21 October, 2021: The Environment Agency has issued a statement following overnight flooding of the site of the Lower Otter Restoration Project.
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We’ve put together a briefing note for councillors and other stakeholders about the project, its background and what it hopes to achieve.
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To contact the Lower Otter Restoration Project, click here.
Answers to the most frequently asked questions about the project are available here.
To see the Lower Otter Restoration Project Environmental Statement, click here.
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© Lower Otter Restoration Project
Q1. What does the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) involve?
A1: The project will restore the Lower Otter Valley to a more natural condition closer to those that existed two hundred years ago. The restored site will require less future management against the impacts of climate change.
To achieve this we will make a 70 metre breach in the embankment that currently separates agricultural land and Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club from the river and estuary. With the embankment breached, land in the floodplain as far north as Big Bank (and up to Little Bank on extreme spring tides) will flood at high tide, draining again at low tide.
This will create approximately 55 hectares of mudflat and saltmarsh, and create a new wildlife reserve of international conservation value. The breach in the embankment will be bridged to allow continued access along the South West Coast Path. Improved and raised access will also be created on the footpath on the western edge of the marsh below South Farm Road (this is currently part of a planning permission granted to FAB Link). The western footpath above South Farm will be subject to flooding on some spring tides. South Farm Road will be re-
A former refuse tip, which currently lies in the floodplain and presents an environmental liability, will be protected from erosion and its capping increased. A new public footpath will replace the impassable and disused existing public right of way spur immediately south of the tip.
A pipe that runs along the landward side of the shingle bar, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, will be replaced by a new pipe under the estuary. This will enable natural erosion and deposition to take place and reduce the risk of pollution.
The aqueduct which carries the Budleigh Brook will be demolished and the brook realigned in a more natural channel.
Sections of the embankments known as Big Bank and Little Bank will be lowered to allow floodwater to pass and better connect the River Otter to its floodplain.
Under the scheme Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club will be relocated to a new site outside the floodplain (this is covered by a separate planning application, which has already been approved).
Q2. Why are you doing this?
A2: Although much loved in its current form the Lower Otter Valley is heavily modified by human hand. Several embankments, a road, a disused municipal tip, an aqueduct and an old railway line are artificial structures restricting natural processes and water flow. They are becoming ever more difficult and expensive to maintain, impede the ability for flood water to ebb and flow and reduce habitat quality and biodiversity. The River Otter itself is now disconnected from its floodplain.
Current climate scenarios predict a rise in sea level (currently 1.5mm/year) of up to 600mm by 2110 and increasing storminess with flood flows in the river becoming more frequent. This is causing more frequent over-
At present, ground to the west of the embankment mainly drains to the sea through a pipe that takes flow from the ‘trunk drain’ at the west side of the floodplain. This ends close to the low tide mark on the beach and is prone to blocking with shingle. The outfall is regularly cleared, but sea level rise will make clearance harder in the future. Another small outfall drains into the estuary but this is at a higher level and is frequently tidelocked.
This project recognises these risks and seeks to deliver a more sustainable way forward by adapting to climate change and managing the area by working with natural processes, rather than trying to control them. As a result, we believe the project can deliver real benefits for wildlife and societal health and wellbeing.
Q3. When will work start and how long will it take?
A3: Planning permission was granted in early 2021 with preparatory work carried out during the spring and summer. This included setting up a site compound and laying temporary access roads. In September 2021 clearance of vegetation and trees began, with material brought to the main site compound to be used in the embankment for the new road. Contractors also started to create a network of creeks. All work is programmed for completion in spring 2023 when all the temporary infrastructures will be removed. Creating the breach and allowing the tide back in will be one of the final parts of the LORP.
The scheme involves a significant change to the landscape (see Q8). In essence the project will recreate the inter-
Q4. Who is involved and what’s in it for them?
A4: The scheme is a partnership initiative between Clinton Devon Estates (the Estate) and the Environment Agency.
Clinton Devon Estates has a long history of good stewardship of its land, enabling public access and management for habitats and species. Climate change is real and threatens coastal communities and that early adaptation to climate change is more cost effective and can bring greater societal and wildlife benefits than delayed adaption or inaction. The Estate wishes to be recognised for its support of wildlife. As a result of this scheme, a wetland reserve of international significance will be created. This will enhance the Estate’s environmental reputation. In addition, the Estate’s management of the land in the Lower Otter Valley will become more sustainable with associated businesses protected. The Estate supports local businesses including those at South Farm, Otterton Mill and the King's Arms in Otterton, all of which are tenanted enterprises. We believe this project will help support the wider local economy going forward, including those businesses already operating in Budleigh Salterton and villages in the lower valley.
