COP26 Countdown Photo Competition



Nature Picture Library has supplied all the images for a photo competition run by the Earth Project focusing on the key issues of COP26.

26 of the world’s leading photographers have come together, to provide eye-witness accounts of nature under threat. The public are being asked to vote on which of these stunning images best reflect the beauty of the natural world and our critical relationship with nature and the environment. Each striking image is accompanied by the back story from behind the camera. As well as helping to increase public awareness of the climate emergency, the winning photographers will receive a donation to an environmental charity of their choice. The awarded images will be promoted during COP26 and go on world tour in the latter months of 2021.

Voting is open  for one week only from 16 to 23 September 2021. Don’t miss your chance to vote!

The photos in the competition gallery illustrate the threats to our precious planet and its biodiversity. Here is a tour of the world focusing on the issues raised. To read the full stories, please take a look at the COP26 photo competition gallery.


Melting ice sheet, Svalbard by Roy Mangersnes

“Austfonna glacier on Nordaustlandet in the Svalbard archipelago is Europe’s third-largest glacier by area and volume and with a glacier wall of around 200 kilometres, it is an impressive sight. During the last decades, every month has brought new record high temperatures in the Arctic, and the ice cap on Nordaustlandet is melting at high speed. The meltwater starts as small streams but eventually gathers in larger, almost river-like systems, that finally pour off the steep wall. ”

Ancient pine forest, Sweden by Staffan Widstrand

“Very few people today have ever seen a real forest, a forest where trees are allowed to live until they die of old age. The pines in a real forest are said to live for 300 years, stand dead for another 300 and then lie dead for a final 300 years. These trees in their final stages lying on the forest floor in Muddus National Park, Sweden, may have started life in the Viking age.”

Clear-cut forest, Norway by Pal Hermansen

“Modern forestry, involving clear-cutting of large areas, is a threat not only to biodiversity but also contributes to dramatic CO2 emissions. When talking about important forests, we often think of equatorial rainforests, but the richest CO2 depository is a slow-growing, boreal taiga forest.”

Beaver feeding at night, Scotland by Peter Cairns

“Beavers are often described as ‘habitat engineers’ but I look upon them as rewilding ambassadors. Beavers create intricate, complex wetlands – one of the most efficient habitats for carbon sequestration. Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to declare a climate emergency and yet it has been one of the slowest to recognise the benefits of restoring beavers to its river systems. ”

Beaver at its dam, Devon, England by Nick Upton

“The beaver is an industrious creator of healthy environments for other wildlife and us.  Beaver dams slow flowing water, reduce downstream flooding after rainstorms, and preserve water during droughts.  Masses of carbon is stored in all the plant material submerged in beaver ponds, in sediments held up by dams and within damp, alluvial beaver meadows.”

Firefly trails, Netherlands by Edwin Giesbers

“Fireflies (Lamprohiza slendidula) are small beetles that are active for a short period at the end of June-early July, after sunset and also for a maximum of one hour when the males fly around and glow. A magical event in the dark forest! This image was taken as part of a story for National Geographic about insect decline. In 2017 a German-Dutch research project showed that in the past 30 years more than three-quarters of flying insects (biomass) have disappeared from nature reserves in Germany.”

Bumblebee covered in pollen, Surrey, England by Heather Angel

Many fruits and vegetables we eat depend on pollinators cross-pollinating the flowers so they can produce the fruits and vegetables we enjoy. Further decline in pollinators, can impact our food supplies.



Wildebeest herd migrating, Tanzania by Nick Garbutt

“The annual cycles of rain drive the Serengeti ecosystem. Between January and April, rain falls on the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti. Over a million and a half wildebeest and zebra migrate into the area to feed on the flourishing nutrient-rich grasses and herbs that helps produce milk and succulent grazing for newborn calves. In May the herds begin heading back north following the receding rains, arriving in the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara by July and August. By October, northern regions begin to dry out and the herds start the long journey south. It is perpetual motion driven by annual weather patterns that have persisted for millennia. Climate change is disrupting these established norms and fundamentally threatening the viability of the entire ecosystem.”

