OTLEY'S unique wildlife arts festival shows no sign of losing momentum, as organisers and attendees of the third festival hailed its quality, variety and scope.

Wildlife Friendly Otley's Neil Griffin said “We expanded this year’s programme, just as last year’s was more ambitious than the first one, and thanks to the efforts of those involved and the response of people from all over West Yorkshire we can say it was a big success.”

At the heart of the festival was the exhibition at Otley Courthouse where the quality of work on show was widely agreed to be of high quality. It featured the work of five local creative groups: Otley Arts Club, Otley Camera Club, the Chevin Watercolour Group, the Healing Arts Group and the Drawing Club. This was augmented by work from a further 21 individuals, some amateurs, some professional artists. Depictions of wildlife and nature were made in pastels, felt, mosaic, wax, paper collage, wood, old maps, print, tiles and on Ipad. The winner of “Best in Show” was Frances Taylor’s “The Tree of Life”, which judges praised for not only its beauty and skill, but also the fact that the mosaic was made out of recycled window glass, which fitted well with the WFO ethos. Art Works again provided the prize: £80 worth of framing. Most of the framed work will remain on the Courthouse walls until October 29.

There were three well attended ticketed evening events, with contrasting styles, but featuring several strands in common as well as the appreciation of the natural world and landscape. The festival got off to a strong start with “These Hills Are Ours” featuring Daniel Bye and local musician Boff Whalley (of Chumbawamba fame). In story and song, their show was about escaping it all by running to wild places. This was the last-ever outing for These Hills Are Ours, and it was filmed for posterity, with an enthusiastic audience an appropriate background.

Saturday evening saw the winner of this year's Wainwright nature writing prize Amy-Jane Beer eloquently articulating the wonder of the natural world around us. In a question and answer format, with WFO trustee Claire Blindell taking the role of interviewer, she spoke inspirationally about how important it is for us all (and especially the young) to appreciate and fight for our precious and endangered wildlife. She was persuasive in her belief that we should emulate Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code, and have a right to roam on land and into water that is balanced by duties to other users and owners.

Finally, the public-facing part of the festival concluded with WFO patron George McGavin’s “What have insects ever done for us?” Going as far as to say that in many ways we depend on this vast group of creatures, he regaled the audience with astonishing facts, photos and videos, passionately imploring us to help reverse their decline while we can, and deploring the current use of pesticides and herbicides.

This year’s short talks programme covered a wide range of wildlife-related topics: Francesca Bridgewater spoke about the community’s purchase of Weston Woods; John Hartshorn and Sammy Mennell from the Yorkshire Rewilding Network explored local nature restoration and how YRN are using the arts to engage people; artist Tim Gomersall spoke about the surprise inclusion of familiar birds such as the Sparrows and Starlings which featured in his exhibited paintings on at-risk lists; Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society president Ian Brand spoke in defence of the much-maligned group of plants described as “weeds”; Andy Goldring spoke about permaculture and how a shift to a tree-based agriculture could boost biodiversity; and finally Andy Woodall of the Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group gave a fascinating talk about local fungi.

Neil said: “This year we wanted to give people a greater opportunity to have a go at wildlife-related art, and had a very popular linocut printing workshop led by local artist Kim Coley, plus a poetry workshop at Otley Studio devised by Sandra Flitcroft and delivered by Isabel Ruiz, that was very much enjoyed by those attending. For children, Pat Foster led two crafts workshops at the library, and Alex Eve ran his sticker art sessions again.”

Nature poems and pictures by the children of Ashfield and Pool schools featured in the main exhibition, and drew a lot of attention. On the Monday Neil and Rosie Scurfield of Microclimate Books read wildlife fiction to children at Pool; while on Tuesday George delivered his talk “The Excrement Factor: the natural history of dung” to Prince Henry’s Year 10. Next week nature author Jeanne Willis will be working with the children of Otley All Saints (sponsored by WNS).

Neil added: “The WFO festival working group of myself, Andrew McKeon, Jane Smith, Rebecca Mason and Georgina Flynn would like to thank festival sponsors Otley Town Council and Sinclairs, who as well as funding it provided paper for the workshops. We’re also indebted to the other hard-working WFO trustees, especially Helen Hey and River Six.”