On Sunday 11 March at around 5:50 GMT, the Waterhouse Gallery doors at the Museum will close on the current Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. This year's showcase of winning photos - the 48th one since we set up the competition - has been a huge hit, as ever with this popular show. It was nominated three times during its run as Time Out's Critic's Choice.
Over the last few weeks, the exhibition shop has been busier than ever ringing up sales of the 2011 exhibition Portfolio book, calendars, retro cameras, fridge magnets and, of course, the beautiful prints to remind us of this year's winning photographs. It's no surprise that the print that most people wanted to own was of this little cutie, who lives high up in China's Qinling Mountains (where many of us may never travel to in our lifetimes). The Tiny warm-up photo was the runner-up in the 2011 Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species.
Tiny warm-up by Cyril Ruoso captured the vulnerability of China's endangered golden snub-monkeys. The youngster was one of a band of about 70 monkeys living high up in China's Qinling Mountains, surviving on lichen, leaves, bark and buds. This particular subspecies probably numbers no more than about 4,000. The image was the favourite from this year's exhibition print range.
One of the vital things about this exhibition is that in the latest and best photographs of life, and sometimes death, on our planet, we get closer to creatures and corners of our natural world we wouldn't otherwise know about. And in the stories behind the photos and of the individuals who took them, we learn about important things affecting our environment. The overall 2011 Veolia Enivronnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner, Daniel Beltra, is testament to that with his unforgettable Still life in oil image of rescued pelicans from Louisiana's catastrophic oil slick.
Whizzing through the gallery one last time - I always wish I could linger more - I realise again how brilliant it is to see these pictures close up and how the back-lit installations bring out all the details, colours and contours so intensely. Working on the exhibition's website as I do, these are things that I sometimes miss.
I've got lots of favourites from this year. Here are a couple that will haunt me after my last exhibition visit.
Fading beauty by David Maitland (above) is incredibly deceptive. It looks like a painting, but the stylishly-shot mass of poppies was photographed on David's local car-park embankment in Wiltshire last summer. Sadly, three days after David captured them in full bloom (before most had seeded) someone weed-killered the lot! So there will be no poppies to brighten up his car park this year.
Wings of a gull by Jan van der Greef is startling close up with its ethereal iridescent quality. The herring gull's wonderful wing motion and the shimmering stream of water from its legs were taken by Jan on a boat trip in northern Norway. He went to photograph white-tailed eagles, but instead was mesmerised by the gulls. The 2011 exhibition will be remembered for its abundance of breathtaking bird imagery.
The 2011 exhibition has already started its UK and international tour so there are plenty of chances to catch it outside of London.
Behind the scenes, the judges of this year's 2012 competition are now shoulders-deep in the first round of the selection process for the shortlist of winners. They have the highest amount of entries ever to contend with - so good luck to them.
We'll keep you posted on the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year website of news on the judging and tour updates.
And we're now putting the finishing touches to Wild Planet, a free outdoor exhibition of classic shots from Wildlife Photographer of the Year, opening on the Museum's east lawn on 23 March. Check our website for details of this coming soon.