Dehorning white rhino, South Africa by Rivoni Mkunzi

“South Africa has the largest population of rhino in the world – however, there has been a catastrophic decline in their numbers due to poaching. Desperate times call for desperate measures and dehorning is a last-ditch attempt to deter poaching. Although a traumatic experience for the rhino, dehorning is like cutting one’s fingernails and the horn will grow back.”

Bushman examines zebra carcass, Botswana by Neil Aldridge

“Every year, tens of thousands of zebra trek further than their more famous counterparts in East Africa, moving between the river systems of the north and the vast pans of the interior. When the rains fail and drought hits, as it did in 2019, the death toll amongst the exhausted animals can be staggering. Climate change is driving more extreme weather events and wildlife, livestock and people all suffer when these already arid regions become even dryer.”

Coral reef split-level, Red Sea, Egypt by Alex Mustard

“Thriving corals like these in the Red Sea, off Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, are becoming a rarer sight, and we should be very concerned. Hard corals are the foundation of one of the world’s most incredible habitats, the coral reefs that they build support hundreds of thousands of species. Their robust skeletons that build the reefs also protect our coasts and the marine life feeds millions of people.”

Green turtle feeding, Red Sea, Egypt by Shane Gross

“Endangered green sea turtles, like this one in the Red Sea, eat seagrass almost exclusively. This marine flowering plant is an ecological powerhouse that sequesters carbon 35 times more efficiently than rainforests, increases biodiversity, reduces pollution, protects shorelines during storms, increases fish numbers and decreases poverty.”

Waterbuck grazing in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique by Jen Guyton

“Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, is a story of hope and revival in the wake of devastation. Civil war (1975-1995) precipitated two decades of heavy poaching reducing a world-renowned park to a near-wasteland devoid of wildlife. Ecologically important large mammals were especially affected, with more than 90% declines in most species. In 2004, the Gorongosa Project began. Their mission: to restore the park’s biological richness and ecosystem function. Twenty-five years after the war, large mammals are now becoming abundant again. This story demonstrates that ecosystems are resilient: with our support, they can recover from major disturbances.”


North America

Tar sand extraction, Canada by Ashley Cooper

“Of all man’s efforts to exploit fossil fuels, the Canadian tar sands are by far the most environmentally destructive. The tar sands are a mix of bitumen, sands, clays and gravels. They are only economically viable to exploit when oil prices are at the higher end of their range. They can be turned into synthetic oil, but only by separating out the bitumen from the sands and gravels. At this site, deposits close to the surface are strip-mined. This involves clear-felling the boreal forest leading to a rate of deforestation second only to the rates in the Amazon rain forest. ”

Forest fire, California by Jack Dykinga

“Fire, caused by a lightning strike, races through Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains on 6 June 2020 – one of many fires that raged through the Southwest US last year destroying natural habitats and people’s homes.”

People touching grey whale, Baja California, Mexico by Mark Carwardine

“The eastern Pacific grey whale population is a heart-warming success story. Whalers would enter the grey whale breeding lagoons along the wild Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico, and harpoon their calves. The fiercely protective mothers, lured to help, would, in turn, be harpooned. Whalers killed so many that there were only a few hundred left by 1885. The grey whale was given full official protection in 1946 and the population has successfully returned to pre-whaling levels. But what is most extraordinary is that grey whales seem to have forgiven us for our past atrocities – nowadays, they willingly approach small tourist boats to be petted in the same lagoons where they were once slaughtered.”

Stingray among mangrove roots, Bahamas by Sirachai Arunrugstichai

“A Southern stingray glides over the aerating roots of a mangrove forest, Bimini, the Bahamas. The roots are an adaptation that aid oxygen intake in the waterlogged soils of coastal habitats. In addition to being an important habitat for various animals, mangrove and seagrass ecosystems in the coastal zones are recognised for their important role in mitigating climate change as they can sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forest.”


Peafowl at dawn, India by Sandesh Kadur

“Common peafowl perched on trees at dawn, Western Ghats, Southern India. Forests are one of our most powerful weapons in fighting climate change. If we allow the earth’s forests to regenerate and recover, researchers theorize that many of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions could be controlled. Forests are not just about their trees. They are a whole self-regulating ecosystem, from the soil bacteria that fix nitrogen to fertilize soils to the rodents and birds that help in seed dispersal and the fungi that help rot away carcasses and break down tree trunks. All these organisms working together allow forests to push moisture into the air and pull carbon into the ground.”

