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A tale of two Devon rivers in the global climate crisis

As world leaders discuss how to meet de-carbonisation targets at COP26 in Glasgow, 450 miles away in Devon two significant climate change mitigation projects are already underway as they speak.

While politicians and delegates draw-up deals on slowing deforestation and getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, two nature-based solutions to climate change are already being implemented on the River Otter and the River Culm in East Devon.

A carefully managed realignment of the Lower River Otter at Budleigh Salterton will allow the river to return to its historic flood plain, avoiding a catastrophic, unplanned breach of the failing defences that were built 200 years ago to reclaim land for farming.

In the seven years leading up to East Devon District Council granting planning consent for the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) in January 2021, the KOR team worked on behalf of the landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency to communicate why and how the Lower River Otter must be adapted to meet the ever-increasing challenges of climate change and rising sea levels.

Meanwhile, in the Culm Valley near Broadclyst in East Devon, the National Trust and the West Country Rivers Trust have just updated the community via a webinar briefing on their Connecting the Culm project, which also proposes nature-based solutions to future proof the river.

On the National Trust’s Killerton Estate, a network of ‘scrapes’ or shallow pools are being created in the River Culm’s flood plain, as shown in the picture above, to retain flood water following heavy downpours and rising river levels, at the same time, creating new wildlife habitats.

There are also plans to plant trees and hedgerows on the flood plain at Killerton, as well as providing new public access routes.

Jo Neville, senior ecologist at Westcountry Rivers Trust, said heavy rainfall in October 2021 caused the river to flood but a couple of the newly-created scrapes retained large pools of water, demonstrating how the project is already yielding results.

Updating the community on this project has not only helped the public’s understanding of what is happening on the River Culm at Killerton, but has captured their enthusiasm with some attendees offering to volunteer.

Both LORP and Connecting the Culm are partly funded by the EU’s Interreg programme, which supports cooperation across national borders through project funding.

If schemes such as these are to gain the vital support they need from government, local authorities and communities, and achieve the recognition they deserve, their stories must be told; dispelling concerns, capturing imaginations, nurturing understanding and winning buy-in for the long term.

To find out more about our work, or to have a conversation about communicating a nature restoration project, please contact Annette Richman – call 01392 466733 or email Annette.Richman@korcommunications.co.uk.