Historic floodplains to be restored in Devon


Work on a landscape-scale project to address the impact of climate change by returning a Devon estuary and floodplain to a more natural condition is set to begin in spring.

East Devon District Council's planning committee has approved a pioneering project to help a river valley on England's Jurassic Coast adapt to climate change and create an internationally important wildlife reserve.

The Lower Otter Estuary Restoration Project will create more than 50 hectares of mudflats and saltmarsh (David Howard / geograph.org.uk).

The EU-funded Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) will reconnect the River Otter to its historic floodplain and return the Lower Otter Valley to a more natural condition, creating more than 50 ha of intertidal mudflats, saltmarsh and other valuable estuarine habitats. The success of the £15 million project rested on it being given the thumbs up by East Devon District Council, and planning approval means work on the project can start this spring and be completed by early 2023.

The Lower Otter Valley has been heavily modified by humans in the last 200 years, with the construction of an embankment, a road, a rubbish tip, an aqueduct and an old railway line. These structures are difficult and expensive to maintain and restrict natural processes including the movement of water, as well as reducing habitat quality and diversity. 

Since the building of an embankment in the early 19th century, the River Otter has been disconnected from much of its natural floodplain. The creation of new habitats and restoration of the site will be achieved by breaching the embankment. This will allow a much greater extent of the original floodplain to flood at high tide and drain at low tide, producing important intertidal habitat, mudflats and saltmarsh for wading birds. There will also be areas of reedbed and grazing marsh.

Once established, the new site will become a wildlife reserve of international importance within five years, fulfilling the aspirations of all partners involved. The LORP is a partnership between the Environment Agency, local landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust that currently manages the estuary. It also has the support of Natural England, the RSPB and Devon Wildlife Trust.

Mark Rice, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, commented: "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."