Wildlife artist Robert Fuller's new exhibition opening on Saturday celebrates the Northern Forest and the creatures that will live there, says LARA LAMBERT

A red squirrel scampers along a slippery-smooth branch; a fox peers out from behind a solid tree trunk; owls blink in dappled sunlight: these are just some of the woodland scenes captured by artist Robert E Fuller for a new art exhibition at his gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire from Saturday, June 16th – Sunday July 8th.

Designed to celebrate the quiet beauty of England’s ancient woods, the event was inspired by plans for a ‘northern forest’ announced earlier this year.

“I was so heartened when I heard about the commitment from the government to plant more trees across the north of England. So much of our wildlife depends on trees,” explained Robert.

The proposed forest is to be managed by the Woodland Trust and will involve planting 50 million trees along 120 miles of land that stretches from Liverpool to Hull, with the M62 along its spine.

The project has already secured £5.7m worth of funding from the government and will involve turning cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull green.

“I think it’s a fantastic project and I’d like to do what I can to support it. New pockets of woodland like this will provide essential habitat for so much wildlife,” he added.

“The plans to plant green fringes around traditionally industrial northern cities like Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Hull, will mean more places for wildlife to live. And a plan to provide connected wildlife corridors will allow so many species to thrive.”

The artist, whose thorough research into animal behaviour often features on TV, uses surveillance cameras to study the lives of wild creatures in minute detail. His exhibition will show the best of his footage alongside live nest cameras showing baby owls and kestrels as they grow.

These cameras offer a direct view into the day to day lives of these bird families and visitors can enjoy scenes such as messy mealtimes and sibling rivalry throughout the exhibition.

The images of barn owlets will be transmitted live from inside a nest box carved by the artist from an old elm stump.

This nest box also features in a short film also on display at this exhibition. The film, about how a single tree stump in Robert’s garden sustains a multitude of wild species, follows seven different creatures, including owls, a stoat and a tree creeper, as they visit the stump to feed or shelter over the course of a week.

“Trees support so much life. I found this elm stump 10 years ago and adapted it as a nest box for owls to live in. I suspect the tree died of Dutch Elm disease decades ago. And yet here it is all these years after it died, still keeping other species alive,” explained Robert.

The elm also appears as a backdrop to a number of the new paintings on show. In one a fledgling tawny owl chick clutches tentatively at the jagged edge of a natural hollow in the stump. In another a mature barn owl turns back from its perch at this same entrance.

“I decided to include as much of the elm bark in the composition of this painting as possible. I think it really gives you the sensation you get when you spot a barn owl perched in a tree in the wild and your eye has to pick out the buff-colour of the barn owl from the background,” said Robert.

The collection includes paintings that are the result of hours spent watching animals in woods and forests across Yorkshire.

“My latest painting of red squirrels features a particularly cheeky pair I watched in the Yorkshire Dales. I spent days getting to know them and photographing them in an array of poses before returning to my studio to work on this new composition,” said Robert.

“And one of my fox paintings features a vixen I watched in Dalby Forest. This fox was so bold it was well known by day trippers for the way it brazenly trotted along the paths in the forest brushing past cyclists and walkers without a care.

“Later I returned to Dalby to look for its cubs. But this time the vixen was very secretive and I struggled to get a good enough photograph to paint from.”

The display also includes paintings of animals Robert has devoted a lifetime to watching in the wild. Among them are portraits of badgers and owls living near his home and gallery on the Yorkshire Wolds.

“I watch a family of badgers every night from a treetop hide here near my gallery and I’ve painted nearly every one of them,” he explained.

Robert, whose gallery ranks top of a TripAdvisor guide to the best art galleries in Yorkshire for the way it involves visitors in Robert’s unique wildlife world, plans to display the best of his photographs alongside the new art collection.

He has also organised guided walks into woodland on the Yorkshire Wolds, including Allerthorpe and Millington Woods, for visitors to see real owls, birds and woodland wildlife.

Wild Woods runs from June 16th to July 8th at Robert’s gallery at Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, North Yorkshire. See www.robertefuller.com for more information.