This year almost 180,000 votes were cast by nearly 30,000 people, representing the biggest response we’ve ever had to the BBC Countryfile MagazineAwards.
Fergus Collins, BBC Countryfile Magazine editor, says: “To have nearly 30,000 people vote in our awards shows how passionate they are about the British countryside.”
He added: “The shortlists, elected by readers and the BBC Countryfile Magazine judging panel, generated a completely fresh set of candidates in each category – and this created a huge amount of healthy debate during the voting period. I’d like to congratulate the 20 very worthy winners and runners up and thank everyone for taking part.”
With a wealth of natural attractions it’s no wonder that the wild coastline of Pembrokeshire has romped home with this year’s top spot. It’s a haven for marine life, with dolphins and porpoises often seen from Strumble Head, whale watching boat trips off the coast, and plentiful puffins and seals at Skomer.
Surrounded by the sea on three sides, no part of Pembrokeshire is more than 14 miles from the coast and locals claim to have salt water in their veins. Bask on the wide sandy beaches, trek the 186 mile-long Coast Path, and don’t forget to stop in at St David’s, the smallest city in Britain.
Judge Miranda Krestovnikoff says: “Pembrokeshire has a really special place in my heart as it’s where I had my first ever scuba dive.
“Living in the South West, it’s a firm family favourite of ours, we love that the beaches are less crowded than Devon and Cornwall but the wildlife is no less spectacular with choughs, puffins and cetaceans to see offshore. The coastal path is a joy to walk and there are so many great places to eat local and seasonal produce. A worthy winner!”
You said: “St David’s in Pembrokeshire is just perfect. It is beautiful, unspoilt and there is space to breathe. It is special to all our family and Whitesands Bay has been the setting for some wonderful memories.” Rachel Brennan
The gentle climate and retro charms of England’s largest island were a draw for thousands of voters in this year’s awards. No wonder, the Isle of Wight is a fantastic holiday spot, with great local food, spectacular walks, and legendary fossil-hunting grounds.
Judge Mark Rowe said: “The Isle of Wight deserves its recognition. As a holiday destination it has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years – still keeping its bucket and spades close to its heart but opening up to good food, walking and local crafts.”
Stretching for four glorious and sandy miles, Holkham Beach was a clear winner in this category. Both a beach and a nature reserve, Holkham is home to diverse and fascinating species of flora and fauna, such as great white egrets, common terns, peregrines, ringed plover, dark green fritillary butterflies and ghost swift moths.
Judge Fergus Collins said: “There is something exotic about this great strand of sand backed by pine trees, sand dunes and marshes – a place for a serene beach holiday and intimate encounters with such a wide variety of wildlife.”
You said: “Unspoilt, golden sand, the wildlife, lovely clean sea. It is beautiful.” Louise Edwards
Tucked away at the end of St Ives Bay is Godrevy, a feast of beachy delights, with rockpools to potter in, waves to surf, sand dunes to lounge in and a resident seal colony. Add in a National Trust cafe and it’s a coastal paradise that won over many readers.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “A beach with almost everything – perfect swell for surfers, moody cliffs for photographers, rockpools for the curious and delightful coves for wannabee pirates and smugglers.”
You said: “Godrevy has a resident seal colony where you can stand on the top and look down below to watch them. To see and also hear the sound of the seals is amazing.” Wendy Louise Moore
With some of the best skies for stargazing and rare wildlife, including red squirrels, otters and black grouse, Northumberland is a haven for nature lovers, and regularly performs well in the awards, winning both Holiday Destination of the Year and Beach of the Year in 2017 for Embleton Bay.
Readers voted overwhelmingly for England’s most northerly national park, thanks to attractions including Hadrian’s Wall, the Whin Sill, the Cheviot Hills and the Sycamore Gap – the most photographed spot in the whole of the national park. Fossil hunters can visit a number of key sites, while Hareshaw Linn is a treasure trove for botanists, thanks to the 300 different types of mosses, liverworts and lichen present near its nine-metre waterfall. There are plenty of mapped walks to choose from, and guided walks available from April to October, including family-friendly options.
