Two reports in today’s press show that the Otter Restoration Project is proving to be highly controversial.
From today’s Western Morning News:
ENVIRONMENT: A major floodplain restoration project has come up against opposition from campaigners who argue green landscape will be lost to mudflats amid two years of disruptive works. Philip Bowern reports.
A PLAN to ‘restore’ the lower reaches of Devon’s River Otter (pictured above by Helen Dart) by breaking through flood barriers and allowing a flood plain to develop has come in for opposition from a group fighting the move.
East Devon district council is considering an application presented by the Environment Agency for the Lower Otter Restoration Project. The applicants say they are working with local people and partner organisations, including Clinton Devon Estates, to “adapt and improve the downstream part of the River Otter, its estuary and its immediate surroundings for future generations.”
The scheme, which reconnects the river to its floodplain, will create what the applicants say is an increased area washed by the tides and bring “significant biodiversity benefits.” The Environment Agency says it believes the scheme will compensate for lost areas of inter-tidal habitat in other coastal sites, like the Exe estuary, which have been “squeezed” due to increased development at the coast and the building of coastal defences.
But a group of local people are opposing the plans. They have formed a campaign group called Stop the Otter Swamp and are calling on others to object to the proposals to East Devon council before the advertised deadline for comments on Friday November 13. In their leaflets they warn the proposals will bring about major unwanted changes.
They say: “Residents were taken by surprise when a planning application was lodged at the end of September quite unlike previous proposals, including major construction works in a huge area of land. Few people were informed about it, and most are still completely unaware of a proposal which is of widespread significance.”
The application covers 151 hectares of land in the parishes of East Budleigh, Budleigh Salterton and Otterton, stretching from the Lime Kiln Car Park to an area south of Frogmore House in the the Lower Otter Valley.
Part of the plan would relocate the Budleigh Salterton cricket club away from its current flood-prone site and also, the applicants say, secure the livelihoods of tenant farmers in the area as well as maintain access to South Farm.
But the protesters claim: “If approved, it will destroy the Otter Valley as we know it forever. The green landscape will be replaced by mud flats; trees will be felled; wildlife species such as owls, otters, bats and beavers will be lost and the nature reserve will be disturbed by major building works lasting at least two years.”
The original plan for the changes, which date back three years to 2017, came from landowners the Clinton Devon Estate. The Environment Agency backed the proposals because it has a statutory need to compensate for the loss of mud flats on the nearby Exe estuary.
In a summary of the proposals the applicants say: “The natural environment of the Otter estuary has, for hundreds of years, been modified by humans. These changes have led to a disruption of natural processes with the river no longer able to adapt and move naturally across the floodplain as it once did, nor can it cope effectively with flooding events, which are more prevalent due to climate change. There is a strong argument to take action.”
They say if the plans are not approved there is a risk of further flooding of a road, continued flooding of Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club and the “catastrophic breaching of embankments.”
To comment on the plan go to the East Devon district council planning portal.
From today’s Exmouth Journal:
Act now and work with nature to future-proof our community
Kate Ponting countryside and communities officer for Clinton Estates
A stormy sky over the Otter Estuary
Walking along the South West Coast Path last week and looking at the stormy English Channel, reminded me just how much the sea has shaped our environment here in East Devon.
Two years ago, a very high tide at Budleigh Salterton contributed to the collapse of a section of the South West Coast Path. It was only thanks to the prompt work of the Environment Agency and other partners that a catastrophic breach of the embankments on the River Otter Estuary was averted.
Even so, it was still four months before the footpath could be safely reopened.
The sea is constantly changing the landscape, and climate change is speeding-up those changes so we’ll all have to prepare ourselves for more stormy weather and rising sea levels.
Unless we act soon, nature will certainly breach the man-made embankments of the lower River Otter and the Otter Estuary; eroding the footpath, flooding the cricket club, threatening access to homes and businesses and exposing an old municipal tip.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project, a partnership which includes the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, has come up with a solution to this problem.
It will mean raising South Farm Road and building a new road bridge to protect access to the area, working to save the South West Coast Path, protecting the redundant tip and relocating the cricket club. It will also recreate a rare wetland habitat which will provide a home for many threatened and endangered species.
Thanks to a time-limited funding package from the EU’s Interreg programme, we have a small window of opportunity to realign the Lower Otter and the Otter Estuary with its natural floodplain through a carefully managed programme of work.
Change will come to the lower Otter valley, the sea and the climate will see to that.
We have two alternatives: do nothing and accept we will have to deal with whatever the changes bring, or act now and work with nature to future-proof our community and protect a much-loved amenity