River bank breached to return farmland to nature

Over the next decade, the new habitat is expected to attract a wide variety of wildlife

The site was flooded after a breach was created in the bank of the River Tamar at Cotehele, Cornwall. Photo: PA
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A milestone breach has been made in a riverbank wall as part of a ground-breaking project in Britain to return farmland to nature.

The 15-metre breach in Cornwall, south-west England, has caused tidal water from the River Tamar to flood low-grade farmland that has been cultivated since the 19th century.

In 1850, an embankment was built, allowing the land to be drained for agriculture.

The project is being funded jointly by England’s Environment Agency and the National Trust, which preserves places of natural beauty and historic interest.

It is hoped that over the next decade, the intertidal habitat will attract a wide variety of wildlife, including birds such as shelduck, redshanks and teals.

“By creating new wetland habitat similar to that found before the embankment was built, we can make space for nature and water,” said Alastair Cameron, of the National Trust.

“We’ve made a relatively small breach in the bank and now we’ll let nature and the tides take their course. It’s really exciting to see the water flowing in now with the spring tides.”

Diggers work on the new intertidal habitat in Cornwall. PA

The project will also help alleviate flooding during high tide or heavy rain by creating more space for water.

“Over the coming years we’ll start to see changes in the habitat, which should attract typical Tamar estuary species, and in time we’ll see more permanent intertidal vegetation increase like reeds, which will attract more and different wildlife,” Mr Cameron said.

“We are very much looking forward to see the new intertidal habitat establish over the next few years as the project now turns its focus to monitoring the benefits that this enhanced area will provide for local wildlife, habitats and people,” said Rob Price, of the Environment Agency.

“This valuable work is an important part of an integrated programme of works to build the Tamar catchment’s resilience to a wide range of environmental pressures, including those related to climate change.”

Updated: September 13, 2021, 11:01 PM