A MAJOR improvement project has left an Otley nature park in rude health in time for the New Year.

The popular Gallows Hill site has been given a full makeover, which has included resurfacing the footpaths and car park, to make it easier for people of all abilities to visit.

Muddy and uneven surfaces at the riverside reserve have also been treated to create new routes and ensure wheelchair and pushchair accessibility.

New gates, benches and fences have been installed, too, in a scheme that was undertaken for Otley Town Council by Wharfedale business Ben Whitehead Contractors.

Town council chairman, Councillor Ray Georgeson (Lib Dem, Danefield), said: "The completion of the footpaths and car park mark a crucial point in the strategy for the Gallows Hill Nature Area.

"The pathways will give walkers, wheelchair and pushchair users easier access around the site and will provide an extension to the riverside walk when this is completed, in the near future.

"We are now working with the Friends of Gallows Hill to improve the biodiversity on the site, as part of the wider efforts to enhance green corridors in the Wharfedale valley."

The council and the Friends of Gallows Hill hope the work – just one part of a larger strategy to protect the site's rich biodiversity – will let more residents and visitors enjoy the area.

Friends' chairman,Andrew Bolton, said: "We are really pleased with this first phase of work.

"We would like people to visit, enjoy the new paths and seats, and to also encourage them to sit, stay and enjoy the local wildlife."

Plans to create a community orchard at Gallows Hill, where residents could grow and pick their own fruit, were unveiled by Otley-based environmental group, Practically Green, earlier this year.

That scheme, which is being backed by the Friends group and the town council, which owns the land, would see a two-and-a-half-acre field cleared and turned into a dedicated fruit growing area.

Soil analysis tests will have to be carried out before the scheme can proceed, though, as much of the nature reserve was created from old sewage settlement beds, and funding will then have to be secured.

Gallows Hill, which contains several ponds, is home to many species of birds along with amphibians, including toads and newts, dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies.

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