Countryside Matters 2014 - page 12-13

Countryside
Matters
10
Countryside
Matters
11
MANAGING WATER
MANAGING WATER
The lowerRiverOtter is inmanywaysthe
quintessentialEnglishriver.Rich inwildlifeand
landscapebeauty, ithashelpeddefine localeconomic
andculturalhistory inEastDevon;asasourceof
energyformills,anhistorictradingsiteandfishing
port,andasafertilefloodplainforagriculture.
However, thehumancreativitythathashelped
capitaliseontheeconomicbenefitsoftheriverhas
heavily impactedupon it.
Inmonastictimes, thenaturallymeanderingriver
wasdirectedtorunalongonlytheedgeof itsnatural
floodplain.However,sincethecreationofanumberof
artificialstructures, theabilityoftheriverandestuary
toequilibrateandrespondnaturallyduringflooding
eventshasbeenhindered. Intheearly19thcentury,
floodembankmentswerebuilttoreclaimagricultural
landfromtheestuaryand intheearly20thcentury,
araisedrailway linebetweenBudleighSaltertonand
NewtonPopplefordwasbuilt.Thesestructures,along
withhistoricalrivermanagementtechniques, including
dredging,havefurtherconstrainedthedevelopment
ofhighqualitynaturalhabitats,andreducedthe
ecologicalhealthoftheriver.Structuressuchasweirs
presentsignificantbarrierstofishpassagesand
these,alongwiththe lackofnaturalhabitat,present
bigchallengestotheRiverOtter inmeetingtheWater
FrameworkDirectivetargetofbeingconsidered in
‘goodecologicalstatus’.
The incidencesofflooding in recent timeson the
RiverOtterhavebeenwell publicised. In2012 there
were threeseverefloods inJulyandNovember,
and there is fear thatwithsea levels risingand the
increased incidenceofheavy rainfall predicted for
EastDevondue toglobalwarming, that theseevents
will becomemore frequent.Should thishappen, their
impactson residential properties, rural businessesand
farms, public footpathsand recreational facilitieswill
likelybesevere. Thepopularpublic footpathbetween
WhiteBridgeandOtterton, forexample,wasclosed
inNovember2012 for fourmonthsafteraflooding
eventdrasticallyeroded the riverbank.Ofparticular
concern in2012was thesevereerosionof theprimary
floodembankments.There isadistinctchance that
theymightbebreached irretrievably inany future
severefloodingor tidal surgeevent, allowing thesea
topourunchecked into thepreviously reclaimed
partof thefloodplain. Rather thanallow this
tohappen inapotentiallycatastrophicmanner,
there isastrongargument for theprocess tobe
managedasa“controlled retreat” for thebenefitof
wildlifeand thepublic.Thiscouldhelpbuildnatural
resilience to futureclimatechangeand reduce the
need forexpensiveandusuallyshort-termhuman
interventions thathavehistoricallybeenseenasthe
answertosevereflooding issues.
ThehistoryofrivermanagementontheOttercan
beviewedasfightingagainstnature.There isnowan
increasingrecognitionnationallythattobesustainable,
managementofriverstoreducefloodingand improve
ecologicalhealthmustworkwithnaturewhere itcan,
andaccepttherealitiesofarapidlychangingclimate.
Itdoesnotnecessarilymeanthatdredgingwithin
rivers isno longerappropriate inplaces,andcertainly,
theregularclearanceofdrainageditchesonfarmland
canhaveaverypositive impact inreducingflooding.
Howeverthephilosophicalchange inthemanagement
approachacceptsthatnaturalisedriversarebest
abletocope,adapt,andprotectusfromanuncertain
climaticfuture. SB
thegeneral ecologicalhealthof the
river. Itwasrecognisedthatthe
lowerriverhadtobeconsidered
holistically, andthat interventions
inone locationcouldhaveadverse
consequenceselsewhere. Itwas
alsoclearthatmanyeconomicand
social constraintsexisttoachieve
thevisionofahealthierriverthat
isallowedto ‘breath’ andexpress
itselfnaturally.
Perhapsthegreatestchallenge
thisproject faces isgaining local
acceptanceoftheadaptationthat is
comingtotheRiverOtterthrough
climatechange, regardlessofany
restorationproject.The landscape,
farmingpracticesandrecreationwill
allbedifferentshouldamanaged
realignmentbeultimatelypursued.
Thehope,ofcourse, isthatthe
wildlifehabitatswillbe improvedby
suchan initiative, that farmingwill
bemoreenvironmentally friendly
andsustainable,andthatrecreation
opportunitieswillbeenhanced.
Withaview tobetter
understandingwhether the
initiativehasmore than just
conceptualwings, aproject
Enabling ‘controlled retreat’
officerwasappointedbyClinton
DevonEstates inOctober2013
undersecondment from the
EnvironmentAgency to further
define thevisionof thisambitious
project, clarify thebenefitsand
dis-benefitsand tobeginbuilding
thenecessarypartnerships,
including thosewith local farmers,
local communitiesand funders,
thatwill beessential if theproject
is to takeflight. Itmaybe that
at theendof this feasibility
stage, theproject isnotdeemed
tobeeconomically, sociallyand
environmentallyviable.However,
at leastwewill knowwhy this is
thecase, andbemore fullyaware
of the long-termconsequencesof
takingnoaction.
Newton
Poppleford
R I VE R OT T E R
Seaton
Ottery
StMary
Sidford
M5
A30
Sidmouth
Budleigh
Salterton
EXETER
Exmouth
Honiton
Cullompton
Clyst
Honiton
Feniton
ThemouthoftheRiver
OtteratBudleighSalterton
DrSamBridgewaterholdsa BSc in
PlantScience(SheffieldUniversity),
MSc inForestry(OxfordUniversity)
andaPhD inConservationBiology
(EdinburghUniversity).
Hehaspreviouslyco-ordinateda
LandscapePartnershipScheme in
WesterRoss.Hehaspublished
over20academic researchpapers
and twobooks.
1,2,4-5,6-7,8-9,10-11 14-15,16-17,18-19,20-21,22-23,24-25,26-27,28-29,30-31,32-33,...55
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