Judge Mark Rowe says: “Northumberland does a wonderful job of just being what it is – very empty, with big skies and landscapes and superb wildlife.
“It’s commendable that the park authority does not try to be too intrusive – people go to national parks to get away from everything and whether you’re in a remote valley by a riverside or up on the moorland you can do just that in Northumberland.”
Six million people visit Snowdonia’s mountain ranges every year, and many of them cast their vote for this majestic landscape, which is peppered with verdant valleys and dramatic waterfalls. Climbing its eponymous highest peak is a bucket-list item for any serious hiker. Special mention goes to the expansive skies and liquid stillness of The Broads National Park which won over many readers, with the difference in votes between this protected wetland and Snowdonia so slight that we recounted four times!
Judge Phoebe Smith says: “A worthy runner-up for a place that sets the scene for so many outdoor memories, big and small.
“Whether meandering alongside Lake Padam, climbing Snowdon, or simply taking in the majesty of the Glyders from the road out to Caernarfon, it really does offer something for everyone from occasional hikers to Sunday strollers and mountain connoisseurs.”
“We’re delighted. We never expected to be nominated and we never expected to win, especially as we were up against some very stiff competition. It’s wonderful news!”
A David among Goliaths, Rodley Nature Reserve in Leeds took first place in this category thanks to the evocative story of its incredible transformation from a water treatment works into a haven for wetland wildlife. Oystercatchers, little grebes, reed warblers, water rails and more can all be seen at the site, which is run entirely by volunteers.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “This is a massive triumph for the volunteers who maintain the site. Right on the edge of Leeds, this previously little-known wetland jewel brings the wild to a huge number of urban and suburban people as well as providing an important stop-over for migrant birds and crucial breeding habitat for wildfowl, amphibians and invertebrates.”
Thanks to its starring role on Springwatch 2017, RSPB Arne has become a household name, and deservedly so, with a wide variety of wildlife to spot, including nightjars and Dartford warblers, ospreys and avocets. Children will love seeing the 22 species of colourful dragonflies that keep the site humming in the summer.
Sister reserve RSPB Ham Wall, which narrowly landed third place, is known for its spectacular starling murmurations and sits in the historic Avalon marshes. As well as the famous starlings, visitors can spot bittern, water voles and kingfishers.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “Made famous as the recent headquarters for the BBC’s Springwatch, this huge expanse of coastal heath is a rare habitat that buzzes with wildlife wonders – including all Britain’s reptile species, Sika deer, nightjars, hobbies and a dazzling cast of insect life.”
You said: “I love this reserve. A real gem, particularly in August, when the heather is in bloom. It’s a great place to see our native reptiles and some of our more fascinating invertebrates, such as the wasp and raft spiders and the wonderfully characterful green tiger beetle.” Chris Gee
We challenge you to attend a performance at this glorious open air theatre and not be distracted by the wild Cornish coastline, or the pods of dolphins and porpoises playing in the waters below. The brainchild of Rowena Cade, who lived at Minack House, built the theatre with her gardener, by moving earth and granite boulders to form the terraces that now encircle the stage. The Minack saw its first performance in 1932. Some 80,000 people now visit each year, and it’s open annually from March to September, taking advantage of Cornwall’s mild weather before the winter winds return.
Judge Miranda Krestovnikoff says: “I remember my first visit to the Minack – watching Shakespeare with dolphins porpoising in the blue waters as a back drop – unforgettable! Taking my family there a few years ago, it was no less magical with lizards scurrying around the walls and wonderful succulents.”
You said: “One of my favourite landmarks is the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, for its spectacular location, the amazing achievement of one women, whose vision it was to build it, and the lasting images of the productions and the beauty of the place.” Butterfly Girl, via Twitter
If it’s drama you’re looking for, High Force has it in spades. The waterfall – formed where the River Tees meets an outcrop of the Whin Sill – drops 21 metres into the 20-metre plunge pool below, carrying the largest volume of water over an unbroken drop in England.
The site is easily accessible, with a nearby car park, picnic spot and good paths. Visitors can walk along the many waymarked paths lined with wildflowers, ferns and lofty trees to reach the waterfall. Make sure you look out for the native roe deer and rabbits along the route.
Judge Mark Rowe says: ” The River Tees is one of the UK’s unheralded major rivers and High Force is one of its truly breathtaking features. I’m really pleased this has been acknowledged by the number of votes it received.”
You said: “It’s one of Britain’s wonders. The River Tees rushes down between two rocks, and falls 60ft perpendicular into a basin of water. It shows power and the beauty of creation.” Jacquie Murray
“We are very honoured to have been voted Countryfile Garden of the Year. This represents a lot of hard work across our whole team throughout the year. We would like to thank everybody who voted for us. To be recognised by such a discerning audience makes us all feel proud.”
One of the most famous restorations of an English garden ever undertaken, Heligan now draws horticulturalists from all over the world to marvel at its rare plant collections. Heligan had been developed as a garden for centuries, but after many of its gardeners sadly lost their lives in the First World War the grounds gradually deteriorated and became overgrown.
Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smith hacked back the site in 1990 with John Willis, a descendant of the original family who owned the mansion, and discovered a gardener’s paradise. Reopened two years later, today visitors can enjoy the ‘jungle’, bamboo tunnels and ancient woodland, and vast tree ferns that thrive thanks to the uniquely temperate climate.
Judge Mark Rowe said: “A really deserving winner. Despite its popularity, Heligan retains a really local feel and the story behind its re-discovery and restoration is heart-warming.”
Bodnant was a favourite with a vast number of readers, thanks to its historic collection of rare plants, lavish laburnum arch, wildflower meadows and floral terraces. Founded by scientist Henry Pochin in 1874, today Bodnant houses five National Collections, including magnolia, and has Wales’ largest collection of UK Champion Trees. There are also stunning water features and two National Trust tea rooms to indulge in.
Judge Phoebe Smith says: “With its captivating laburnum arch, towering trees, fairytale streams and brightly coloured rhododendrons offering visual feasts at every turn, any visit to Bodnant will be a world-class experience.”
Artist Andy Beck has taken Alfred Wainwright’s illustrations of the Lakeland Fells and breathed new life into them with a series of stunning watercolour sketches of every view Wainwright ever captured. The book, which was 10 years in the making, is all the more impressive for being entirely self-funded and self-published, and was the runaway winner in this category.
Judge Fergus Collins said: “Inspired by the work of Alfred Wainwright, artist Andy Beck’s The Wainwrights in Colour is a vibrant collection of watercolour sketches depicting every illustration drawn by A.W in his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.”
You said: “When I received my copy I spent an evening reading the book, found my maps and looked to see where the locations were – had I been there? What memories did it evoke? I keep going back to it and seeing more each time.” ER Redfern
In this charming book, Rosamund Young argues convincingly that cows are not the dim-witted meat and milk machines we may assume. Instead, she claims, they form strong bonds, can self-medicate and even aid each other when giving birth.
Judge Fergus Collins says: ““An unusual and brilliant book by an organic farmer who plotted the lives and behaviours of her cows over decades to draw fascinating conclusions about just how deeply intelligent, caring and playful they were.”
Only a few years off its 250th birthday, the Fox House has been welcoming weary travellers since 1773, when it was a favourite stop for stagecoach passengers passing through the Peak District. It was a worthy winner in this closely fought category, offering hearty food and cask ales to ramblers stopping off from one of the many local walks.
Judge John Craven says: “My favourite country pub is always the last one I visited that ticks all the boxes marked ‘great’ – location, welcome, home-cooked food, local beers and ambience. The Fox is a classic country pub.”
WIth a woodburner to warm the toes of the many walkers who flock to the area, the Rugglestone Inn had many fans among readers and came a very narrow second to the Fox House. Converted from a cottage in 1832 and located on Dartmoor, it’s situated next to a pretty stream, with a large garden.
Judge Mark Rowe says: “The Rugglestone Inn is a truly great pub – and it’s good to see many people share the secret – an age-old pub at the bottom of a lane in the heart of Dartmoor. It has that balance of good food, friendliness and atmosphere that so many pubs find difficult to achieve.”
