Lower Otter Restoration Project.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project is one of two schemes under the Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts (PACCo) Project (link opens in a new tab). The sister scheme is taking place in the Saane Valley, Normandy, France.
Both valleys have been heavily developed over the last few centuries to claim land for agriculture, resulting in them becoming disconnected from their floodplains and losing their inter-tidal habitats. The tidal embankment in the Lower Otter (part of key phrase) Valley was built in 1811 to create more agricultural land. The land is owned by Clinton Devon Estates, who with the Environment Agency, are the main driving forces behind this restoration project. Jacobs are the project designers and Kier has overseen the construction works and delivery of the project.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project has provided a managed scheme, ultimately a controlled breach has been made through the embankment down near the old cricket ground to allow the saltwater to flood in twice daily. Over the next few years, the area will change from grassland to saltmarsh and mudflats covering an area of 55ha. Saltmarsh and mudflats habitat is becoming increasingly rare, yet they have an important role to play in the face of climate change as valuable carbon stores. In addition, the newly created Lower Otter habitat is expected to attract a large variety of birds and other wildlife.
Before the breach could take place a lot of work had to be done. The old cricket ground needed to be moved, a new South Farm Road had to be built, a footbridge needed to be built across the breach, creeks had to be excavated in the new floodplain, a disused landfill site had to be capped to ensure that pollutants would not leach into the newly created habitat and a new car park was to be built. During all the construction, it was necessary to remove trees and hedgerows, this is where we come in.
Hi-Line were contracted by Kier in 2021 to help with the vegetation clearance and to provide additional ecological supervision. Clearance was due to start in May 2021, but the site received a lot of public interest and even caught the attention of Chris Packham. This caused the work to be delayed. The weather caused additional delays with the site being completely flooded on several occasions.
We progressed very well with our contracted works and proved to be very efficient in both our vegetation and ecological work. As a result of our team’s hard work, we were asked by Kier to remain on the project and carried out most of the vegetation works. Many hours were spent searching by hand through vegetation for protected species to plan and create access routes for machinery. Machinery was then bought in to aid in the dismantling of some large trees so that damage to the understory could be avoided, especially during the dormouse hibernation period.
Mark Wills (Hi-Line ecologist) was asked to stay on the project as one of the lead ecologists, alongside Katy Oakley (Exe Valley Ecology). There were 21 ecologists on the Lower Otter Restoration Project at one point due to the vast quantity of vegetation to inspect and the extent of the ecological constraints to think about. The site contained a mix of beavers, bats, dormice, badgers, nesting birds, schedule 1 birds and rare plants to name but a few that needed protection.
For dormice, a European Protected Species License (EPSL) was in place for the works. There were also little ringed plovers and Cetti’s warblers on the work site, these are both schedule 1 birds and required a schedule 1 license for all works potentially affecting them. Our work has created the right habitat for little ring plovers to attempt to breed, and they have successfully raised young in the last two years, a great achievement for the Lower Otter Restoration Project as they are a scarce breeding bird in Devon, and this is the first time they have bred in the Lower Otter Valley.
The rare plants on site included divided sedge (Carex divisa), this being the only place in Devon that it is found. The restoration project also translocated some divided sedge to several local sites with similar ecological characteristics.
Once most of the initial vegetation works had been completed, the ecology team was reduced to three. Mark Wills (Hi-Line ecologist) took charge of the ornithological issues and helped where needed with other areas of wildlife. Katy Oakley (Exe Valley Ecology), looked after the beavers and other protected species. Linda Hamilton (Hamilton Ecology) looked after the bats and badgers and helped other areas when needed.
Mark Wills commented
“My responsibilities included producing annual reports, bird action plans, weekly updates on the birds using the site and those breeding around the site, carrying out precutting inspections and providing advice where needed. I have enjoyed working alongside Katy and Linda, and both have helped to increase my knowledge whilst working with them”.
As part of the mitigation activities, over 2 hectares of broadleaf woodland and 1.5 kilometers of hedgerow have been planted. Hi-Line along with Bonds have carried out this work.
As the habitat changed the site has started to attract some amazing birds like lesser yellowlegs (this bird is associated with the Americas), great white egrets, avocets, glossy ibis, spoonbills, and two separate ospreys. During the last year over 130 different species have been recorded using the site. The dormice that had been encouraged off the work site have successfully bred in the retained habitat.
The breach finally started in late September 2023 having been postponed from Spring due to nesting birds.
Mark Wills (Hi-Line ecologist) final day on the project was on 6th October 2023,
“I was sad to have finished, but it has been an incredible project to have been involved with for the last two years. I have gained a wealth of experience whilst working on it. If you are in the area or you are looking for somewhere to visit, it is well worth a walk around this newly created nature reserve. I can’t wait to see how this area matures and how the habitat changes over the next few years”.
The Lower Otter Restoration Project has been a fantastic project for Hi-Line to have been involved with.
We would like to thank Mark Wills for his excellent work on the project and for sharing his experience with us.
We are all looking forward to seeing how this site progresses in the future.