The brand new 70 metre “Elizabeth Bridge” was officially opened by Hon. Charles Fane Trefusis of Clinton Devon Estates and Mark Rice, Environment Agency Area Director, on Friday (24 Nov), marking a significant milestone for The Lower Otter Restoration Project.
The footbridge provides continued access along the South West Coast Path near Budleigh Salterton, spanning a stretch of embankment that was recently removed to reconnect the River Otter to its historic floodplain. The name “Elizabeth Bridge” was suggested by a member of the public and welcomed by Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency, partners in the Lower Otter Restoration Project, as an appropriate way to commemorate the late Queen.
First to try out the footbridge was local running club, the Budleigh Runners, joined by guest runners from the Environment Agency and Clinton Devon Estates. The runners crossed the bridge and carried on to complete a circular route using the new and improved footpaths. The runners were followed across the bridge by local groups including ramblers, young children and disabled ramblers with mobility aids/scooters.
Improvements carried out by the Lower Otter Restoration Project have made the site more accessible for a range of groups to use the site for leisure, health and wellbeing.Debbie Newson, chair of Budleigh Runners said: “Budleigh Runners have benefited greatly from the Lower Otter Restoration Project. Our local club involves runners of all abilities.
Improvements to the paths at the Otter Estuary allow us to access a whole network of paths, particularly for those who prefer flat routes! Wildlife and beautiful scenery truly enhance the enjoyment of running, so to be able to do what we love, in such a stunning location, is just fantastic.”
Lorna Sheriff, SW Coast Path National Trail Officer said: “We welcome the new bridge and improvements to the walking network in the lower Otter Valley. This is a great project showing how to adapt land management, so it is better for people and wildlife. Building resilience to the impacts of climate change is a growing issue along the South West Coast Path.”
In total, The Lower Otter Restoration Project has improved access to 3.3km of footpath, raised circa 2.5km of footpath, constructed over 600m of pavement and created over 500m of new public right of way footpath. In addition, 23,000 trees have been planted on site, a significant proportion of them on the site of a former domestic tip which has been secured from erosion and transformed into a pleasant green space that can be easily accessed via the new paths.
Dan Boswell, Environment Agency Project Manager said: “The project has made public rights of way and the road as well as other important local infrastructure far more resilient to rising sea levels and floods.
This was demonstrated only last month with Storm Ciaran, such a storm would previously have seen the road and footpaths flood for days on end. As it was, South Farm Road was unaffected by flooding and the footpaths were back in action the day after the storm.
Today’s opening of the footbridge represents the final chapter in a project which seeks to enhance the experience of wildlife and people using the Lower Otter site.”
Clare James, Head of Commercial, Land and Tourism Clinton Devon Estates said: “Clinton Devon Estates are delighted that local runners and walkers are so keen to make use of the re-opened route and that the bridge name also came from a public suggestion. The bridge opening is a tangible milestone in the project that has taken over a decade to conceive, develop and deliver and it demonstrates how the LORP will deliver a sustainable environmental future for the valley, whilst maintaining vital public amenity.”
The Lower Otter Restoration Project is primarily a climate adaptation and habitat creation project which also provided the team with an opportunity to improve the area for people and recreation. The new 70-metre footbridge was craned into place earlier this year. Work then started to remove a manmade embankment and return the river Otter and its floodplain to a more natural state. On 28 September 2023, after more than a decade of planning by the LORP team, the tide flowed under the bridge and into the Otter Estuary for the first time in over 200 years.
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