June 29, 2021: Work on some of the key elements of the Lower Otter Restoration Project is starting in line with our revised construction programme.
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The Lower Otter Restoration Project – and why we need to act now
By Mike Williams, Environment Agency
28 NOVEMBER 2015: Just over two hundred years ago James Green, brilliant engineer and County Surveyor for Devon, wrote to Lord Rolle, owner of what would later become Clinton Devon Estates, setting out his vision for reclaiming three quarters of the Otter estuary and turning it into agricultural land. Green laid out in detail his plans to straighten the river, build banks, create new drains and even construct a canal linking Budleigh Salterton to Otterton. Lord Rolle was persuaded and the project started in 1810.
Today those embankments are nearing the end of their useful life. They are routinely overtopped by the River Otter in flood, leading to erosion and the need for repairs. The biggest tides reach the top of the bank, and it is only a matter of time before there is a repeat of the breach that occurred in the 1950s, only repaired with significant effort and expense. South Farm Road also floods, often for several days at a time.
Climate change is now widely recognised as a reality. On average, recorded sea levels around the UK are now about 15 centimetres higher than they were in 1901. That rise is expected to continue, with current forecasts predicting an increase of between half and one metre by the end of this century. Combine this with the other likely effects of stronger winds and bigger waves and the future for our coasts is a challenging one.
The impacts are not limited to the coast either, with more intense rainfall and flood flows in rivers expected to increase by between 5 and 10% as soon as 2025. Estuaries and the lower reaches of rivers will feel the combined effect of all of these increasing pressures.
For Clinton Devon Estates, one of the key objectives is to manage the land in its care sustainably, adopting a long-
The National Trust has just published an update to its Shifting Shores document, ten years on from the original. It sets out the rationale for a different approach to climate change adaptation, moving away from trying to build our way out of a problem towards more natural defences. This approach has widespread support. It also explains why we need to move on from simply talking about adaptation to actually doing it. The Lower Otter Restoration Project is an example of how this could work in practice.
The Environment Agency leads on managing flood risk in England and is now working in partnership with Clinton Devon Estates to define, develop and deliver the Lower Otter Restoration Project. As well as delivering long term sustainable land management, enriched wildlife and local economic opportunities as desired by the Estate, restoring the marshes to mudflat and saltmarsh could also compensate for those lost in the nearby Exe Estuary, enabling much needed improvements to flood defences to go ahead at Exmouth, Starcross and Topsham. The project will also help to meet Water Framework Directive objectives by mitigating some of the historic modification of the Otter and Budleigh Brook, as well as contributing to the England Biodiversity Strategy targets. The vision for the project is a naturally functioning and biodiverse floodplain that would enhance the local landscape.
Change is inevitable, and the problematic issues facing the Otter Estuary will not go away if we simply choose to ignore them; overcoming the many challenges won't be easy however, and will require working with local government and the local community to find ways in which this can be done positively. At a number of local meetings over the last few years people have expressed concerns about this project and the impact it may have on them.
These concerns and frustrations have been heard. Over the coming months we are committed to strengthening and expanding dialogue and engagement on this project as our understanding of the problems and potential solutions improve. The details are still to be worked out, but with community support we hope eventually to arrive at a project design that can alleviate local fears, enjoy broad local support, and transform and naturally restore the lower River Otter providing multiple benefits for people and wildlife.
Options for future of Lower Otter Estuary go on show
24 MAY 2017: Members of the public are being given the chance to learn more about proposals for the future shape of the Lower Otter Estuary.
The landscape of the estuary today is the result of centuries of human activity. But the 200-
In addition, the historic modifications mean the lower River Otter does not flow in a natural way, which, together with poor drainage, results in flooding particularly around Budleigh Salterton’s South Farm Road and cricket club.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project has been investigating the estuary and considering the best way to address these issues, hoping to create a more sustainable way of managing the estuary, an important site for wildlife and the public.
The partners in the project are Clinton Devon Estates, who own the land, the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust charity which manages the estuary, and the Environment Agency.
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Clinton Devon Estates’ Head of Wildlife and Conservation, said: “We are working with local people and organisations to explore how we can best preserve and improve the downstream part of the River Otter, its estuary and immediate surroundings.
