In 2017, Swim gym was Highly Commended in the Behaviour: Mammals category

© Laurent Ballesta

Fifteen photos that'll remind you why you love our planet

Our planet is unique. It's filled with diverse animals, ecosystems and landscapes. However, the natural world is being damaged, often by human hands.

Nature needs protecting and we can all do our bit to support it. 

Here are 15 photos from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition to remind you of what an extraordinarily beautiful world we're fighting to protect.

1. Îlot de la Dent, Antarctica

During the early period of Antarctic exploration, Weddell seals were hunted as a source of food for explorers and their dogs. Fortunately for this mother and pup, that's not the case today.

Photographer Laurent Ballesta captured this duo in Terre Adélie, Antarctica. Weddell seal pups spend their initial weeks of their life on the ice, before taking their first dip. They grow up to be accomplished divers with excellent underwater vision. 

Sky hole was Highly Commended in 2019 in the Earth's Environments category

© Sven Začek

2. Karula National Park, Estonia

With his drone hovering directly above one of Karula National Park's many small lakes, photographer Sven Začek captured this almost eye-like image.

While the ghostly ring of dead trees around the lake may seem alarming, it is actually a positive sign. It indicates a thriving beaver population, whose dams cause higher-than-usual water levels that flood the forest floor, rotting the roots of the trees close to the shore.

Sleeping infant was Highly Commended in 2011 in the Animal Portraits category

© Xavier Ortega

3. Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania

After a few hours of hearing them moving ahead of him through the trees of the Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, photographer Xavier Ortega finally caught up with a small band of chimpanzees. Once accepted by the group, he was able to spend the rest of the day in a glade, observing and capturing their interactions.

Drawn particularly to a mother and small infant, this most tender of moments stood out to the photographer as his favourite. 

In 2019 Snow-Plateau Nomads won in the Animals in their Environment category

© Shangzhen Fan

4. Kumukuli Desert, China

Snow and desert sand may seem an unusual contrast, but the native chiru are very familiar with the high-altitude conditions of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Photographer Shangzhan Fan captured this herd of males as they made for the relative warmth of the Kumukuli Desert.

The antelope are kept warm by a layer of underfur called shahtoosh, which is highly coveted. Killing chiru is the only way to harvest shahtoosh and demand decimated their populations. But protection since the 1990s has seen their numbers rise again. 

In 2019 Pondworld won in the Behaviours: Amphibians & Reptiles category

© Manuel Plaickner

5. South Tyrol, Italy

As temperatures rise with the arrival of spring, common frogs come out of their winter shelters and head straight to water to spawn. Hundreds of frogs can gather in a single pond.

Although this species is widespread across Europe and they aren't officially considered to be at risk, common frog numbers are thought to be declining, with their main threats being the pollution and draining of wetlands and their breeding sites. 

Desert Relic won in the Plants & Fungi category in 2018

© Jen Guyton

6. Namib Desert, Namibia

Welwitschia plants only grow in the extreme conditions of the Namib. The plants can reach up to 1,000 years old, with just two, slow-growing leaves that creep over the desert floor. It may look like they have more than two, but as centuries pass, the leaves simply become ragged and torn.

Photographer Jen Guyton trekked all day across the Namib Desert until she found the perfect subject. 

In 2016 Dawn of the bison was a Finalist in the Mammals category

© Jasper Doest

7. Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, The Netherlands

European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild by 1927. But through the efforts of several rewilding projects, numbers of this ecologically important species are now on the rise - although they are still considered vulnerable.

Photographer Jasper Doest captured this herd cooling down in a lake at first light in the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park, amid a large swarm of midges.

In 2019 The Architectural Army won in the Behaviour: Invertebrates category

© Daniel Kronauer

8. Heredia, Costa Rica

Army ants are master architects, but they don't build permanent nests.

The ants have two phases of activity – nomadic and stationary. In the nomadic phase, the ants set out at dusk, travelling up to 400 metres before stopping to construct a living nest using their own bodies.

The soldiers interlock their claws, forming a well-organised scaffold. Inside there is a network of tunnels and chambers where the queen, larvae and eggs and food are stored. 

Mud-Rolling Mud-Dauber won in the Behaviour: Invertebrates category in 2018

© Georgina Steytler

9. Walyormouring Nature Reserve, