A ghostly shot of the flight paths of Daubenton’s bats, which took months to capture, took the top prize, and other winners included a magpie on railings in the snow, a close-up of a nursery web spider, and grey seals being released off the coast of Cornwall.
Paul Colley, from Swindon, Wiltshire, won the overall prize of £5,000 for his image Contrails At Dawn of Daubenton’s bats at Coate Water Country Park.
Capturing the flight of the high-speed mammals in the dark required an infrared camera and lighting system that was 14 months in development, and as the bats are a protected species they were photographed following advice from conservation experts.
Mr Colley said: “No other image in my portfolio had been so clearly conceived and yet so difficult to achieve.
“My artistic intent was to capture this extraordinary little bat’s speed of movement and hunting flight path, but the journey to success was littered with disappointing failures.” He said he was supported by fellow photographers in his endeavour, which saw him experience a “huge gradient of emotion”.
“There were the lows felt during months of long, cold and exhausting dusk-to-dawn sessions, sometimes waist-deep in water and often without getting a single usable image.
“And then the natural highs of those lightbulb moments, when new ideas blossomed, problems were solved and the project inched closer towards the potential to win this exceptional accolade.”
Prizes for top pictures were awarded in 15 categories, including ones that focus on the coasts, close-up images of the natural world, the same subject through the seasons, video, and a documentary series of photographs.
In the junior categories, Ivan Carter, 17, from Deal in Kent, won for his shot of common tadpoles, and nine-year-old Lucy Farrell, from Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, scooped top prize for a close-up of a cockchafer beetle.
An exhibition of entries from the competition will go on tour, starting in London tomorrow, and a book, British Wildlife Photography Awards 9, will feature the best images.