“We want to work with nature, rather than against it, in the face of continuing climate change which is resulting in rising sea levels and increased erosion.
“If we do nothing there is a danger public footpaths will be lost, and there will be continued flooding of the road near South Farm and the cricket club. There is a risk of damage to habitats and less biodiversity, erosion of an old municipal tip, and a catastrophic breach of the embankments.
“In coming up with potential solutions, we want to secure and improve public access to the estuary, enhance habitats for wildlife, and restore the estuary closer to its original natural state, recreating around 60 hectares of wetland and allowing the Otter Valley to adapt naturally to climate change. We also need to make sure that whatever steps we take we do not increase flood risk to any existing properties.”
Working with engineering and environmental consultants CH2M, the project is now putting forward four options which meet the needs of the project partners, and wants to find out what members of the public think of them.
Dr Bridgewater added: “We have been working closely with local people for a number of years, and set up a stakeholder group which meets regularly so residents, councillors and groups such as the Otter Valley Association can contribute directly to the project.
“Now that we have produced four options which we believe may help us achieve our objectives, we want to discuss them directly with local people to see what they think.
“Full details of the options and what they would entail will be available at a public exhibition we will be holding on Wednesday, July 5, from noon to 7pm at the Temple Methodist Church Hall, in Fore Street, Budleigh Salterton.
“The material from the exhibition will also be available online the following day, and feedback can be given on the day or via the website www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk, where people can also find out more about the background to the project.
“During this phase of the project we are also seeking funding, considering how best to secure the long-
Options for the future shape of the Lower Otter Estuary are unveiled at public exhibition
JULY 6, 2017: Four options for the future of the Lower Otter Estuary have been revealed at a public exhibition in Budleigh Salterton.
The shape of the estuary today is the result of hundreds of years of human intervention, but it is now suffering from poor drainage, flooding and erosion.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project is investigating the possibility of restoring the estuary to a more natural state, reducing the impact of climate change while creating new habitats for wildlife and improving water quality.
The principal partners in the project are Clinton Devon Estates, who own the land around the estuary, and the Environment Agency. They have been working with engineering and environmental consultants CH2M to explore potential options for the future of the estuary, and held a public exhibition at the Temple Methodist Hall in Budleigh Salterton yesterday (Wednesday, July 5, 2017).
The project’s Dr Sam Bridgewater said: “In coming up with the four options, we have ruled out a number of alternatives which are either impossible to fund, or the partners feel do not meet our requirement to safeguard the future of the estuary for the benefit of local people, wildlife and the environment.
“We have decided that doing nothing, or simply shoring up the existing embankment, are not sustainable solutions in the face of a rapidly changing climate. The Environment Agency is seeking to create new intertidal habitat to replace that lost to coastal squeeze nearby. This is the type of habitat that dominated the Otter estuary prior to the embankments being built, and presents an opportunity for us to consider other ways of managing the estuary.
“At present, the long-
“We have been gathering feedback at the exhibition to find out what people think of the options. We’re also putting all of the exhibition material on the project website, so people who couldn’t get to the event on the day can go online to learn more, and also download a feedback form to send back to us.”
The exhibition material is available here.
Dr Bridgewater added: “Feedback from the public will help inform our decision about which option will be the best one to take forwards. Once we’ve analysed the feedback, we’ll share our findings with the Lower Otter Restoration Project Stakeholder Group and the public.
“At the same time, we are seeking financial support from a number of bodies which would enable us to move forward with the project.”
Work continues on Lower Otter Restoration Project
September 26, 2017: Work is continuing on proposals to shape the future of the Lower Otter Estuary following a public event in Budleigh Salterton.
A joint initiative between landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency, the Lower Otter Restoration Project aims to work with nature to create a more sustainable way of managing the estuary, which is an important site for both wildlife and the public.
It is examining the possibility of a managed realignment scheme where the River Otter meets the sea at Budleigh Salterton, because the existing 200-
The project partners, in conjunction with engineering and environmental consultants CH2M, put forward four potential options to the public at an exhibition in Budleigh Salterton in July. A summary of the feedback received at the time, and online via the website, is available at www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk.
