Highly Commended – British Wildlife Photography Awards 2016 (Wild Woods category)
As a pair of newly fledged winter climbers visiting the Cairngorms in 2007, Alex and I hadn’t intended to spend so much time looking at trees. We had got in one good day of climbing and it had been everything I’d hoped it would be, but a decline in the weather shut down any further attempts to get up into the mountains. Slightly dejected, we decided to go for a walk in the woods instead.
Contingency plans can be so underwhelming, but Rothiemurchus Forest had us enchanted. It was a winter landscape unlike anything we’d seen as teenagers growing up in East Anglia. Every lochan we passed was frozen hard and sparkling white, and a light dusting of frost covered the endless ‘beards’ of lichen hanging from tree limbs all around us. There were scots pines as twisted and grand as the English oaks in the woods back home.
Half an hour into the walk, I set eyes on a view which seemed like the most perfect marriage of woodland and mountain. Caledonian pine forest stretched for miles towards the drama of the Lairig Ghru, before gently thinning into heather, and then the near-tundra of the plateau above. I didn’t know it at the time, but there are few other places in Scotland where forest and mountains flow into each other in such a way. In fact, one is often absent in the presence of the other. At the time I had little idea of the significance of this type of view in the UK, and what battle-grounds the subjects of land management, re-wilding, and National Parks were becoming in Scotland.
As my knowledge of these issues has grown over the past few years, I’ve thought repeatedly about that first glimpse and I’ve returned time and again in the winter months to that view. I wanted an image that showed the forest as part of the mountains, and vice versa – the way that it is in this place, but only just. I wanted heavy snow cover throughout, and for the clouds to be as much a part of the woods as they are the hills. For several years it was too much to ask, with one if not all of the elements missing whenever I visited the viewpoint.
When everything finally came together last winter I was surprised to say the least. I was delighted to see a mist layer there at all, but when it shifted slightly to reveal the patchy forest extending onto the hill on the right of the frame I was ecstatic. This image is intended to show how the Highland’s mountains and woodlands do not need to be separate entities, and how indeed they must not be if positive change is to come to upland land stewardship in Scotland.
I had four images short-listed in the British Wildlife Photography Awards this year, but I’m happy that it was this image of the Cairngorms that ended up in the book, the exhibition and the calendar. It shows a landscape that has become the focal point of some of the most pressing issues of the day for Scottish wildlife, wild land and the people that live and work in our upland areas.
At the awards event at the Mall Galleries in London.
Below are the three other short-listed images.
For more images from the BWPA, info on the exhibition tour and buying the book, look here https://www.bwpawards.org/
Short-listed – Wildlife Portrait category. A mountain hare at rest in flowering heather in the Monadhliath hills.
Short-listed – Wildlife Behaviour category. An adult female bottlenose dolphin hunting Atlantic salmon in the Inner Moray Firth.
Short-listed – Wild Woods category. Ancient oak woodland in Derbyshire, England.