The Environment Agency’s involvement in the project stems from a need to provide compensatory habitat for losses identified in the Exe Estuary Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy. The Exe Estuary is internationally important, designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), under the European Union (EU) Birds Directive and as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
Part of the Exe Estuary is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designated under the EU Habitats Directive. Maintaining and improving existing flood defences will result in the loss of European designated intertidal habitat caused by coastal squeeze (the loss of existing intertidal habitat as a result of rising sea levels that drown out the habitat). This will adversely affect the integrity of the Dawlish Warren SAC and Exe Estuary SPA and Ramsar site. Under the Habitats Regulations, it is therefore a statutory requirement for the Environment Agency to create habitat to compensate for that lost. The partnership with Clinton Devon Estates was created due to the synergy of both organisations’ objectives, with the scheme enabling the aspirations of both organisations to be fulfilled.
Q5. What is the cost of the scheme and where is the money coming from?
A5: The cost of the scheme is about £15million with most of the costs relating to adapting existing infrastructure to climate change. This includes raising South Farm Road and protection of a disused municipal tip that lies in the floodplain.
Funding will come from the Environment Agency and Clinton Devon Estates with the project also supported by the European Interreg VA France Channel England programme through a project called Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts (PACCo). Within this project the Lower Otter Valley is partnering the Saâne Valley in Normandy, France.
The objective of the PACCo project is to demonstrate that early adaptation to climate change is desirable, brings greater benefits to society than inaction and to create a model of adaptation for other estuarine areas to follow. While Britain is no longer a member of the European Union (EU), during the transition period up to the end of December 2020 the UK remained a participant in EU-
The Lower Otter Restoration Project will receive around £6.6m through PACCo. The remainder of the construction cost is from the Environment Agency’s Flood Defence Grant in Aid funding with financial support from Clinton Devon Estates.
This funding is specifically for the LORP project and, while it is appreciated that there are other local needs, it is not possible to redirect this budget.
Q6. Besides the currently proposed scheme, and ‘doing nothing’, have any other solutions to the estuary’s management been considered?
A6: The idea for the Lower Otter Restoration Project initially arose from a desire by the landowner, Clinton Devon Estates to manage the Lower Otter Valley as sustainably as possible in the face of a rapidly changing climate. A report was commissioned in 2009, which was carried out by Haycock Associates. It suggested a number of future ways of managing the Lower Otter and was presented to many interested parties on completion. It was out of that presentation that this scheme arose.
Other ways to address some of the issues have been suggested; dredging the river channel for instance, or carrying out works to improve drainage from the southern marshes. These different options have been reviewed and discounted as part of the project development on sustainability, technical, legal or funding reasons. Within the existing scheme a list of options was developed including full scale restoration, assisted natural recovery and partial floodplain restoration. An options appraisal concluded that the preferred option for the scheme was the restoration of the floodplain associated with Big and Little Marsh. This process was guided by consultation with statutory and non-
Q7. What engagement has been undertaken to date?
A7: There has been extensive stakeholder consultation and public engagement alongside professional engineering and environmental work throughout the design of this scheme. This has helped to identify the preferred option and contributed to the detailed design.
A Stakeholder Group, set up in 2013, provided an interface between the project team and interested parties, including community representatives. This group was involved in the development of the short list of options.
In 2014 a public consultation was held with events taking place locally at community centres and at parish and town council meetings. These were held to highlight the issues, understand stakeholder and public perceptions of the problems, assess their reaction to outline proposals and options, gather information on alternative strategies and to ensure the local community has had a chance to help shape the broad form of the project.
Since 2015 an essential component of the scheme’s communications work has been through this website. This places key documents in the public domain, including the project’s rationale and vision, minutes of the Stakeholder Group meetings, the Risk Register, factsheets and proposed timelines. It also advertises key engagement events, with outcomes from public consultation available for viewing.
A long list of options was discussed with specialists from the Environment Agency and the Estate on 7 March 2017, and with the Stakeholder Group on 15 March 2017. With the exception of the Granary Lane resident group, the main stakeholder groups gave their conditional or tentative support for floodplain restoration through managed realignment.
From here, a Short List of options was developed, and, a public exhibition was held on 5 July 2017 at the Temple Methodist Church hall in Budleigh Salterton to seek the views of the local residents on LORP options. The exhibition was attended by 144 people and 105 feedback forms were received, which helped inform the outline design of the scheme. 73% of responders were supportive of LORP objectives and 62% were most in favour of the option that has become the preferred option. This option, restoration of Big and Little Marsh floodplain, was subsequently taken forward for design development, with an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) being carried out alongside the design stages. During this process, the project team continued to engage with key stakeholders.
Further public consultation was carried out as part of the planning application, during which over 500 comments on the scheme were received by the planning authority. The application was publicised to local parish councils and highlighted in the press. Links to the planning application were also placed on the LORP website.
