Lower Otter Restoration Project

Year Implemented


Project Type

Managed realignment


United Kingdom


Otter Estuary (Devon)





Habitat(s) Created
  • Mudflat

  • Saltmarsh

  • Transitional Grassland


92 Hectares

Why Undertaken
  • Biodiversity Enhancement

  • Climate Change (Greenhouse Gas) Mitigation

  • Compensation

  • Flood Risk Management

  • Provide Fish Habitat

Project Description Summary

The Lower Otter Estuary is a bar-built macro tidal estuary on the south coast of Devon.  It lies within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and supports a variety of estuarine and freshwater habitats.  It is also and a major tourist destination and has a network of footpaths including the South West Coast Path.  

However, prior to completion of large scale restoration in 2024 the hydrodynamic functionality and ecological value of the Lower Otter was constrained by substantial historical man-made changes.  Most notably, from 1810 onwards, two long embankments were built right through the centre of the outer estuary system.  This pushed the main river channel into a narrow eastern section of the estuarine zone.   

These embankment features (called the Big and Little Banks) therefore substantially reduced the natural flood accommodation zone.  They left the system unable to adapt and contributed to drainage problems and caused regular, major, freshwater flooding events across areas on the west/landward side of the embankments.  

In addition to the embankments, in the 1950s a landfill was placed at the centre of the floodplain.  A cricket pitch was also created at the southernmost end.  There were also several other distinct issues and constraints on this site. One notable feature was the Budleigh Brook aqueduct .  This Budleigh Brook entered the valley from the west and because of the changes to the landform, it had to be carried across the flood plain in an concrete aqueduct before being discharged into the Otter on the east side of the valley. 

The major restoration of this landscape was undertaken by the Environment Agency, Clinton Devon Estates, Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and partners.  It was done to address the flood risk issues and return a much greater degree of natural and sustainable functionality to the estuary. 

To so this the areas behind the embankments were opened up to allow tidal water back across the site for the first time since the early 19th Century.   That main river (and also Budleigh Brook) was then now more naturally integrated into the landform.  To achieve this work, this the cricket pitch was relocated, the landfill was landscaped,  the flood-vulnerable road across the site was built up and a bridge was created across the embankment breach to maintain the existing South West Coast Path

This project was completed and officially 'launched' in March 2024 (see press release link below).  As described in the press release, the project has created 55 hectares of intertidal marsh and mudflat and this has also been compensation for losses of intertidal habitat in the Exe Estuary from coastal defence works.  The site has more than that though, it includes areas of grassland habitat and a restored woodland.   

This project was part of the collaborative cross-channel France-England Interreg PACCO initiative (see link below).  For this PACCO project a range of reports and guidance documents were produced.  These documents provide lessons for other future projects including guidance on the project approach (see link below) which covered everything from engagement and communications through to natural capital and construction.  The work also included detailed research into the natural capital assets and Ecosystem Services benefits of the project.  



Documents/References uploaded

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