Shot of ants in action claims top wildlife photography prize

Bence Máté's silhouetted shot of ants in the Costa Rican rainforest wins 2010 Veolia Environnement wildlife photographer of the year

In pictures: Winners of the Veolia Environnement wildlife photographer of the year 2010

An image of leaf-cutter ants silhouetted on a leaf in the Costa Rican rainforest has won Hungarian photographer Bence Máté the 2010 Veolia Environnement wildlife photographer of the year prize, which is jointly owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine.

The winning shot, titled A Marvel of Ants, is a simple yet bold photo showing leaf-cutter ants at work that was selected from tens of thousands of entries from around the world. Chair of the judging panel, Mark Carwardine, said: "The photographer is clearly a master of his craft with an artist's eye."

Máté said: "Photographing leaf-cutter ants in the middle of the night, alone in the rainforest, was an unforgettable experience. I needed my reflexes because the ants were cutting the leaves into pieces very fast."

Máté won his first award in 2001 in the Veolia 15-17 year category and went on to scoop two more wins in different categories in 2005 and 2007.

The Veolia Environnement young wildlife photographer of the year prize was awarded to Fergus Gill from Scotland for the second year in a row. Entitled The Frozen Moment, the image captures a bird on a frosty morning. Carwardine said: "The hovering fieldfare is posed as an artists might paint it, the delicate yellow of the frozen berries echoing its breast feathers. A winning gem of a picture."

Gill won his first prize at just 14 and has been taking pictures of wildlife in his hometown in rural Perthshire since he was nine. His winning image was taken in his own back garden on Boxing day in 2009. Gill said:

"This photograph stood out for me as I particularly liked the conditions. I was the only person left outdoors, but was determined to capture the feel of the day, while showing the character of the fieldfare, often hovering to pick berries.

Sponsors Veolia and competition organisers, the Natural History Museum, will be keen to avoid any controversy after last year's winner José Luis Rodríguez was stripped of his £10,000 award. Judges thought he had staged his winning image of an Iberian wolf jumping over a gate by hiring a tamed wolf called Ossian from a zoological park in Madrid. The competition's rules forbid the use of animal models.

Suspicions were raised after a Spanish photographer recognised the wolf and experts questioned why the wolf would jump over the gate rather than squeeze through the bars. Rodríguez had beaten a record 43,135 entries from 94 countries to claim the title.

Rodríguez denies the allegations and maintains that the photo was the culmination of months of hard work patiently tracking the species.

The 2010 competition received over 31,000 entries from 81 countries. The exhibition of more than 100 prize-winning photographs will open at the Natural History Museum on Friday 22 October and then tour internationally.


Arwa Aburawa

The GuardianTramp

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