As construction started the Stakeholder Group transitioned to a Liaison Group. The Liaison Group provides a link between the project team, the local community, specialist groups and the wider public to discuss ideas and concerns about LORP during construction.
Q8. What is happening to the trees, wildlife and landscape that are already there?
A8: Restoring the floodplain of the River Otter to a condition similar to that previously found prior to the construction of the embankments will involve very significant landscape change.
The largely pastoral aesthetic, which has dominated the valley since the early 1800s, will be replaced by an inter-
There will be very significant habitat transformation resulting from the scheme. Grazing marsh and grassland will change, and new and rarer saltmarsh and mudflat habitats will establish within the floodplain. There will also be a natural transition from intertidal to coastal grazing marsh further up the valley. The managed changes include the removal of some trees, hedgerows and scrubby vegetation where these would not survive inundation with salt water. Any trees, hedges and areas of scrub lost during the construction of the scheme will be compensated for through the creation of new areas. New planting will include over two hectares of broadleaf woodland and 1.6 kilometres of hedgerow in the Lower Otter Valley. In the long term the LORP will restore and support the natural ecological order of the estuary.
The biodiversity, marine ecology and fish impact assessment identified that without mitigation there was potential for the scheme to impact on species protected by legislation. Some of these impacts are being avoided through mitigation including changes made at the design stage, and putting in place measures to protect areas of habitat. Mitigation for protected species is being undertaken in accordance with legal requirements and seeks to enhance the integrity of populations where possible to do so.
By reinstating natural processes to the Lower Otter Valley, we expect significant long-
Q9. Might the project harm the beavers?
A9: The River Otter beavers are thriving and the decision by Defra to allow them to remain is one of the great wildlife success stories of recent years. Clinton Devon Estates is proud to be part of the River Otter Beaver Trial.
Beavers have been seen within LORP project areas that will be impacted by tidal inundation, however we do not expect local populations to be adversely impacted by the scheme as they are a very adaptable and mobile species. Beavers have been known to occupy salt water and inter-
We are working carefully to ensure no beavers are harmed by works in the project area and have taken expert advice on how to minimise any impact. We anticipate some minor movement of local beavers as the site finds its new ecological equilibrium and the beavers find the habitats of greatest value to them. Such habitat is plentiful throughout the catchment. The scheme is based around the sound principles of supporting natural processes and ecological recovery. This is the same philosophy that drove the River Otter Beaver Trial.
Q10. Will I still be able to walk along the embankment?
A10: Yes. We know how highly valued the path along the embankment between Lime Kiln car park and White Bridge (Footpath 1 and 2) is by residents and visitors alike. It is one of the busiest footpaths in Devon, with up to 250,000 visits a year. If the embankments breach accidentally, as they almost did in 2018, it may be difficult for Devon County Council to find funds for repairs.
As part of this project, we will put a footbridge over the planned breach to safeguard this access. If the path on the embankment has to be closed to allow works to proceed, diversions will be put in place to ensure continued pedestrian access up the valley and along the South West Coast Path.
Notices giving up to date information on local footpath temporary closures and diversions during the work are displayed in various locations.
Q11. How will the project impact South Farm Road and access for businesses and residents?
A11: Access to South Farm and the South West Coast Path will be secured against future climate change under the scheme.
At present the road floods and is in a deteriorating condition. Under the proposals it will be raised with pedestrian access added. In initial discussions with residents and businesses at South Farm the risk of tidal flooding of the road was emphasised should the embankments fail accidentally.
This project presents an opportunity to prevent and mitigate this eventuality in advance. There is a clear desire from all parties for access that does not flood. During works access to South Farm will be maintained with the existing road kept open whilst the new one is built. There will have to be a short period of closure when the new road is connected to the old road, but we will reduce the length of this closure as much as possible.
Informal public parking is not available along South Farm Road during construction. The area east of White Bridge is also restricted where parking has been impacting on the existing Otter Estuary SSI reserve or access to and from South Farm. Barriers and bollards are in place to protect the workforce and to safeguard all road users. Lime Kiln public car park is nearby. A new 53 space car park to be located at the western end of South Farm Road as part of the LORP.
Q12. Will it make flooding to properties worse?
A12: No. Although the project is not primarily intended to reduce flood risk it must nevertheless demonstrate that it will not increase flood risk. A comprehensive flood risk assessment was completed as part of the planning application. This was reviewed and approved by Environment Agency staff not otherwise involved in the LORP. Flood risk will continue to be monitored in the future, including the impacts of climate change.
Q13: What is happening to the cricket club?
A13: The Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club has flooded many times and would continue to do so if it stayed in its vulnerable location. Climate change means flooding is likely to be more frequent.
Under this project the club is being relocated out of the floodplain to a new site providing a secure long-
The new senior and junior pitches will be ready for the 2023 season. The club house and facilities are being funded by LORP but delivered separately by the Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club.
