Otley Wildlife Arts Festival: Organisers hope people build more connections with nature

It was held for the first time last year, believed to be the first festival in the country celebrating nature and wildlife in the arts. Now, it’s back for a second round and organisers hope the Otley Wildlife Arts Festival will build on its inaugural success.

Andrew McKeon is the chairman of Wildlife Friendly Otley, which runs the event. “Our mission is to encourage people to take an interest in nature and wildlife and become more wildlife friendly,” he says. “One of the ways of doing that is to introduce them to people who write, talk about, film, paint, design and make music about the natural world, to appeal to a wider audience than just existing nature lovers. One of our aims is to celebrate the natural world. When people enjoy nature, they learn to love it and once they learn to love it, they want to protect nature, because the natural world has suffered devastation over the past 40 years or so due to loss of habitats, due to pollution, pesticides and over-development. We want to encourage people to be more wildlife friendly with what they do in everyday lives.”

Established in 2018, Wildlife Friendly Otley is a small charity with a big vision – to make Otley the first ‘wildlife friendly town’ in the UK. Working with local nature and environmental groups, it aims to set an example of how towns can be rich in nature and wildlife and to educate people around conservation and protection.

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Opening its Otley Wildlife Arts Festival this year will be Simon Barnes, one of the UK’s best-selling nature writers. Barnes, who has been writing on wildlife and conservation for more than 30 years, will appear at Otley Courthouse for a talk about his life and wildlife, marking the start of the two-day festival on Friday, October 15. Festival organisers will also welcome back top cameraman and film-maker Ian McCarthy for Saturday’s headline festival event at the Courthouse. McCarthy, who has worked on the likes of Blue Planet, Autumn Watch, Life in the Freezer and Planet Earth will present a new show, Howling With Wolves, sharing footage and stories from his exploits.

Cameraman Ian McCarthy will do a show at Otley Wildlife Arts Festival.Cameraman Ian McCarthy will do a show at Otley Wildlife Arts Festival.
Cameraman Ian McCarthy will do a show at Otley Wildlife Arts Festival.

On the Saturday, there will be a free exhibition featuring ten new artists to join last year's painters, sculptors, photographers, and writers, including a world champion wood carver. Creative and wildlife groups will have stalls at the Courthouse, and there will be talks on subjects such as bees, birds, barn owls, rewilding and climate change. And new this year will be live music and poetry performances on the theme of wildlife and a presentation on wellbeing in nature. Neil Griffin, one of the lead organisers, says: “By supporting this event people can enjoy celebrating our wonderful wildlife, whilst at the same time helping the important work of Wildlife Friendly Otley.”

Tickets cost £10 for each evening event on the Friday and Saturday of the festival are available from Otley Courthouse. More details of the festival, which is being supported by Sinclairs of Otley, Leeds City Council, Wharfedale Naturalist Society and Otley Town Council, can be found at www.otleycourthouse.org.uk

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