The exhibition tour of the winning photographs from this year’s competition opened on October 5 at the Whitstable Museum and Gallery in East Kent. The photos will be on display at a free exhibition until January 5 next year, when it will move on to Bedfordshire. Admission to the museum itself costs £3 but is free if you have a Canterbury Resident’s Card.
The British Wildlife Photography Awards were created in 2009 to celebrate the talents of both amateur and professional photographers while simultaneously illuminating the diverse riches of Britain’s wildlife and natural history. The sponsored competition allows submissions from adults and children and an overall winner is chosen alongside winners of each category.
The judges divided the photos into categories including animal portraits, animal behaviour, urban wildlife, hidden Britain, coast and marine, wild woods, habitat, botanical Britain, natural details, British seasons, a wildlife HD video and documentary series, and two ‘Wildpix’ children’s categories (under 12s and 12-18).
The Whitstable Museum and Gallery is a notably modest setting for the exhibition. The building is tucked away on the main high street and comprises of dated displays of local history. Once you emerge into the exhibition itself you are greeted with a dizzying array of plumes, paws, beaks and beady eyes. The colour is truly magnificent and noisy compared to the silent awe of visitors.
‘Botanical Britain’ boasted delicate photos of fungi and algae. The category’s winner Robert Canis managed to find the perfect misty and still conditions to capture a dew-covered saffrondrop bonnet mushroom, overshadowed by the blurred giant trees in the background. This collection was coupled with remarkable close-ups capturing natural detail and depicting a maze of feathers, caterpillars, emperor dragonflies’ stained glass wings.
There were four photos which were hung separately from the main displays. They depicted the same scene of a valley in Perthshire, Scotland. The photographer Tomasz Garbacz had patiently returned and recreated a scene in all four seasons that bluster, scorch and soak the hills and its inhabitants. His efforts expose the diversity of our weather and how lucky we are as humans to seek guaranteed protection from its most harsh behaviours.
Alien life forms and bright bugs captured in minute detail formed the hidden Britain collection, while the magical underworld of coast and marine life included a lively snap of a curious seal taken by a surprised Andy Forrester. He named the photo ‘From Another World’ as the soft expression and bubbled coat of the seal are as enchanting as they are ethereal.
The remainder of the exhibition depicted an encyclopaedia of nature which was often hard to believe exist within our borders. Bird feathers created precise and contrasting foregrounds with unusual geometric shapes, and rows of charismatic owls, foxes and hares pierced the lens with their eyes; their personalities vivid in print.
One collection was distinctly British: urban wildlife. The haunting outline of a deer on a housing estate and a bank vole poking its head through a worn walking boot acted as a reminder that nature is inextricably linked to us Britons. Our islands are small and great diversity exists within extreme proximities of each other.
Although the overall winner was George Karbus, with his extraordinarily surreal vision of the sky through water and a charming Bottle nose dolphin, I admit my favourite was the winner of the wild woods category. Richard Packwood photographed an inquisitive badger standing in a tree at the bottom of his garden. The picture was particularly poignant as it gave personality and clarity to a shy animal who has been caught up in the recent debate over mass culling in our countryside. It was a pleasure to see one of worth, even if just to the photographer who painstakingly set up his equipment to catch the perfect moment, rather than a creature normally now mentioned in the same sentence as bovine tuberculosis.
If I took anything away from the exhibition, it was a sense of responsibility and appreciation of what I had just seen. Each photo carried a comment from the photographer, and most alluded to the fact that they just had to stop and really look at what had always been around them. We should never underestimate Britain’s natural history and need to actively conserve our natural present. There is no better way – for free and at your own leisure – to introduce and teach the whole family about the wonder of UK wildlife.