The winning pictures of The Great British Wildlife Photography Challenge
November 2, 2019
Patience, perseverance, a large slice of expertise and a little dash of luck. They all play their part in taking the perfect photograph, according to the winners of our Great British Wildlife Photography Challenge.
We had no idea when we first launched the competition back in 2014 that it would strike such a chord with our wildlife-loving readers, but over the years it’s snowballed into one of the country’s most prestigious photography contests.Once again we invited all amateur photographers to send in their photos of creatures in their natural British habitat, and once again you responded in your thousands.
From speckled bush crickets to majestic stags, graceful swans to busy bees, we were inundated with the most astonishing images, and today we announce the winners and let them tell us the stories behind their pictures.
In the unanimous opinion of the judges, one shot carried the day: Ian Brown’s exquisite study of a red kite resting in a tree is an image that would grace the wall of any home, as it does the cover of this issue.
The competition was split into five categories: Birds/ Insects/Reptiles Fish & Molluscs/Mammals and a Junior category for under-18s.
Ian, like the other four category winners, is now the proud recipient of a Nikon D5500 digital camera, lenses, a memory card and a year’s free subscription to Nikon Owner magazine, a package worth £1,000.
As overall winner, Ian also wins a trip to the Camargue in the south of France with award-winning wildlife photographer Simon Stafford, one of our technical judges, for a masterclass in photographing the region’s famous wild horses, flamingos and bulls.
Simon spoke for everyone at the end of the day’s judging. ‘I’ve been a judge every year since this competition launched and I can honestly say the standard of entry this time has taken the quality to a new level,’ he said, as the six other judges nodded in agreement.
So now savour the stunning studies from our winners and runners-up over the following pages – and don’t forget that you can see all these shots and more at our FREE exhibition this coming week at London’s Mall Galleries, just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
Red Kite by Ian Brown
Winning this year’s presitigious photography competition was Ian Brown’s picture of a red kite resting in a tree. Ian said the bird had been preening its feathers when it put its head up and glanced over its shoulder in his direction
Ian didn’t take up photography until he was 21, when his father died. ‘That was 32 years ago, and I inherited his old Minolta X-700 film camera,’ he recalls.
‘My mum liked painting so I used it to take shots of landscapes for her. But I’ve always been interested in wildlife in general and birds in particular, and I gradually started concentrating on that.’
He works as an engineer in Rochdale and lives about three-quarters of an hour away in Bolton. There’s nothing he likes better than going out at the weekend, camera in hand, to places of natural beauty.
Meet out expert judges
Judges: (Back row) David Suchet, Gillian Burke, Deborah Meaden and Sally Fear. Front row: Matt Baker and Simon Stafford
DAVID SUCHET: One of our most distinguished actors on stage and screen, David is a keen photographer like his famous Fleet Street grandfather, James Jarché, and is returning as our Judge Emeritus.
MATT BAKER: A former member of the Blue Peter team, Matt is now one of TV’s best-known stars as co-host of BBC1’s The One Show and a presenter on Countryfile.
DEBORAH MEADEN: Renowned as a regular on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den, Deborah has worked with both the World Wildlife Fund and the Marine Conservation Society.
GILLIAN BURKE: The biologist and film-maker joined the BBC’s Autumnwatch presenting team in September 2016. Born in Kenya, she now lives in Cornwall.
SALLY FEAR: A highly respected photographer, Sally concentrates on the wildlife in the New Forest where she lives.
SIMON STAFFORD: Award-winning wildlife photographer Simon is the technical editor of Nikon Owner magazine.
He’ll accompany our winner to photograph horses, bulls and flamingos in the Camargue.
GRAY LEVETT: The owner of top camera shop Grays of Westminster, Gray is also editor of Nikon Owner magazine and a former photographer himself.
‘I’m not far from mid-Wales, Yorkshire and the Lake District, so there are plenty of locations to choose from and plenty of birds to photograph.’
Ian, who used to do his own black-and-white processing, switched to a Canon in his late 20s and gradually built up to using 500mm telephoto lenses.
‘But they were expensive and heavy, so more recently I’ve downscaled to Sony A Series cameras and lenses. If I like the shot I’ve captured I sometimes share it online on The Nature Photographers’ Portfolio. Mostly though, this is a hobby I do for my own enjoyment.’
The winning shot was taken near a red kite feeding station, where visitors can watch from specially made hides as the birds come in for food laid out for them, in Dumfries where Ian went with a friend.
‘By the 1970s the breed had been hunted almost to extinction,’ he says. ‘There was only one mating pair left in mid-Wales. But there’s been a big drive to repopulate the UK with red kites and there are now more than 2,000 breeding pairs.
‘It was autumn. It had been raining and there was still a fine drizzle. I was about 150ft away on open ground with my back against a tree when I took this shot.
‘The bird had been preening its feathers when it put its head up and glanced over its shoulder in my direction. I knew I had something a bit special. Even so, I can’t believe I’m the winner in this category.
‘I’ve never won anything in my life before. And to be the overall winner and get a masterclass in the Camargue from Simon Stafford, well, it’s simply unbelievable.’
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID ABOUT OUR WINNER
‘The softness of the berries and their beautiful colour complement the bird’s plumage and contrast with the harshness of the wood. An outstanding photograph.’ Matt Baker
‘This is a brilliant shot. Birds in flight are notoriously difficult to photograph well so having it sitting in a tree with its head turned towards the photographer gives you the opportunity to see all its beautiful plumage against the red hawthorn berries.’ Gray Levett
‘It’s the combination of textures and colours that sets this photograph apart – the feathers, the berries, the wood. They’re all so different and yet they somehow complement one another.’ Sally Fear
‘This is also a celebration of the fact that the red kite, endangered for some years, is now making something of a comeback. And the eye contact gives such a powerful connection.’ Gillian Burke
‘This was taken in the rain; just look at the bird’s feathers. But I like the overall slightly soft quality the moisture lends to the picture. It ticks all the boxes of what you want in a wildlife photograph, a study of a beautiful bird trying to survive in the wild.’ Simon Stafford
‘I don’t quite know how the photographer has achieved this but the colour of the berries doesn’t swamp the study of the bird, it sets it off. And I like the fact the kite looks a bit dishevelled, a real bird going about its business.’ Deborah Meaden
‘I think the bird has just heard the photographer, which is why its head is turned back. Ian’s exquisitely caught a moment in time.’ David Suchet
Kingfisher by David Moase
David Moase, 45, from Essex, was given a runner-up award for his incredible picture of a kingfisher resting on a log. The amateur photographer said the bird was unbothered by his presence, allowing him to take around 250 shots over five minutes
David, 45, who lives in Bocking, Essex, and works in telecommunications, insists he just got lucky with this image of a kingfisher.
‘I’d gone to Paper Mill Lock, which is about half an hour from where I live, because there’s a good tea room there and plenty of wildlife.
‘I was enjoying a walk when I spotted this kingfisher as it flew on to a log.
‘It seemed completely unbothered by my presence, which meant I could take something like 250 shots over five minutes with my Nikon D500 camera using a Sigma 600mm lens. I was about 20ft away.’
Gray Levett says: ‘Pictures of kingfishers are usually action shots of them hurtling into the water after their prey. What this captures is the silent anticipation of the vigilant bird. And the exquisite colours are highlighted by the dark background.’
Gillian Burke says: ‘I think this is outstanding. The bird is striking an almost balletic pose. And you don’t normally see kingfishers so calm and composed.’
Cygnets by Richard Hamblin
Also coming in at the runner-up position was Richard Hamblin, 55, a project manager with Nottingham City Council, who came across these cygnets floating on the water and decided to take a picture
Richard, 55, a project manager with Nottingham City Council, likes to go out once a month with his Nikon D800 camera to capture shots of wildlife.
Walking beside the Erewash Canal not far from his home in Bramcote, he came across these cygnets floating on the water.
‘It was nine in the morning but already hot, and I’m pretty certain they were asleep. They certainly weren’t aware of me on the bank only six metres or so away.’
David Suchet says: ‘To me, it looks as though the curtain has just gone up on a ballet. It’s almost as if this photograph has been choreographed.’
WINNER: REPTILES, FISH & MOLLUSCS
Toads by James Eaton
Winner of the reptiles, fish and molluscs category was James Eaton 72, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire. The heavy goods driver was at the Lake District when he saw the toads and decided to take the candid snap
After leaving the Army, James, 72, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, was a heavy goods driver for 30 years.
‘I’m keen on reptiles and I keep snakes. My wife’s from Malacca in Malaysia, a country that has a lot of snakes, and therefore she was raised to fear them.
‘I can’t change her feelings about snakes so she keeps away from my reptile room! I always have a camera in my backpack when we go out walking.
‘The Lake District is the perfect place to find interesting wildlife and scenery, and when I was there one day in early spring my eye had been caught by a stork trying to catch frogs when I noticed these toads in what looked like a mating ritual. It has a sort of other-worldly quality to me.’
Sally Fear says: ‘This is a most unusual shot. The more you look, the more there is to see.’
RUNNER-UP: REPTILES, FISH & MOLLUSCS
Snail by Adele Price
Adele Price, 69, a former occupational health centre administrator from Bradwell, Norfolk, found this snail in an elderflower plant during spring
So keen is Adele, 69, a former occupational health centre administrator from Bradwell, Norfolk, on photography that she joined a Facebook group dedicated to it on her retirement.
‘You get set a daily theme and have to go out and locate the relevant subject, so you might find me in a field peering into hedgerows.
‘It was spring and I found this snail in an elderflower plant.
‘I think it may have fallen there. I used my Nikon D3100 to record this study, which reminds me of Brian the snail in The Magic Roundabout.’
David Suchet says: ‘This isn’t the sort of slimy snail you often imagine. I like the fact it looks as though it’s taking a flower home on its back.’
RUNNER-UP: REPTILES, FISH & MOLLUSCS
Grass Snake by Gary Cox
Gary, 59, a groundsman in Cirencester, Glos, spotted this grass snake in his garden and started snapping with his Canon 1D
Gary, 59, a groundsman in Cirencester, Glos, spotted this grass snake in his garden.
‘The snake lays its eggs in our compost heap. I saw it about 5ft away so I got down on my stomach and started snapping with my Canon 1D. He didn’t seem bothered by me, and I wasn’t concerned because grass snakes rarely bite.’
David Suchet says: ‘The markings are exquisite, but still there’s a hint of menace. To be honest, I’m not all that comfortable with this, which is why I admire it.’
Stag tossing its head by Bartek Olszewski
Bartek Olszewski, 37, from Roehampton, south-west London, was on his way home from his night shift when he saw this stag and decided to take the incredible picture
It was March and Bartek, 37, who lives in Roehampton, south-west London, was going home from his night shift as a security officer when he saw this stag.
‘I’d been a bit depressed because I’d recently lost my mum so I decided to go to Richmond Park as the sun was rising. I love wildlife and photography: I find them very soothing.
Across clear ground I suddenly spotted this stag tossing its head, trying to free its antlers of snow-covered foliage,’ says Bartek, who was a runner-up in our 2014 competition with a photo of two rutting stags.
‘He stopped for a second and that’s when I took this shot with my Nikon D4S using a telephoto lens. I’m used to the habits of the deer in the park but I got extra lucky that day.’
David Suchet says: ‘Sensational! I love this frozen moment, although there has obviously been huge movement a second beforehand. It’s a study full of drama, speed, power, action – and then stillness.’
Vixen and three cubs by Vernon Barker
Vernon Barker, 81, from Dronfield, Derbyshire, was sat at a reserve when he spotted this vixen and her cubs suddenly appear out of the undergrowth about 50 yards away
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve near Doncaster isn’t far from where Vernon, 81, lives in Dronfield, Derbyshire.
‘I went and sat in a hide at the reserve at about 7.30 in the morning. Around midday, this vixen and her cubs suddenly appeared out of the undergrowth about 50 yards away.
‘I used my Canon EOS-1D as she led her brood across the water on what looked like an educational expedition. I know from experience that you have to be patient in this game and grab your chances when you can. No animal is going to pose for you.’
Deborah Meaden says: ‘It feels like there’s a lot of learning going on in this shot. The mother is taking her brood out to show them the ropes. Soon they’ll have to fend for themselves.‘
Stag sitting down by Pawel Zygmunt
Pawel Zygmunt, 39, who works in air traffic control at Dublin Airport, was on holiday in Glen Coe in the Highlands of Scotland, when he saw a stag sitting stock still and decided to take the picture
Pawel, 39, who works in air traffic control at Dublin Airport, was on a week’s holiday in Glen Coe in the Highlands of Scotland, with the specific intention of photographing the wildlife there.
‘I came across this stag sitting stock still, surrounded by those amazing mountains, and he let me take as many shots as I wanted from only four metres away. I used a wide-angle lens on my Nikon D810 camera so I could capture the full panorama. It was about two hours before sunset, which is why the colours are so rich.’
Matt Baker says: ‘It’s such an iconic mammal that it almost looks as though it’s sitting on a throne surveying its own kingdom. Truly, Monarch of the Glen.‘
Four fox cubs at night by Lee Hudson
Lee Hudson, 52, who lives close to Kidderminster, Worcestershire, spotted four fox cubs one evening and decided to capture the moment on his Canon 7D Mark II camera
Lee, 52, lives not far from his parents in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, where he helps his father in his building firm.