“What a boost to the project and our brilliant volunteers in the Marine Conservation Society’s 25th year of cleaning the UK’s beaches, at a time when we MUST do something about marine litter”, says Marine Conservation Society
With increasing awareness of the dangers of plastic debris to marine life, it’s no wonder that the Great British Beach Clean weekend was so popular with our readers. In fact, it took the most votes in any category, by a country mile. The Marine Conservation Society spearheads this annual survey weekend, which last September saw almost 7,000 people remove 255,209 pieces of litter from 339 beaches, recording every item. Waste is monitored and traced back to manufacturers, who are urged to make their packaging more environmentally friendly.
Riding a new wave of public awareness partly triggered by the Blue Planet IIseries, the MCS is continuing the push for litter-free beaches, and you can join in. Aside from the annual survey weekend, clean-up events continue throughout the year. Just visit www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/events to find one near you.
Judge Fergus Collins said: ““With the problem of plastic in our rivers and seas growing ever greater, it’s no surprise that such an inclusive, positive campaign should win this category. Any visitor to any beach – or any wild place for that matter – should be part of this.”
They say actions speak louder than words, so last year Sacha Dench took to the skies in a paramotor to follow the migratory route of the Bewick’s swan, after the number of birds making the journey from Arctic Russia to northern Europe dropped dramatically.
As well as publicising the decline, Sacha and the expedition team were able to collect valuable evidence about why the birds were struggling to complete the 7,000-mile journey, which they hope to use to help mitigate the problem.
Judge Miranda Krestovnikoff says: “Sacha Dench is perhaps the most remarkable woman you will ever meet. When she embarked on this journey, she was told that she would never survive! Still, she defied all odds (and a broken leg) to paramotor all the way from Russia to the UK by herself in order to raise awareness of the plight of the Bewick swans. Voted Woman of the Year, she’s off on her travels again this year – ready for another epic adventure. Prepare to be amazed!”
READER PHOTO OF THE YEAR 2018
Winner: Model subject by Andrew Fletcher
Andrew Fletcher’s stunning image of a robin perched on a frosty branch took first place in a closely run contest that saw only a handful of votes difference between the top two spots.
At the time the image was taken, in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, Andrew said: “I was taking photos of the frosty branches when the robin came and perched on them. I thought he’d be gone before I could change the camera settings but he stayed for a few minutes to let me photograph him!”
BBC Countryfile Magazine art editor Tim Bates said: “I think robins, more than any other bird, really appeal to the British public and it was no surprise to see this little chap win our contest this year. Capturing the bird puffed up to stay warm on this wintery day, you really see the detail in the features. With the frosty evergreen background this made for a lovely photo.”
BBC Countryfile Magazine picture editor Hilary Clothier said: “Andrew Fletcher’s ‘Model subject’ portrays an intimate moment photographed with patience and skill. He manages to capture the beautiful details of the robin’s delicate colourful feathers, contrasting with the crisp white frost on the leaves. A great photograph.”
Runner up: Lively Light by Chris Mole
Sussex-based photographer Chris Mole’s pictures of the Pembrokeshire coast were hugely popular with readers and he also took third place for Stormy Spire, an image of a dramatic storm surge. Speaking about his second-placed image Lively Light, shot at Freshwater East Beach, Chris said it was taken “looking east on a February morning, when the sun rises to the right of the headland”.
“Dramatic storms had left the sea lively; the light was very clear with fast-moving storm clouds. The wet rocks perfectly reflected the light.”
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BBC Countryfile Magazinepicture editor Hilary Clothier said: “Chris Mole shows great talent in capturing nature’s dramatic moments, with a good understanding of natural light and composition.”
How voting for the awards works
This was the first year where nominations were taken from our readers, before being narrowed down to a shortlist by our expert judges. Readers then cast their votes online and by post. The nominee with the most votes won. In some categories the margin between second and third place was very narrow, so we’ve given those runners up an honourable mention below.