Devon could get new £15m nature reserve using EU cash

“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.”

Unintended consequences of land-owner tinkering with nature, but who picks up the bill? And can this be cited as “mitigation” for building on the Clyst estuary? – Owl 

Howard Lloyd www.devonlive.com

Ambitious new plans have been submitted for a £15m scheme to help protect the Lower Otter Valley from the increasing threats of climate change.

The EU-funded scheme, which is still subject to approval, would create a new nature reserve while also protecting public amenities and leaving the area better-equipped to deal with rising sea levels.

The project is being proposed due to the failure of existing sea defences and the impact this is having on the immediate area.

“The project is being considered because the existing 200-year-old sea defences are now starting to fail and are becoming increasingly hard to maintain,” claim the Lower Otter Restoration Project.

“This is already impacting on public infrastructure, local businesses and homes, and recreational facilities. The project is in the process of securing sufficient funding as well as planning and other consents to allow us to move towards implementing the proposals.

“The Lower Otter Estuary is a very special place. It is home to local people and businesses. It provides habitat for a wide variety of breeding and wintering bird species, and it is enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors each year.

“But this coastal community, like many others, faces growing challenges due to climate change. As the oceans warm up, they take up more space and sea levels rise. We are also seeing more extreme storms and rainfall events which increase the intensity and erosional power of rivers and the sea.

“The Lower Otter Restoration Project is working with local people and partner organisations to adapt and enhance the downstream part of the River Otter, its estuary, and its immediate surroundings for future generations in the face of a rapidly changing climate.”

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.

It would also see the town’s cricket club move location.

Previous flooding at Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club's Ottermouth ground

Previous flooding at Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club’s Ottermouth ground

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.

The hope is that the plans will see ‘original habitats restored (and) riverand wildlife allowed to respond naturally to climate change’.

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.

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