Tapanuli orangutan, Indonesia by Tim Laman

“The Tapanuli orangutan is one of the three known species of orangutan along with the Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. All three species are critically endangered primarily due to loss of rainforest habitat to logging and agricultural conversion, but the Tapanuli orangutan, which was only recognized as a distinct species in 2017, has the smallest remaining population with only an estimated 800 individuals remaining. It is thus the rarest great ape, and protecting the remaining forest in Borneo and Sumatra is critical not only for its survival but to protect all biodiversity and mitigate climate change.”

Bengal tiger at night, India by Yashpal Rathore

“Two hundred years ago, an estimated 50,000 tigers roamed India’s lush, unbroken forests. But by the 1970s, centuries of hunting and habitat destruction left fewer than 2,000 wild individuals. In 1973, fearing the extinction of this most magnificent cat, the government declared the tiger India’s national animal, banned hunting and set up a conservation scheme “Project Tiger” in six forest Tiger Reserves. Fifty years of collective effort by government, NGOs, local communities and scientists have raised tiger numbers to around 4000 individuals living in 50 reserves. But the reserves are small, averaging less than 1,500 square kilometres each. The population of Indian tigers continues to be fragmented by loss of habitat and corridors which connect reserves, this results in inbreeding and potential loss of diversity. If forest corridors remain intact between reserves, they benefit not only tigers but many other larger animals.”

Olive ridley turtle entangled in fishing net, Indian Ocean by Tony Wu

“The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 179 million tonnes of seafood were captured in 2018, sustenance for much of the world’s population. There is however a hidden cost. Sometimes fishing gear is lost at sea or possibly intentionally discarded. Such ghost nets and lines can become entangled and form large rafts, floating death traps for many sea birds, fish, reptiles like this turtle, dolphins, whales and more.”

Bar-headed geese in flight, China by Dong Lei

“A small flock of Bar-headed geese  fly through a rainbow lenticular stratocumulus cloud. Bar-headed geese are typical high-altitude species. A research paper on the Bar-headed geese in the Qinghai Lake region shows a significant decline in the past 10 years. The authors of the paper believe that climate change is having an impact.”


Australia, Australia and South America

Eastern grey kangaroo in burnt forest, Australia    by Jo-Anne McArthur/We Are Animals

“An Eastern grey kangaroo and her joey who survived the cataclysmic forest fires in Mallacoota, Australia, stand amidst a burned eucalyptus plantation, January 2020. Scientists state that the bushfires were exacerbated and accelerated by climate change. An estimated 3 billion animals, both wild and domestic, lost their lives in what some call the climate fires.”

Flying fox in flight, Australia    by Doug Gimesy

“A Grey-headed Flying-fox  mother carries her young back to the roost as rain begins to fall at Yarra Bend Park, just a few kilometres from Melbourne’s busy city centre.  This species is currently listed as vulnerable to extinction, with significant threats including continued habitat destruction and increasing heat stress events due to human-driven climate change.”

Limon grass frogs, Ecuador      by Lucas Bustamante

“Limon glass frogs in Canande Reserve, Ecuador in the Choco region. The Chocó is one of the most vulnerable and biodiverse ecosystems in Ecuador, with less than 2% of the original vegetation remaining. Biodiversity loss resulting from climate change is a big threat to the world’s most biodiverse places. Species like these frogs that are adapted to high elevation ecosystems or have a restricted distribution will be the ones that potentially cannot adapt to increases in temperature.”

Glacier, Antarctica     by Michel Roggo

“This aerial image of Dugdale Glacier which drains from the Admiralty Mountains into Robertson Bay, North Victoria Land, Antarctica, was taken as part of my Freshwater Project in February 2017 and shows meltwater on the glacier. Our New Zealand based guide, who has experience of countless expeditions in Antarctica told us that he has never before seen meltwater on a glacier in Antarctica.”