Countryfile judges Bill Bailey, John Craven and Naomi Wilkinson have revealed the 12 finalists of the Countryfile Calendar Competition.
The best 12 photographs – selected by the judges – will take pride of place in the Countryfile Calendar for 2016. There will be an overall winner voted for by Countryfile viewers, which will feature on the cover of the calendar. They’ll also get to choose photography equipment to the value of £1000. The person who takes the judges’ favourite photo will also select equipment to the value of £500.
Money raised from the sale of calendar will go to BBC Children in Need.
JANUARY: Stumped squirrel by Walter Bulmer
FEBRUARY: Magical mist trees by Dianne Giles
MARCH: Colourful Coot by Susie Scofield
APRIL: Sunrise silhouette by Stephen Hembery
MAY: Follow me by Tony Howes
JUNE: Sheep purple by Tony Raine
JULY: All ears by Andrew Stewart
AUGUST: Coastline canter by Graham Mealand
SEPTEMBER: Dinner date by Jenny Hibbert
OCTOBER: Happy hedgehog by Ben Andrew - overall winner!
NOVEMBER: Mirrored mountains by Andy Morley
DECEMBER: Hide and squeak by Bernard Boyle
Meet the winner: Ben Andrew
Ben Andrew’s winning hedgehog was discovered underweight and taken to a local Bedfordshire Wildlife Rescue centre before being given to Ben to release into his own garden. After asking the rescue centre’s permission, Ben took the hedgehog to Rushmere Country Park where he waited patiently for the nocturnal creature to uncurl for the winning shot. "I decided to try and get some nice images of it in autumnal leaves before its release,” Ben said, “But didn't expect the expression on his face when he uncurled.”
The seemingly “happy” hedgehog, who became the October pin-up for BBC Countryfile’s Calendar 2016, also secured Ben £500’s worth of camera equipment – the winning prize in this year’s competition.
"So much to discover..."
Ben has been taking increasingly professional snaps since a trip to South Africa in 2007 gave him the nature photography bug. He told BBC Countryfile Magazine, “I borrowed my girlfriend’s camera and basically never gave it back. The prize will hopefully allow me to replace it for her, and I might get a few bits and bobs for my own work too.”
He told BBC Countryfile Magazine that discovering photography allowed him to channel a lifetime’s passion for wildlife. Having travelled the world in search of extraordinary nature, he now prefers to focus his lens around his local area of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire: “I like to photograph species that aren’t usually noticed – particularly invertebrates and reptiles. There is so much to discover close to home,” he said.
Ben also works as a Wildlife Advisor for the RSPB, informing members of the public about how to look after what’s in their garden and helping with identification. The job, along with good links to his local rescue centre, gives him useful access to wild models, but Ben is sensitive to the need to protect the creatures he photographs: "I always ensure the animal’s welfare is paramount so only spend a short period photographing it before getting back into a place where it can rest, feed etc. All of my photos are donated back to the rescue organisation, who can then use them to promote the good work they do."
Although “amazed” to beat 33,000 entrants to win the BBC Countryfile Competition 2015, Ben said in the Express, “it is understandable why so many people love them… The hedgehog is a very cute individual and an endearing creature much-loved around the country, and seeing this image when I got home made me realise how wonderful they are.”
The endangered hedgehog, whose numbers were estimated at just 1 million in 2013, down from c. 36 million in 1950, was also voted Britain’s ‘National Species’, winning 42% of the vote in a BBC Wildlife poll in 2013.
Their decline is often blamed on modern agriculture which increasingly uses fertilisers and weed-killers that destroy hedgehog prey and strips back hedgehog habitat. But naturalist and conservationist, John Lister-Kaye, told The Telegraph that he also blamed “security-conscious homeowners [who] have turned their gardens into fortresses, with walls and fences, behind which the dirty work is done by insecticides and slug-pellets, and where ponds and nylon netting pose fatal threats to any hedgehog that manages to penetrate.”