‘Dad built a workshop at the bottom of his garden and a family of foxes made their home underneath it. I’d sit in my van 15ft away waiting for them, and the security lights would come on if they appeared.
‘I also had flashlights to the left and right of the shed. Nothing happened until one evening at 10pm when my dad called and said four cubs were in the garden. I raced round there and managed to get this shot with my Canon 7D Mark II camera. It was worth the wait.’
Gillian Burke says: ‘I really like this. It’s not only cute, but the way the lights pick out their eyes immediately tells you how watchful they are.’
Baby Speckled Bush Cricket by Nicholas Greenfield
Nicholas Greenfield, 50, from Potton, Bedfordshire, took this photograph of a baby speckled bush cricket while he was in his back garden
Nicholas, 50, who lives in Potton, Bedfordshire, and works in the financial sector, took up photography only a few years ago.
‘I’m a member of the RSPB in Sandy, near where I live, and of the National Trust, but I took this photograph of a baby speckled bush cricket in my own back garden. It was pure luck.
‘I was sorting out the hanging baskets when I noticed the insect on a petunia leaf and hurried indoors to get my Lumix G7 Panasonic camera. I used a macro lens for this shot because I wanted it to be as intimate as possible.’
Sally Fear says: ‘It’s a beautiful picture of an insect that’s pretty rare. I could look at it for a long time.’
Bee by Susan George
Susan George, 64, from Leek in Staffordshire, was visiting Longleat Gardens in Wiltshire one day when she came across this very busy little bumblebee collecting pollen
Sue, 64, from Leek in Staffordshire, used to run an engineering business with her husband Glyn, but is now retired. ‘My husband was the one who encouraged me to take up photography and I’m now a member of the Leek Photographic Club,’ says Sue.
‘I was visiting Longleat Gardens in Wiltshire one day when I came across this very busy little bumblebee collecting pollen for all it was worth. It was totally unconcerned as I snapped away with my Olympus M10 Mark II using a macro lens.’
Gray Levett says: ‘The colours, the sharpness, the interaction of the bee with the pollen – I had real trouble choosing between this and the bush cricket as the winner in this category. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shot like this quite so well executed.’
Fly by Keith Rugman
Keith Rugman, 40, from Bristol, took this shot on his Canon 5D Mark III while he was in a local park and was fascinated by the iridescent colours on this fly
Keith, 40, from Bristol, is a food safety officer in a spice factory. He has a passion for what many of us regard as creepy-crawlies.
‘I like to get up and out first thing in the morning when the insects are still a bit sleepy and record their activities. This shot was taken with my Canon 5D Mark III in a local park. I particularly like macro photography because it lets you into a miniature world you don’t see with the naked eye. Just look at the iridescent colours on this fly.
‘You’d never have guessed it would appear so exotic in close-up.’
Gillian Burke says: ‘Technically, this is a great shot. It’s so sharp. But more than anything, it’s the opportunity to observe in great detail something that most people would swat and kill.’
Butterfly by Peter Boardman
Peter Boardman, 65, from Brough in Cumbria, took this photo of a small pearl-bordered fritillary last summer at a nature reserve in south Cumbria with his Canon SLR
A chartered surveyor from Brough in Cumbria, Peter, 65, is a major champion of the UK’s butterfly population and a keen chronicler of their habits and habitats.
‘Butterflies are under threat, which is why I belong to Butterfly Conservation, a charity dedicated to their survival, and that of moths too.’
He took this photo of a small pearl-bordered fritillary last summer at a nature reserve in south Cumbria with his Canon SLR. It was yet another for his collection. ‘Some years ago I decided to photograph every known species of butterfly in the UK. There are 59 and the shots are all gathered now in an album.’
Matt Baker says: ‘The pattern is quite mesmerising, a bit like stained glass. And I like the fact it’s a celebration of something that isn’t around for long.‘
Wild kestrel by Linus Etchingham
Linus Etchingham, 17, from Christchurch in Dorset, caught this picture early in the morning on a Nikon D750 with a 200-500mm lens
Linus, 17, from Christchurch in Dorset, was given his first camera when he was nine. He will often spend a day in a hide with a friend waiting for birds to appear.
‘It was a summer’s day and we’d gone to Worcestershire in search of wild kestrels. We arrived early in the morning and then this beauty appeared around midday, suddenly landing in a tree directly in front of me.
‘I used a Nikon D750 with a 200-500mm lens to capture a rare moment.’
