A bid to restore the Otter Estuary to natural and historic flood plains – and stop sea defences in Budleigh Salterton from failing – has netted an £8.5million boost.
The site is one of two pilots to benefit from PACCo [Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts] cash – with the other in the Saâne Valley in Normandy, France.
The £12million Lower Otter Restoration Project is being led by landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency (EA).
Its preferred option would see the Big Marsh and Little Marsh floodplains around Budleigh Salterton restored.
Breaches would be created in the Little Bank, Big Bank and the River Otter Embankment to allow water to flow through.
The seven-figure sum will support the scheme’s climate change adaptation aims 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, and other man-made alterations mean the waterway is no longer as naturally connected with its floodplain.
There is a significant risk that a major flood or extreme tidal event could lead to catastrophic failure of embankments.
Such events in recent years have seen the South West Coastal Footpath closed to the public for significant periods due to erosion.
Funding for the Lower Otter Restoration Project, which will also see Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club relocated, is also being provided by Clinton Devon Estates and the EA.
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 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 – at the moment we think it would take about two years.”
Dr Bridgewater said the benefits of the project include a more ecologically-healthy estuary by reconnecting the river to its floodplain.
It will also create around 60 hectares of rare inter-tidal and wetland habitat which would attract a wide range of wildlife.
Improved public access, including securing the future of the South West Coastal Footpath along its current route, and the prevention of potential pollution from a former landfill tip through erosion, are also promised.
Access for nearby residents and businesses, particularly along South Farm Road, and a the long-term future of Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club will be secured, said Dr Bridgewater.
He 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 EA, 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.”
The project will run until June 2023 and has a budget of €25.7m, of which €17.8m is funding from the European Regional Development Fund via the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme.