New wetlands better for wildlife and people as new engineering turns the clock back to pre-Victorian times

Press release
Cotehele intertidal project
Published : 27 Apr 2021

The National Trust is turning back the clock almost 200 years to tackle habitat and nature loss by handing low grade farmland back to a Cornish river.

A stretch of the tidal River Tamar that was converted to farmland in 1850 when an enclosing embankment was built, will once again form part of the original flood plain as the charity creates new channels to allow the river to flow. 

It is thought the land was once rich with wildlife and fauna, but was turned into farmland by the Victorians and has since been grazed by cattle in the last few years.  

Now, thanks to a £250,000 project in partnership with the Environment Agency and supported by Natural England and Plymouth University, the charity will create a 1.7 hectare intertidal wetland that will once again teem with wildlife.

The work forms part of a larger programme of habitat creation and improvement throughout the Tamar catchment which aims to create new intertidal habitat which will be more resilient to the changing climate and to provide a richer environment for people and nature.

The work will also alleviate regular flooding at Cotehele Quay car park which is one of several areas along the river subject to regular flooding during high tides and stormy or windy weather. 

Alastair Cameron, Project Manager at the National Trust says: “By creating new wetland habitat similar to that found before the embankment was built, we can make space for nature and water.  

“All the original salt marshes and reed beds along the river would have absorbed large quantities of water, and supported a range of wildlife.  Although the work we are doing will still be a human intervention, we are aiming to help the water to encroach naturally.  The new bank will mean we can protect important infrastructure and help to minimise disruption to people when we experience high tides and extreme weather events.”

The new naturally created habitats at Cotehele will, over the next 5-10 years start to attract a wide range of wildlife including worms and other invertebrates, and wetland birds including shelduck, redshank, curlew and little egret.  The open water area will attract ducks such as wigeon and teal, and the new habitat could also attract smaller creatures such as otters and harvest mouse.

Alastair continued: “As the waters flood into the field with the tides we’ll start to see changes in the habitat which should attract typical Tamar river species and over time we’ll see more permanent intertidal vegetation increase like reeds which will attract more and different wildlife.”

Phase one of the project, which is now underway, will create channels to allow water to move and flow easily into the new wetlands.  It will also see the construction of an embankment that will form the boundary at the one end of the new intertidal habitat to protect existing infrastructure.

Phase two of the work, which will take place later this year, will involve creating a small breach in the existing 19th Century bank which will allow tidal waters to flow into the channels and across the field which regularly floods. This will be the beginning of the creation of a richer habitat for nature that will take place over the coming years.

Tony Flux, Coast and Marine Adviser in the South West for the National Trust commented: “This project is a good example of our ‘Shifting Shores’ coastal management principles for working on the coast and in tidal estuaries. 

“Working with nature rather than against it is a more sustainable and long-term solution – and is much less costly than a continual cycle of build and repair, which will only increase in frequency as our climate changes. To continue to repair the old embankment would have been a never-ending task. 

“The work we are doing will enable the river to behave much more naturally and adapt to the changes happening at our coastal and inter-tidal areas, which are always the first places to feel the impact of climate change.”

Rob Price, Catchment Coordinator for the Environment Agency said, “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the National Trust on this exciting project.  The Tamar Catchment faces a number of pressures on its water environment.  These include climate change which is impacting the intensity of weather events, especially rainfall and prolonged dry periods.  

“This valuable work at Cotehele is an important part of a much wider, integrated programme of works to build catchment resilience to these pressures, providing long term benefits to local wildlife, habitats and people.”  

The project is being funded by the Environment Agency Water Environment Investment Fund and the National Trust’s own Neptune Coastline Campaign – which raises money specifically for coastal projects.  

For more information see: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cotehele/intertidal 

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