First wildlife arts festival to launch in Yorkshire town with Blue Planet cameraman Ian McCarthy

A camera's click captures a predator's threat while its tiny prey quivers in fear.

Wildlife Friendly Otley is to host the UK's first wildlife arts festival, showcasing art from photography to sculpture to poetry and embroidery, with one of Britain's top wildlife filmmakers Ian McCarthy headlining. Pictured local photographer Huw Williams on Otley Chevin. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Such moments of stolen nature, as seen in amateur photographer Huw Williams's archive, are now to feature in the UK's first wildlife arts festival of its kind.

This vast showcase of artistic mix, from art to crafts, embroidery, mosaics and textile design, will display in the Otley Wildlife Arts Festival as it celebrates homegrown talent and with a headline talk from Blue Planet cameramen and film maker Ian McCarthy.

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More than that, the festival aims to shine a light on the area's unfettered wildlife access, from its famous Chevin to riverside weirs.

Some of the wildlife images captured by Otley amateur photographer Huw Williams.

"Everybody has an exciting wildlife experience they remember," said Mr Williams, a keen photographer who captured most of these images from his garden at home.

"Wherever you are, these moments stick with you, and they are always magical. For me as a photographer it's the challenge of it. You never know what you're going to see.

"And what lockdown taught me is that we don't have to travel far to have our own escapes."

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Some of the wildlife images captured by Otley amateur photographer Huw Williams.

The Wildlife Arts Festival, to be held on Saturday October 2 at Otley Courthouse, is organised by Wildlife Friendly Otley.

It is believed to be not just the first of its kind in the region but across the whole of the UK, and potentially Europe-wide.

Alongside artists' displays, Otley writers and poets will give readings of work featuring wildlife and nature, with the festival culminating in a special headline event from one of the nation's top wildlife filmmakers.

Internationally renowned photographer Ian McCarthy, best known for Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Autumn Watch, will speak in a ticketed evening event.

Some of the wildlife images captured by Otley amateur photographer Huw Williams.

Engaging with nature

Neil Griffin, education officer for Wildlife Friendly Otley, said that while the West Yorkshire market town had a reputation for festivals, this was a chance to engage with the nature that surrounds it.

He once travelled to Wales to see a Red Kite, he laughed, before the booming success of their reintroduction to the nearby Harewood estate means they are now an increasingly common sight.

"We are quite lucky in that, even in the gardens of Otley, there are quite remarkable things to be seen," he said. "The otters are back, the rivers are changing, and wildflowers spring up on old railway lines.

"Nature is becoming even more prominent in our lives, and more important," he added. "We can become complacent about it, but you don't need to go on safari to find this stuff, its all on our doorsteps."

Showcase of talent

The Sinclairs' sponsored festival will feature creative groups such as the Otley Camera Club, the Chevin Watercolour Group, Otley Writers, Otley Poetry Stanza and Otley Sewing Collective.

Because it's a first, added chairman Andrew McKeon, nobody really knows what to expect.

"As far as we know, nobody has ever done this before, but it's a way of celebrating what we've got," he said.

"It's a way of celebrating our wildlife, so that people can enjoy it more and value it. People have found a lot of solace and inspiration in being outdoors."

Admission to the festival at Otley Courthouse will be free for the daytime exhibition, displays and the performances by writers and poets.

Tickets for the evening headline event featuring Ian McCarthy will be priced at £10 and available through the Courthouse.

Sonic nature trail

The event runs alongside a sonic nature trail in the town, launched this summer as part of the Otley Walking Festival.

This hugely innovative trail, from Hope and Social musician James Hamilton, features over 200 hours of field recordings of wildlife from Otley and its surrounding nature reserves.

Plaques in places through the town, from Gallows Hill to the Courthouse Courtyard, feature QR codes which link to a unique soundpiece of music, such as early morning swifts over the town as market stalls are pitched.

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