OTLEY'S first wildlife festival has been deemed a huge success.

The event is thought to have been the first of its kind in the UK - and organisers Wildlife Friendly Otley said they were delighted with the response from visitors and exhibitors alike.

“The feedback we’ve had has been great,” said Neil Griffin, WFO education officer. “We’ll definitely do it again. It has both furthered our aims and given the talented artists of the town a platform”.

Altogether six local creative groups were involved at the Courthouse, plus a further 22 individuals, both amateur and professional. All were sharing their creative response to the wonder of nature, but there was a great variety in the way that they did this. As well as painters and photographers, poets and prose-writers, there were embroiderers (Amelia Thackray and Amy Wilson), a mosaic-maker (Frances Taylor), a textile designer (Vanessa Plews) and a felt maker (Liz St Clair). Groups represented included Otley Healing Arts and the Chevin Watercolour Group, who like several others were exhibiting for the first time. Other artists on show were Carole Gaunt, whose representation of a summer meadow greeted people as they entered the building, Helen Broughton with her stylish posters, Janis Goodman, whose etchings were much appreciated, and WFO’s own River Six with his distinctive paintings of geese. A painting by Ian Hobson which won Otley2030’s Irish Fields competition was on show, as were three contrasting pieces by Martyn Smith. The younger generation were well-represented by the drawings of Maeve Colman and Evelyn Bussey. Several children’s art activities were available on the day in the Robing Room.

Photography was particularly well represented, with animal close-ups captured by Otley Camera Club members, plus Huw Williams, Steve Davey, Helen Walker, Helen Sky Roberts, Richard Greenwood, Morgan Caygill, and Helen Boardman.

Shane Green – “the Yorkshire Carver” – gave a demonstration of wood-sculpting with a chainsaw. He did this in the grounds of Art Works, who also sponsored the Best in Show prize, which was won by Amelia for her thread drawing of a house martin. Several groups and individuals had fund-raising stalls in the Courtroom. The WFO stall featured their pledge tree, a raffle with prizes donated by Courtyard Planters and Petwise, plus Co-op Funeral Care’s wildlife calendars. Composed of birds and animals photographed by Hollie Rushton in the Co-op garden on Cross Green, these sold out, though more can be bought directly for £8. Although it wasn’t the primary aim of the festival, several hundred pounds-worth of art was sold.

The exhibition took up several rooms at the Courthouse, and in the Art Room there were well-attended wildlife talks. River Six spoke about gardening for wildlife; Diane Cook about the Prickly Pigs hedgehog rescue centre she runs in Otley; and Maggie Brown gave a presentation about local bats. In the afternoon Anne Riley gave a talk titled “The Little Things That Run the World: the Importance of Insects”, after which her husband Peter spoke about “Washburn Valley Birds as a Barometer of Environmental Change”.

Otley Poetry Stanza recited their poems inspired by wildlife, and later the Otley Writers group read out their work. Richard Marsh and Otley Town Poet Matthew Stoppard spoke about their poetry walk project inspired by woodcock on the Chevin and available on the Echoes app. Guardian columnist and editor of the Great Outdoors magazine, Carey Davies, offered an insight into the processes of nature writing.

Further afield, the Otley Sewing Collective organised a toy animal trail for families at Gallows Hill nature park. Saturday marked the final day of Eavesdrop, James Hamilton’s sonic nature trail around Otley featuring music inspired by local wildlife and using sounds of nature recorded there.

The festival closed with a well-received presentation by BAFTA and Emmy-winning wildlife cameraman Ian McCarthy, who had travelled from his home in Cornwall. The man behind footage in many well-known nature programmes such as Blue Planet and Autumnwatch, he also filmed the iconic footage of Barnacle Geese goslings hurling themselves off towering cliffs before they could fly in order to join their parents below. Identifying himself as a naturalist first and a cameraman second, he thought that his passion for and empathy with nature was key to getting good shots. His travels to far-flung places had also produced a string of comical experiences, including when on a toilet trip he scared off a polar bear, and the occasion when he was woken by a lemming’s sneeze. As well as showing and linking awe-inspiring wildlife in far-off places and close to home, he expressed grave concern for the prospects of nature and the wider planet unless we act now. He linked work he does with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and that of Wildlife Friendly Otley.

“We were a little worried that Covid, the weather and the road closures might reduce visitor numbers,” said Neil Griffin. “But the festival was well-attended. Some of the work remains on the walls for people to see until October 30.”

Wildlife Friendly Otley chair Andrew McKeon said: “ We were delighted with the response of visitors as we didn’t know what to expect with a first event of this type. Wildlife as shown through a variety of media from photography and paintings to the spoken word and in film obviously struck a chord. We are grateful to all our participants for putting on such a great show and for the support we received from Otley Town Council and our sponsors, Sinclair’s.”