A GROUP of volunteers have put up hand-painted signs highlighting some of the most important and threatened features of the East of Otley site, including wildlife, trees for climbing, and access for walkers and dogs.

It is part of an ongoing campaign by The East of Otley Action Group. The group has been created in response to a plan to build 550 new homes and a relief road on greenspace on the outskirts of the town.

The group includes Otley 2030, Otley Community Land Trust, Wildlife Friendly Otley, Otley Nature Network, Wharfedale Naturalists and Cambridge Estate Residents, as well as other community, faith, and business groups.

The new signs were painted by Otley-based artist and photographer, Casey Orr, using wood and paints donated by the community.

Casey said: “I wanted to get involved because art can be empowering even with this small intervention. I make hand-painted signs as a way to incorporate this traditional craft into the public life of our town and community. The signs act as public art, but they also signpost people to the Otley 2030 website, where they can get involved and find out more about what the East of Otley Action Group is trying to achieve for Otley.

“The signs are there to be enjoyed for themselves, to raise awareness and hopefully bring some joy - and help people to remember the fields and wildlife spaces in the town belong to them, to everyone.”

Casey was joined by senior ecologist, Gordon Haycock, who is working alongside The East of Otley Action Group.

Gordon said: “This wildlife habitat is so important for the people of Otley: When we voted for the Neighbourhood Plan, which has a policy to protect this wildlife corridor, we thought it would be safe!

“Today the trees are filled with starlings, hedgehogs are hibernating, and we have all enjoyed watching the barn owls hunting voles in the long grass this winter. The proposed new development must protect and retain these habitats for both people and wildlife!”

The group is aware of how important the area is to local people, and particularly young people, for which the fields have become an important haven during the extended lockdowns over the past year.

“My son escapes to the fields regularly,” added Casey. “He climbs the trees, listens to music and escapes lockdown life in this way by being outside, in nature, where things make sense during these strange times. We need these spaces, for ourselves, our children and their future.”

The campaign to save the wildlife corridor was featured in the national press at the weekend when writer Carey Davies, an Otley resident, wrote in The Guardian about the planned development.

In the article headlined: Country Diary: a battle to protect birdsong and biodiversity, the writer describes hearing the song of a mistle thrush while on a walk through the fields to the east of Otley.

He says: “...there is one opponent that the bird, if it still finds itself here in the near future, will be powerless to resist. Under a plan for a development of 550 homes and a major new road, currently being pushed through the planning process by Leeds city council, this little wilderness, which is a rich tangle of bramble, bees and butterflies in summer, and perhaps two miles worth of hedgerows, streams and scrub – prime housing for hedgehogs and barn owls – will be erased. Campaigners believe that unless more protective measures are built into the plans from the start, local wildlife will be permanently damaged.”

The East of Otley Action Group is now fundraising to take legal advice in order to present the strongest case for local wildlife and the community and to influence the imminent planning application.

The group is asking people to donate if they can: https://www.gofundme.com/f/east-of-otley-development-community-legal-advice