What can be done about the effects of climate change?
There are three main options for the Lower Otter Estuary in future.
1. No active intervention: the River Otter’s embankments were built over 200 years ago when the river was straightened. Today those embankments are nearing the end of their useful life and there is a significant risk they will catastrophically fail in a major flood or extreme tidal event. We can’t predict when this will happen. However, failure will likely impact adversely on local homes and businesses, expose an unprotected old municipal tip to erosion and threaten public infrastructure such as roads, public footpaths and recreational facilities.
2. Holding the line: this involves building new defences or improving existing ones to hold back the sea and cope with the predicted increase in flooding events from the river. Holding the line is generally favoured when it is essential to protect at-risk homes, businesses and other existing infrastructure close to the sea, especially in heavily built-up areas.
3. Managed realignment: this involves an acceptance that we can’t stop climate change, but seeks to work with nature and pre-empt inevitable change. With managed realignment the shoreline and associated habitats are allowed to move naturally, but the process is managed to secure the best possible benefits for people and wildlife. This option is usually undertaken in low-lying areas such as estuaries, especially where land has previously been claimed from the sea in years gone by.
This third option is currently favoured by the landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency in the Lower Otter Estuary because it is generally less costly than building new defences, and will provide more certainty for local people than simply waiting for the embankments to fail. At the same time it could potentially safeguard and improve public access and create new and greater areas of habitats for wildlife, including rare intertidal habitat that has been lost to coastal squeeze in other areas.
What would a managed realignment look like?
We have drawn up four options for what a managed realignment scheme along the Lower Otter Estuary might look like which were the subject of a public exhibition which was held in Budleigh Salterton on 5 July 2017.
A managed realignment is likely to involve controlled breaches of the existing embankments, which were built 200 years ago and which are now no longer effective. The breaches would be spanned by bridges to allow continued public access along them. Find out more about the Project Aims.