Otterhead Estate Heritage Update October 2011

1. Somerset Rural Youth Project teams completed clearing the path beside the House Leat. Some debris and silt has been cleared from the leat now that access is easier. Inlets to three old Estate water pipelines have been found this year and an unusual rhododendron, all because of that path clearance. Some clearing was in progress more recently along the main garden path before SRYP temporarily ceased working at Otterhead.

2. The Otterhead Estate Trust made a representation to the Independent Panel on Woods and Forests.

3. Two of the Coach House yard walls were repaired partly with a grant from Somerset Gardens Trust. The unsafe condition of one of these walls had forced the temporary closure of a section of a public footpath. Additionally there had been a risk of the walls failing and causing a landslip. The Coach House and its yard are important assets at Otterhead.

4. Attention is increasingly focussing on the deteriorating walls of the two walled gardens. There is a risk that hundreds of Somerset tiles and thousands of bricks will fall making restoration even more difficult as well as compromising efforts to restore the actual garden areas.

5. Otterhead House has been registered on the Lost Country Houses of England website.

6. Rhododendron surveying has revealed that there are very few invasive Rhododendron ponticum at Otterhead; the majority of rhododendrons are very old hybrids, so old that naming will be difficult. However, rhododendrons identified include ‘Baroness Henry Schroeder’, ‘Lady Eleanor Cathcart’ and ‘Roseum Elegans’. Otterhead additionally has forms of Rhododendron maximum from North America now rare in this country as these have been superseded by later introductions.

7. Considerable efforts are being applied to the compilation of a Management Plan, register of garden plants and mapping of heritage features.

8. Since 2008 efforts have been made to eradicate the invasive Himalayan Balsam from Otterhead and this now includes working with neighbouring landowners. The aim is to eradicate this alien annual plant from the River Otter in Somerset; until this has been achieved it will be impossible to eradicate it from the River Otter in Devon where attempts are in progress to eradicate it from tributaries.

9. It is still believed that Otterhead has one of only three surviving acetylene gas plants in this country and the dilapidated chained railings or continuous fencing are also believed to be unusual. These and the forms of Rhododendron maximum were all relatively common in former times. It is unfortunate that the Otterhead Estate Trust’s lease was not in place for applications to be made for Local Heritage Initiative and BBC Breathing Places funding.

10. Heritage restoration at Otterhead is to some extent constrained by important water supply and wildlife management issues.


Roy Coombs, Project Co-ordinator, The Otterhead Estate Trust Company Ltd. .