In the line of fire wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award

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Robert Irwin’s dramatic record of the devastation wreaked in the wake of a bushfire in Northern Australia is the winner of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

From a staggering 55,486 votes from around the world, wildlife photography fans decided the photo, entitled ‘Bushfire’, by the Australian nature photographer was a vital story that needed the spotlight.

After spotting smoke billowing out of the horizon, Robert knew he had a prime opportunity. Launching his drone, he sent it straight over to the location of the fire. With only a few minutes of battery left, he knew he had to act fast. Taking it right into the thick of the smoke, he managed to frame a clear 50:50 shot, with a pristine natural conservation area on one side juxtaposed with the blackened, devastated remains on the other. Taken near the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Cape York, Queensland, the area is of high conservation value and is home to over 30 different ecosystems with many endangered species.

Robert Irwin says, ‘I am incredibly excited to win the Wildlife Photographer of The Year People’s Choice Award. For me, nature photography is about telling a story to make a difference for the environment and our planet. I feel it is particularly special for this image to be awarded, not only as a profound personal honour but also as a reminder of our effect on the natural world and our responsibility to care for it.’

Director of the Natural History Museum, Dr Doug Gurr, says: ‘Robert’s image is both stirring and symbolic. Last year the world stood aghast at the devastating wildfires that struck much of Australia, and this photograph depicts just one example of a staggering biodiversity loss caused by the detrimental impacts of climate change, habitat loss and pollution. But it is by no means too late for us to act. I hope those who see this image are enthused to learn more about the problems our natural world faces but also to take action in their daily lives – be it changing dietary or travel habits or even joining a local wildlife volunteering group.’

Selected from a shortlist of 25 images, chosen by the Natural History Museum from over 49,000 images that were submitted for their annual competition, Robert’s, and four other photographs, arose as favourites. These five images will be displayed in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London when the Museum reopens. The exhibition will now be open until 1 August 2021.

The four ‘Highly Commended’ images that won over nature photography enthusiasts include Ami Vitale’s heart-warming portrayal of a bond between ranger and rhino in ‘The last goodbye’, the wonderfully composed wintry portrait ‘Hare ball’ from Andy Parkinson, an innovative remote capture of two squirrels in ‘Drey dreaming’ from Neil Anderson and a ‘Close encounter’ between a worried looking Labrador in a car and an enormous moose taken by Guillermo Esteves.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum and offers a truly global platform for amateur and professional photographers alike. Using photography’s unique emotive power to engage and inspire audiences, the exhibition shines a light on stories and species around the world and encourages a future of advocating for the planet. The fifty-seventh competition is currently being judged by an esteemed panel of experts, and the winners will be revealed in October 2021.

The Winning and four ‘Highly Commended’ images:

Bushfire by Robert Irwin, Australia

Winner 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award

A fire line leaves a trail of destruction through woodland near the border of the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Cape York, Queensland, Australia. The area is of high conservation significance, with over 30 different ecosystems found there, and is home to many endangered species. The fires are one of the biggest threats to this precious habitat. Although natural fires or managed burns can be quite important in an ecosystem, when they are lit deliberately and without consideration, often to flush out feral pigs to hunt, they can rage out of control and have the potential to devastate huge areas.

The last goodbye Ami Vitale, USA

Highly commended 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award

Joseph Wachira comforts Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet, moments before he passed away at Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. Suffering from age-related complications, he died surrounded by the people who had cared for him. With every extinction we suffer more than loss of ecosystem health. When we see ourselves as part of nature, we understand that saving nature is really about saving ourselves. Ami’s hope is that Sudan’s legacy will serve as a catalyst to awaken humanity to this reality.

Hare ball by Andy Parkinson, UK

Highly commended 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award

Mountain Hare Lepus timidus A confiding adult, high in the Cairngorms mountains, forms the shape of a ball as it grooms Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK

Andy spent five weeks watching the mountain hares near Tomatin in the Scottish Highlands, waiting patiently for any movement – a stretch, a yawn or a shake – which typically came every 30 to 45 minutes. As he watched, frozen and prostrate, with 50 to 60 mph winds surging relentlessly around him, the cold started to distract and his fingers clasping the icy metal camera body and lens began to burn. Then relief came as this little female moved her body into a perfect spherical shape. A movement of sheer joy. Andy craves such moments: the isolation, the physical challenge and, most importantly, time with nature.

Close encounter by Guillermo Esteves, USA

Highly commended 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award

The worried looking expression on this dog’s face speaks volumes and is a reminder that moose are large, unpredictable, wild animals. Guillermo was photographing moose on the side of the road at Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, when this large bull took an interest in the furry visitor – the driver of the car unable to move it before the moose made its approach. Luckily, the moose lost interest and went on its way after a few moments.

Drey dreaming by Neil Anderson, UK

Highly commended 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award

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As the weather grew colder, two Eurasian red squirrels (only one is clearly visible) found comfort and warmth in a box Neil had put up in one of the pine trees near his home in the Scottish Highlands. In the colder months, it’s common for the squirrels, even when unrelated, to share dreys. After discovering the box full of nesting material and in frequent use, Neil installed a camera and LED light with a diffuser on a dimmer. The box had a lot of natural light so he slowly increased the light to highlight his subjects – and using the WiFi app on his phone he was able take stills from the ground.

The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition in London is sponsored by renewable energy company Ørsted and camera manufacturer Leica.

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