David Suchet says: ‘I want to know what happens next. The kestrel has caught something small and furry – you can see its tail hanging down – so I rather suspect it’s about to be the bird’s lunch. This is nature red in tooth and claw.’
Grass snake by Freddy Jones
Freddy Jones, 15, from Worcester, saw the grass snake pop its head through the surface of the water in his garden pond and decided to capture the moment
Freddy, 15, from Worcester, has been taking photos for a year or so.
‘When this grass snake popped its head through the surface of the water in our garden pond I thought it was a frog. Then I realised its head was covered in pondweed. I got down on my stomach as quietly as I could and spent five minutes shooting with my Canon SX60 HS.’
Matt Baker says: ‘There’s something boyish about this. My 11-year-old son would be all over a shot like this for its sense of adventure and camouflage.’
Swans by Caleb Winter
Caleb Winter, 16, from Southampton, was on holiday in Chichester when he came across these swans floating serenely about 30 metres away
Nature lover Caleb, 16, from Southampton, has been taking photos for four years now with his Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 camera.
‘I was on holiday in Chichester and walking by the estuary when I came across these swans floating serenely about 30 metres away. I kept as still as I could because I didn’t want them to become agitated and spoil their perfect reflection in the water.
Gillian Burke says: ‘I really like the clean symmetry of this classic shot. And I also like the drop of water on the bird’s beak.’
Red squirrel on a tree trunk by Lewis Tharme
Lewis Tharme, 17, was staying with his grandmother in Aviemore when he spotted this red squirrel who seemed to be looking for food
DON’T MISS OUR FREE EXHIBITION
If you’ve enjoyed these stunning photos, why not come and see an even wider selection at a prestigious London gallery – absolutely free!
As we received far more brilliant images than we could possibly show on these pages, we’ve decided to give them the showcase they deserve by mounting our own exhibition.
So drop in to Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1 between Tuesday 5 and Sunday 10 November, 10am-5pm (10am-3pm on Sunday), to see British wildlife at its best.
Lewis, 17, was staying with his grandmother in Aviemore – he lives in Duns in the Scottish Borders – when he took this picture.
‘I was in the garden when I spotted this red squirrel who seemed to be looking for food. I went indoors for my Nikon D3300 camera and crept back into the garden where I lay hidden under a blanket.
‘I must have been about 10 metres away and I think the squirrel had heard me because he’s turning his head to locate the noise.’
Sally Fear says: ‘I really like the colours of the squirrel against the bark and the surroundings. It looks as though it all comes from the same palette.’
ANIMALS DO THE FUNNIEST THINGS – JUST LOOK AT THIS LOT!
Want some real animal magic? The have a chuckle at some of this year’s quirkier entries – and read how they came about.
Let sleeping foxes lie
Mark Grierson, 57, saw this fox snoozing in his garden so he grabbed his Olympus E-600 and decided to capture the rare moment
Mark Grierson, 57, is a disability manager from Edinburgh. ‘I saw this fox snoozing in the garden so I grabbed my Olympus E-600. Foxes can’t see in direct sunlight so I managed to get close. You don’t often see one hiding its face from the sun, so this is special.’
Kevin Rooney, 53, from Cheltenham, was in a hide in Droitwich when he managed to capture this shot of a little owl hopping across the posts
Kevin Rooney, 53, is an aerospace worker from Cheltenham.
‘I was in a hide in Droitwich and got this shot of a little owl hopping across the posts – I didn’t realise I’d got it until I went home. Little owls are cute and so funny – they look angry at times, or fed up if the weather’s bad.’
Now that’s a cheep shot!
Gillian Hammond, 58, from Stoke-on-Trent, noticed this baby blue tit near her home waiting and was able to capture it on her camera
Gillian Hammond, 58, is a medical secretary from Stoke-on-Trent.
‘I noticed this baby blue tit near my home waiting for Mum and Dad to feed it. On this day it was fledging – good job I had my camera.’
David Offord, 75, is retired and lives in Suffolk.
‘This was one of a group of deer in a cornfield. They started to jump very high, then this one stopped and looked straight at me. I just thought, ‘Wow!’.
David Offord, 75, from Suffolk, spotted this deer, who was one of a group of deer in a cornfield, and decided to capture the comical shot. Right, Trevor Hupton, 68, a retired BT engineer from Sheffield, spotted the hare sticking its tongue out and decided to capture the candid shot on his camera
Tongue in cheek
Trevor Hupton, 68, is a retired BT engineer from Sheffield.
‘I like the way this hare has its tongue out, as though it’s saying, ‘Ha ha, I know you’re there.’