Striking images of British wildlife and the beautiful landscapes it shares have been chosen as winners of a national photography competition which aims to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the natural world.
Two Yorkshire photographers have been named among the winners after judges of this year’s British Wildlife Photography Awards sifted through thousands of captivating entries submitted by both amateur and professional photographers.
George Stoyle, from Muston, North Yorkshire, won the overall prize of £5,000 for his image of a young fish taking refuge among the stinging tentacles of a giant lion’s mane jellyfish. He captured the scene in the sea off Scotland during a project to assess the biology of major sea caves off remote UK islands.
After landing the top prize, Mr Stoyle said: “At the end of one of the dives I was swimming back to the boat when I came face-to-face with the largest jellyfish I’ve ever encountered.
“As I approached cautiously I noticed that a number of juvenile fish had taken refuge inside the stinging tentacles.”
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK which sponsored the coast and marine category in the awards, which was also won by Mr Stoyle with his top prize photograph, said the competition celebrated the diversity, splendour and drama of UK wildlife.
“This year’s winning image is a striking example of the natural beauty and variety of life we have within and around our shores, as well as the skill and artistry of our wildlife photographers.
“The photo exquisitely captures the voluptuous frills and folds, and kaleidoscope colours of this giant jellyfish.
“But it’s the jelly’s piscean ‘stowaways’ that make this picture, a shoal of shimmering, glistening juvenile fish finding safe harbour amongst the tangle of tentacles.”
Among the other winning entries were vivid photographs of seeds caught in a cobweb, close-ups of baby spiders and tadpoles, a black and white image of a bird flying past a skyscraper lost in fog and a series of images which follow a common weasel through the seasons which was shot by Country Week’s very own Robert Fuller.
The wildlife artist and regular columnist shot his series of photographs of a family of weasels living in his garden in Thixendale, North Yorkshire, and were taken to be studied for paintings.
They feature weasels in the first flowers of spring right through to the moment the young kits encounter their first winter snows.
The series has won the 2016 British Wildlife Photography Awards’ ‘British Seasons’ category.
Weasels are so small and lithe that there have been very few studies of their behaviour and Mr Fuller’s photographs offer a unique insight into the secretive behaviour of these tiny mammals.
The artist devoted hours to watching and recording a female weasel after he first noticed it slinking through a flower border in his garden.
“I wanted to encourage her to stay in the garden so I designed little wooden feeding boxes, big enough for the weasel to slip in to but too small for a stoat or other creatures to get in,” he explained.
“Once I had her ‘trained’ as a reliable visitor I turned the entire back garden into a sort of ‘weasel town’. I built drystone walls, piled up logs and branches for her to climb over and even dug a mini-reflection pond.
“I placed 12 surveillance cameras at strategic points and linked these to TV screens inside my studio and gallery so that I could track her every move. In this way I followed her story from the moment she was mated to the birth of her kits. It was a real privilege to get such a close-up view of this tiny family through the seasons.”
Mr Fuller’s photographic record begins in spring with the female weasel popping her head out of a blossoming mound of pink saxifrage and goes on to record summer with an image of the female weasel carrying one of her seven kits to a safe new nest.
“The kits were just 17 days old and she carried them one by one with such a delicate grasp. It was so touching to see this gentle behaviour in a mammal known for its ruthless nature,” Mr Fuller said.
For autumn, the series features a photograph of one of the male kits looking out through a pile of roots and leaves. Underneath the roots was one of Mr Fuller’s feeding boxes.
And winter is portrayed with a portrait of a weasel kit looking out on its first snows.
“I was struck by how pristine the tiny predator looked against the white snow,” the artist said.
“It was as though he had dressed for the occasion. His whiskers were perfectly symmetrical, his bib as clean as the surrounding snow.”
He added: “A family of weasels has never been followed for a year in the wild. It would have been impossible without my surveillance cameras and alarm systems and motion sensors.
“I photographed them from the kitchen window - you have to have it set up very close to home to be able to capture these very rare moments otherwise you would have missed them.”
The winning images can be seen at www.bwpawards.co.uk
PICTURES TO FORM EXHIBITION
Pictures were awarded in 15 categories, including an urban wildlife section won by an image of a starling on a supermarket trolley and a documentary series which recorded efforts to track rare harvest mice.
In the junior categories, 18-year-old Rebecca Bunce from Reading won for her Kung Fu Puffins shot of the seabirds tussling on Skomer Island, Wales, and 10-year-old Seren Waite from London scooped top prize for a shot called Cygnet with Swan.
The winning pictures are going on display in a touring exhibition and will be included in a coffee table book.
The winners received their awards from TV naturalist Mark Cawardine at a ceremony in the Mall Galleries in London last week.