A CAMPAIGN to make Otley one of the UK’s first Wildlife Friendly Towns is being backed by a leading naturalist.

Author Mark Cocker sent a personal message of support for the campaign’s official launch on Wednesday, January 30.

He said: “Otley’s Wildlife Friendly Town is a terrific idea: timely, necessary and planted where all great ideas are born - at the grassroots! May it grow and flourish far and wide.”

More than 40 people, including guest speakers from all of the town’s main wildlife-related groups, attended the launch night at Clitherow House.

Andrew McKeon from Wildlife Friendly Otley said the campaign would support those groups by increasing community involvement and finding innovative ways to protect, celebrate and enhance the area’s flora and fauna.

He said: “By creating Otley as a wildlife friendly town we can set an example of how towns can be rich in nature and wildlife; making it an even more attractive place to live, work and visit.

“Otley is well situated as an excellent location for enjoying wildlife, with two designated nature reserves, the Chevin Forest and the River Wharfe.

“We’d like to thank all those who attended the launch and Otley Town Council for the very positive response and offers of support.

“It is a real boost to our ambition to create a wildlife friendly town here.

“We believe Otley would be the first town in Britain to do this.

“Our wildlife in Britain has suffered huge losses in the last 50 years and is under continuous threat, so as Mark Cocker says, this project is extremely timely.”

Representatives from Gallows Hill Nature Area, Otley Chevin, Otley in Bloom, Otley Swift Watch and Wharfedale Naturalists Society were among those who attended and spoke.

A discussion session was then held to discuss priorities and an action plan for the year ahead.

Proposals which are to be explored further include:

*Conducting a survey of the town’s wildlife

*Creating a website as an information hub on local species and habitats

*Starting a supporters’ scheme and seeeking sponsorship opportunities.

Also visiting on the night was Town Council Chair Councillor Ray Georgeson (Lib Dem, Danefield).

He said: “I was pleased to see such good support for this valuable new initiative and congratulations to Andrew McKeon and River Six for getting this off the ground.

“The town council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee has awarded a grant to the group for the production of an initial introductory leaflet guide to the wildlife of Otley, and we wish them well as they develop their ideas to make Otley the first Wildlife Friendly Town in England.”

To find out more about Wildlife Friendly Otley and how to get involved send an e-mail to wildlifefriendlyotley@gmail.com .