Milestone planning decision marks reason for optimism in the Otter Valley

GV's at Otter Head near Budleigh Saltert

GV's at Otter Head near Budleigh Salterton on the river Otter. - Credit: © Guy Newman

Clinton Devon Estates' countryside learning officer Kate Ponting writes for the Journal.

Kate Ponting, countryside learning officer at Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust. Picture: Matt Aus

Kate Ponting, countryside learning officer at Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust. Picture: Matt Austin - Credit: Archant

Amid all the frustrations of the latest restrictions and challenges of home education, January 6 brought an injection of real optimism with the milestone planning decision agreeing that the restoration of the lower Otter valley can begin.

Climate change trumps pandemic. Despite calls by a few that such an important local decision shouldn’t be made during an international health crisis, great foresight saw the EDDC planning committee reach a unanimously decision to support the Lower Otter Restoration Project securing the future of this much-loved part of our local area.

Plans will re-establish an estuary, more akin to the one that existed 200 years ago, where the river and flood plains functioned naturally. Ecosystems that would have been here before the marshes were drained will be able to reassert themselves and flourish.

Allowing the lower valley to become tidal twice a day, won’t increase the flood risk to properties but local people are right to be concerned about tidal surges, extreme weather events and sea level rise.

This bold project will deliver a sustainable future for the Otter but it will also, through a close working with French counterparts who face a similar dilemma in Normandy’s Saane valley, explore the best ways to deliver improvements benefiting many other coastal communities affected.

The iconic panorama over the estuary towards Otterhead will remain unchanged but views up-river beyond Lime Kiln and on either side of South Farm Road will be different. Cricket pitch and marshy fields will give way to areas of mudflat at low tide and larger expanses of water as the tide rises.

Mud flats in the Otter Estuary

Mud flats in the Otter Estuary - Credit: © Guy Newman

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Some of the biggest changes are needed to maintain those things society is not prepared to forfeit; a road to businesses and properties that now won’t be threatened by tides or flooding; assured access to one of the busiest footpaths in Devon and to safeguard the legacies passed on my previous generations such as ensuring the old tip doesn’t pose environmental risk in the future.

Overwintering birds will draw wildlife enthusiasts out in the colder months benefiting local businesses, keen to make the most of these out of season visitors. Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club will move out of the flood plain and onto a drier footing, ensuring rain won’t stop play for quite so long in future.

But such significant change will cause disruption to the tranquillity, and at times our pastoral valley will rumble to the sounds of construction as the landscape is re-shaped, a new road and new footbridges built and the old tip protected from erosion.

However, I very much look forward to watching the transformation, helping people understand the complexities of the project and working with schools and colleges, to see what young people think of our solutions to their future challenges.

We may not be ready to comprehend the enormity of climate change, but a beautiful part of our local coastline has been given a sustainable future and that is worth getting excited over. Knowing East Devon is leading the green recovery, in such a decisive and tangible manner makes me feel better about 2021 and the years to come.

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