Yorkshire photographer's Countryfile competition-winning picture revealed to have been taken in a studio

Wakefield-based Michelle Howell's winning photo
Wakefield-based Michelle Howell's winning photo
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A Yorkshire photographer was announced as the winner of BBC Countryfile's annual calendar competition - only for it to be revealed that her image was taken in a studio.

Michelle Howell submitted a picture of a harvest mouse eating an apple and Countryfile viewers voted for it to be chosen as the cover image for the programme's 2020 calendar.

But it was later confirmed that the photo, titled An Apple a Day, had been taken in a studio set up in a conservatory near Scarborough using captive mice.

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Although staged photos are allowed under competition rules, fans were outraged that the picture had not been taken in the wild and the BBC faced a huge backlash after the true circumstances were revealed.

Presenter John Craven even visited Michelle, who lives in Flockton, near Wakefield, to discover how she set the photo up. The wildlife photographer is a retired police detective who worked in CID.

"These are captive mice, they are on and off the endangered list, so there is no chance of you seeing any of these things in the wild. The apple was one I got from my garden, which the birds had pecked out. On the session we were doing we had the mice on some flowers and various things. I had taken the apple with me and just put it down on to a platform. The mouse will do whatever it wants to do. If it's interested it will go and have a look, if it isn’t it won’t. On that particular shot I think we only got about 12 shots before the mouse got bored.

“It’s allowed within the competition rules, but you just have to declare it when you first enter, which is what I’ve done.”

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More than 42,000 entries were submitted and a winner was chosen for each month of the year by a judging panel. The 12 pictures were then put out to public vote to enable a cover image to be selected for the charity calendar, which raises money for Children in Need.

Michelle won £1,000 worth of vouchers for camera equipment and featured in the September 29 episode of Countryfile.

The BBC was inundated with complaints from viewers on social media and via email, with many feeling they had been deceived and that only spontaneous photos should be eligible to receive the prize.

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Several other photos taken in Yorkshire will also feature on the calendar - Laura Ellis's image of a goat and its kid at Temple Newsam, near Leeds; Trevor Hupton's photo of a badger and a bluebell in Sheffield; David Lain's shot of a damselfly at Bolton-on-Swale, and Mark Duffield's picture of a seal off the coast of Ravenscar.

The 2020 Countryfile calendar costs £9.50 and it can be bought online, by post and by phone. For more information see www.bbc.co.uk/countryfile.