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Stunning photos show surprising wildlife in the British Isles

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A football floats on the surface of the Atlantic Sea; it looks like new from above the water, but below a huge collection of barnacles have attached themselves to the ball. The image, taken by Ryan Stalker, was chosen as the grand prize winner for the 2024 British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA).

The award, in its 12th year, showcases Britain’s nature, from its woodlands and wetlands to other ecosystems. There are photos of brown hares and foxes, synonymous with the British countryside, but also fluorescent firework anemones and an Arctic walrus.

“(It) brings to light the spectacular tapestry of Britain’s natural heritage,” said Will Nicholls, Director of BWPA, in a press release. “This collection is more than just a gallery of images; it is a celebration, a reminder of the enduring beauty of British wildlife and a call to preserve the natural spaces that we are so fortunate to have in Britain.”

More than 14,000 images were submitted to this year’s competition, with amateur and professional photographers all vying for the £5,000 ($6,400) grand prize.

Ryan Stalker, who took the winning image, explains that the goose barnacles attached to the football are not a native to the UK but sometimes wash up on its shores during Atlantic storms. “Although the ball is waste and should not be in the sea, I do wonder about the journey the ball has been on. From initially being lost, then spending time in the tropics where the barnacles are native and perhaps years in the open ocean before arriving in Dorset,” he said in a press release.

However, the photo also sheds light on a potential environmental issue. “This waste can also bring creatures that may survive in UK waters and could become invasive species. More human waste in the sea could increase the risk of more creatures making it to our shores,” he said.

Seventeen-year-old Max Wood won the title of young British wildlife photographer of the year with this image of a coot running across a lake at sunrise. - Max Wood/British Wildlife Photography Awards
Seventeen-year-old Max Wood won the title of young British wildlife photographer of the year with this image of a coot running across a lake at sunrise. - Max Wood/British Wildlife Photography Awards

Raising environmental awareness is a key motivation for the prize. The young British photographer category, supported by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), encourages young people to engage with nature early. Jamie Smart, aged eight, was recognized for his striking image of a pheasant sitting on a farm gate beside blossoming blackthorn in spring, while 17-year-old Max Wood won the overall young photographer title with his photo of a coot running across a misty lake in Surrey, UK. He says he woke up at 4:45 in the morning to capture the image.

“It is no secret that much of our once wild spaces have been turned into farmland or managed moorlands. The wild remains that we do still have must be protected,” Nicholls told CNN. “We hope these images showcase to those around the UK and the world what we still have to hold onto and inspire people — particularly youngsters — to fight to protect our British nature.”

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