Dr Sam Bridgewater, a member of the project team, said: "We are very grateful to all the people who took the time to share their views with us at the exhibition, and through the website.
"It was most encouraging that three-
"Further investigations on the ground are now being conducted by experts from CH2M. The results of these investigations, along with the public's feedback, will help the project team draw up a more specific proposal. We look forward to sharing this with the public at a second event later this year."
Option 3 involves raising South Farm Road to maintain access, and moving Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club to a new home. It would see breaches made into the existing embankment, with pedestrian access maintained, and no alterations to the route of the South West Coast Path.
Local town and district councillor Tom Wright is the chairman of the Lower Otter Restoration Project Stakeholder Group, an advisory body made up of representatives of local residents and businesses and groups such as the Otter Valley Association, as well as South West Water, Natural England and the cricket club.
He said: "The public exhibition in July was extremely informative and very well run. The attendance figures show 144 people came along to learn more about the project. We expect that a further exhibition will be held later in the year to consider the next steps and I would strongly urge as many people as possible to attend."
For more information about the project, and to see a summary of the public's feedback on the four proposed options, please click here.
Back to current news
Lower Otter Restoration Project team considering funding options
April 3, 2018: The team behind the Lower Otter Restoration Project remains confident that securing funding for the initiative remains possible, despite the Heritage Lottery Fund declining to offer its support at this stage.
The project is exploring options for a managed realignment of the Lower Otter estuary in the face of climate change and failing 200-
Four main options are currently being considered for the project, which were presented at a public exhibition in Budleigh Salterton last year. The primary objective of the initiative is to attain more sustainable management of the Lower Otter Valley by reconnecting the river to its historical floodplain and creating new inter-
Ensuring sustainable futures for local businesses and recreational facilities such as the cricket club, and protecting public access, are also key priorities.
The major partners in the Lower Otter Restoration Project include Clinton Devon Estates, who own the land around the estuary, the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust who manage the existing wildlife reserve, and the Environment Agency, the government body which has responsibility for improving resilience to climate change, flood defence, increasing biodiversity and improving habitats and water quality.
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Head of Biodiversity and Conservation for Clinton Devon Estates, said: “While it is disappointing that the Heritage Lottery Fund has decided not to offer us funding in its latest round, we remain very positive about the project and its potential to address the impacts of climate change on the lower valley while at the same time offering amazing benefits for local communities, wildlife, and the economy. The project area has the potential to be one of the region’s great wetland reserves supporting a strong green economy.
“The project partners are still to consider the option appraisals being put together by engineering and environmental consultants Jacobs (formerly CH2M) to decide which is most environmentally and socially desirable, and financially and technically feasible.
“We expect the cost of the project to be between £8 million and £12 million, depending on the option chosen, and have been exploring a number of potential sources of funding, including the Heritage Lottery Fund. We were seeking £2.4 million from the national HLF fund, but there were 16 projects seeking support from a £10 million pot, and only four successful applications.
“Over the coming months we will continue to explore other funding avenues, including the Environment Agency itself, the cross-
“In the meantime, we hope to be able to select our preferred option in the next few months and present our findings to stakeholders in due course. The project team would like to take this opportunity to thank all those organisations and individuals that supported our bid.”
June 7, 2018: Restoration of the floodplain across the Big and Little Marshes has emerged as the favoured option for the team looking at the future of the Lower Otter estuary.
In the face of climate change, rising sea levels and failing sea defences, the Lower Otter Restoration Project is working with local people and organisations to see how the estuary and the downstream part of the River Otter can best be preserved and improved.
The project, led by landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency, considered four options which were presented to the public at an exhibition in Budleigh Salterton last year.
Feedback following the exhibition showed that Option 3 was most favoured among the public and was supported by 62 per cent of those who took part. More details on the options and the feedback is available on the project website at www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk/events.
Now, following further extensive surveys in the area, the project team has decided that Option 3 is the best one to take forward.
The project's Dr Sam Bridgewater said: "Option 1 was the most expensive and it was felt that the cost, estimated at £20 million or more, was too high when other suitable alternatives were available.
