little Marsh Floodplain Restoration (estimated cost £8-9m) for the Lower Otter Restoration project

“To continue with this community involvement, we would like as many people as possible to visit the online exhibition. Together with the Environment Agency we will be happy to answer any questions people may have about the planning application and proposals.

“East Devon District Council, the local planning authority, will consider the views of local people as part of its normal planning process, which will include formal means to comment on the application. The proposals will also be available to view on the council’s planning website in due course.

“If the council approves the proposals, we will be able to give a clearer idea of when the construction would be likely to start and finish – at the moment we think it would take about two years.”

The benefits of the project include a more ecologically healthy estuary by reconnecting the river to its floodplain, the creation of approximately 60 hectares of rare inter-tidal and wetland habitat which would attract a wide range of wildlife, improved public access, including securing the future of the South West Coast Path along its current route, preventing potential pollution from a former landfill tip through erosion, securing access for nearby residents and businesses, particularly along South Farm Road and securing a long-term future for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club, he said.

Flooding at Budleigh Salterton Cricket Ground

Flooding at Budleigh Salterton Cricket Ground

Dr Bridgewater added: “We already have planning permission to provide a new home for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club, off East Budleigh Road. The existing Ottermouth facilities are frequently impacted by flooding. We will be in a position to implement this move if permission is also approved for the wider project.

“The wider PACCo initiative is also supporting similar proposals in the Saâne Valley in Normandy working with three French partner organisations.

“As the projects develop, we hope that other coastal areas facing similar issues will be able to learn from the work we have done and better understand their own options in the face of a rapidly changing climate.”

In red, the newly proposed home for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club

In red, the newly proposed home for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club

Mike Williams, from the Environment Agency, said: “PACCo is an extremely exciting project, which will deliver real benefits for people and wildlife on the ground, and help others to build on our success elsewhere. We must all find ways of adapting to climate change if we are to manage our estuaries and coasts successfully in the future.”

The project will run until June 2023 and has a budget of €25.7m, of which €17.8m is funding from the European Regional Development Fund via the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme.