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-year-old sea defences are now starting to fail and are becoming increasingly hard to maintain.
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-term future of the cricket club, and conducting further technical investigations. The next phase of the project would see us seeking planning and other consents from the relevant authorities, at which point there would be further opportunities for people to have a say on the proposals.