"Option 2 has been discounted because of uncertainties over how the river would respond to being left to adapt naturally, and Option 4 did not achieve the major aims of the project, which include delivering sustainable management of the estuary and maximising the extent of environmental benefit through habitat creation.
"Our contractors have done extensive computer modelling of the effects of Option 3 and the predictions are very positive: water levels and flood risk would be no higher than they are now, and new intertidal and freshwater habitats would be created.
"This option, which would cost between £8 million and £9 million, allows us to secure and improve access and amenities, including Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club and the South West Coast Path, protect the old municipal tip which lies in the floodplain from erosion, while also providing new benefits for both nature and the public, which are all key aims of the project.
"We want to restore the estuary to something like its condition just over 200 years ago before embankments were built to claim new land for agriculture. These defences are now failing and we want to act before a catastrophic, uncontrolled breach occurs."
A Stakeholder Group meeting was held in East Budleigh last month, chaired by East Devon and Budleigh Salterton councillor Tom Wright.
He said: "It was reassuring to hear at the meeting that a good deal of progress has been made.
"While the national Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was not able to assist with funding in its last round of bids, the HLF did suggest its regional fund may be able to help.
"I know that the partners are as committed as ever to the project and are continuing to discuss funding with the EU and Environment Agency nationally.
"The project is also talking to South West Water about the existing ground-
"It was also reassuring to hear that the surveys have shown nothing untoward in the old landfill tip down there.
"Should the project proceed, a new home would need to be found for the Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club, and they have been very supportive of the proposals.
"The stakeholder group is keeping a wide range of local people and groups up-
A further public exhibition on the project is expected to be held later in the year.
August 6, 2018: The Environment Agency has today confirmed its commitment to the Lower Otter Restoration Project while applications for funding grants are made.
This assurance means that work to manage the estuary can press ahead and avoid delays on delivering the £8-
“We are completely committed to the Lower Otter Restoration Project and, together with our partners, want to drive forward our work to create multiple benefits for people and wildlife,” said Ben Johnstone, Environment Agency flood risk manager.
Following public consultation the project team has selected the best option for the Lower Otter, which will include restoring the Big and Little Marsh floodplain. Most of the existing embankments will be kept with breaches to allow water to flow through. It will also create new intertidal and freshwater habitats with no increase in height to current water levels and flood risk.
The partnership scheme will provide new and improved access and amenities including maintaining the South West Coast Path and relocating the Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club. It will also protect the old municipal tip in the flood plain and deliver compensatory habitat for the construction and maintenance of flood defences in the Exe Estuary such as Starcross, Cockwood and Exmouth.
“This is great news from one of the key project partners,” said Dr Sam Bridgewater from the Lower Otter Restoration Project team. “We can now seek the necessary consents and permissions from a variety of authorities, so that we are ready to start work on the ground as soon as possible once funding is confirmed.”
A public exhibition on the Lower Otter Restoration Project will be held later this year -
February 18, 2019: Plans for a new home for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club have been submitted as part of the wider Lower Otter Restoration Project.
The proposals have been drawn up on behalf of landowner Clinton Devon Estates in conjunction with the cricket club.
The planning application, which has been lodged with East Devon District Council, includes a main cricket square, junior pitch, single-
The main cricket square would include 13 wickets, one of which would be an artificial surface, and the project has been designed to meet the requirements of both the club and the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board).
Dr Sam Bridgewater, from the Lower Otter Restoration Project, said: "Should the Lower Otter Restoration Project proceed, a new home will need to be found for Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club, a long-
"The project is exploring ways of managing the Lower Otter estuary in a more sustainable way, which would involve restoring large parts of the land around the mouth of the river to a more natural, wetland environment.
"This would improve the local ecology, and help the Otter Valley respond more naturally to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather.
"Should the project proceed -
"We know that a good cricket pitch takes a long time to be ready for play. We are applying for permission for the new ground now so that, if the wider project were to go ahead, the facility would be ready for its new occupants in good time."