Q14: What does the project mean for local farmers?
A14: The Estate sees both farms impacted by the project (South Farm and Pulhayes Farm) continuing as key agricultural businesses. The Estate supports food production as well as wildlife.
The project will result in a change from the existing land management practices. Agreements were made with the tenant farmers for the release of land significantly impacted by the scheme. Continued support will be given to enable them to restructure and adapt their business models.
Q15: Could the project attract mosquitoes which pose a risk to health?
A15: Experts from Public Health England believe that the increased health risks from this scheme associated with biting insects is low if there is careful design and management. The type of habitat created under the scheme is generally unsuitable for invasive mosquito species.
Research conducted at the site showed no current evidence of Aedes detritus, which is the common nuisance species associated with brackish habitat. Anopheles claviger was common and associated with the flooded grassland and freshwater ditches. This isn’t associated with nuisance biting. If the intertidal zone is regularly flooded and drained then mosquito suitability will remain low. The key factor that will determine future mosquito pressure related to habitat changes is drainage. The project design has been guided by information supplied by Public Health England (PHE) and outputs from the Wetlands LIFE project, so minimising the likelihood of increased risk from mosquitoes.
Q16. Won’t this attract a lot more people – how will they be managed?
A16: A Visitor Management Strategy has been developed under the scheme. This balances the needs of wildlife and people so visitors can enjoy the area and its wildlife with minimal impact on the local environment.
The design of the scheme includes provision for new low key visitor infrastructure such as viewing platforms, whilst minimising the potential for disturbance to the new habitats and associated wildlife.
Wildlife interest in the site will be greatest in the winter months when the wading birds are present. This is when existing car park capacity at Lime Kiln car park is under-
An increase in visitor numbers, while requiring management, will benefit many local businesses and is expected to lead to increased employment opportunities for local people. The strategy is available to view here on the project website. The Lower Otter Valley is already a significant tourist location. The LORP does not seek to increase its attraction but to adapt the valley to climate change helping to secure its accessibility.
Q17: What is the relationship of this project to FAB Link?
A17: The FAB Link project is a proposal to build an electricity interconnector, subsea and underground, between France and Great Britain via the island of Alderney. The project is being jointly developed by RTE and FAB Link Limited, with support from the French and UK governments. The point where the cable will come ashore at the British end is in Budleigh Salterton, at Lime Kiln car park. There is geographical overlap between FAB Link and LORP in three places.
At present there is no certainty that FAB Link will progress. If its approvals and finance are agreed, the project is expected to start construction in 2023, meaning that the majority of the LORP will have been completed before FAB Link commences. LORP designs were agreed with FAB Link.
FAB Link had been expected to raise the footpath at the western side of the floodplain between Granary Lane and South Farm Road before LORP started, in line with a planning permission for this work granted to them in November 2017. However, LORP will now need to raise this footpath to maintain public access and allow FAB Link to subsequently install their cables in this area. We are currently designing the preferred solution for the footpath and will then submit an amendment to the LORP planning permission to cover these additional LORP works.
Q18: Are you going to build houses on the sites currently being used for the LORP work?
A18: No, there no proposals under LORP to build houses. This project is about how society can adapt to the effects of climate change and restoring more natural conditions for wildlife. After the work has been completed the main site compound at the top of Granary Lane and South Farm Road will return to farm use.
Q19: Could toxic material leak from the former landfill site?
A19: A wide range of surveys, including water and gas samples, have been taken from and near the old tip. Trial pits were excavated to establish the content, condition and stability of the tipped material.
There is no evidence of any toxic materials currently leaching from the site into the surrounding environment. Part of the western section of the tip will be removed during the project. The sides of the rest of the disused tip will be protected by a combination of rock revetment, erosion protection matting and extended side slopes appropriate to the speed of flow in each area. The depth of the capping will be increased. Due to the extent of the tip it is not possible to remove it entirely. Without the LORP the tip would be susceptible to erosion from an unmanaged breach – by acting early we are able to reduce this risk.
Q20: What about the impact on the food chain for wildlife?
A20: Although there will be some loss of habitat, particularly scrub and trees, much of the lower valley will be unaffected. We are minimising the impact by working at the most appropriate time of year, and in ways that allow species to move into retained habitat.
New planting of trees, hedges and species rich grassland will take place as soon as possible to reduce the impact on invertebrates and other species. Much of the surrounding farmed landscape is actively managed to benefit wildlife too.
LORP is primarily about changing the current habitat to a more natural condition. Studies on other similar sites, such as Goosemoor on the River Clyst and the Axe Wetlands, show that the invertebrate fauna of inter-
Produced by Environment Agency and Clinton Devon Estates
September 24, 2020
Updated October 20, 2021