Greg Evans, chairman of Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club, said: "Everyone in the area knows that for years we have faced problems with flooding at Ottermouth, so we would very much welcome a solution which would mean we could use our facilities year-
"We have worked closely with Clinton Devon Estates on the latest proposals which would provide us with a much more sustainable home, as well as improved facilities for all at our club.
"However, we do understand that these proposals are closely linked to the Lower Otter Restoration Project which will need separate planning permission and other consents further down the line in order to make progress.
"Should everything go to plan with this proposal and the wider Lower Otter Restoration Project, we're looking forward to being able to move in for the start of the 2022 season. This would obviously mark a big change for the cricket club, having played at Ottermouth since the 1930s -
Funding boost as Lower Otter Restoration Project proposals revealed
June 11, 2020: Proposals to restore the Otter Estuary to a more natural condition, closer to that which existed two hundred years ago, will be submitted to East Devon District councillors later this year following the approval of a major funding bid.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project has been awarded around £8.5 million as part of Project PACCo – Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts. The Otter Estuary is one of two pilot sites for PACCo: the other is in the Saâne Valley in Normandy.
PACCo has a budget of €25.7m, including €17.8m from the European Regional Development Fund via the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme.
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-
The Lower Otter Restoration Project was conceived in 2013 to recreate a more ecologically healthy environment in the face of more extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels expected under climate change. There is a significant risk that a major flood or extreme tidal event could lead to catastrophic failure of embankments, with unpredictable environmental and social impacts. Recent years have 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 is also being provided by landowners Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency.
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 www.lowerotterrestorationproject.co.uk 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.
“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 -
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-
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
Securing a long-
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.”
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.”
Lower Otter Restoration Project unanimously approved by East Devon councillors
January 6, 2021: A landscape-
Embankments built more than 200 years ago to reclaim land from the Lower Otter estuary at Budleigh Salterton are now failing in the face of rising sea levels and more extreme weather conditions.
The benefits of the proposals include the creation of new areas of intertidal habitats, mudflats and saltmarsh which provide a home for numerous rare and endangered native and migratory species.
This timely initiative will deliver key Government objectives set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan and Environment Bill going before Parliament this year.
Landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Estate's Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, responsible for managing the area, forged a partnership with the Environment Agency to form the Lower Otter Restoration Project to explore ways of managing and funding the project, working alongside a wide-
As well as recreating the former habitats, it was important to maintain public access to the much-
The Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club's Ottermouth ground, an important community and regional asset, will be re-
Ideas on how the project might proceed were shared with the public over a number of years before a planning application was submitted by the Environment Agency at the end of 2020. The application was supported by a wide range of conservation and other bodies including the RSPB, Natural England, the Jurassic Coast Trust and the Devon Wildlife Trust.
Now members of East District Council's planning committee have voted to support the proposals.
John Varley, Estates Director of Clinton Devon Estates, said: "This approval paves the way for a major landscape-
"It demonstrates that rural estates can play a key role in addressing the climate crisis, leading the way in respect of a number of national agendas including nature recovery, creating new habitats and delivering a net gain in biodiversity, on a landscape scale.
"As the eyes of the world will be on Britain as hosts the UN Climate Change Conference COP 26 in November, this project shows we are prepared to act now to address the challenges we all face."
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Head of Wildlife and Conservation at Clinton Devon Estates, said: "The Estate is proud to be associated with this project. It is recognised nationally and internationally that coastal communities must adapt as sea levels rise and storm events become more frequent.
"It is our belief that the Lower Otter Restoration Project will provide a more sustainable and certain future for the threatened Otter valley. It will also deliver very significant benefits to people and wildlife in the long term.
"The granting of planning approval is a major step forward in helping us deliver this vision. We have worked very closely with a wide range of stakeholders who have helped us reach this milestone and we are grateful for their input over the years."
Mark Rice, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: "Climate change is affecting the way we manage our coasts and estuaries and we must adapt to that change. The Lower Otter Restoration Project is an example of how we can do that. We aim to deliver long term benefits for people and wildlife by working in partnership and through more sustainable management of the Otter Estuary."
Planning approval means work on the project can start this spring and be completed in 2023.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project is part of a wider Project PACCo -
Please also see an Environment Agency news release here.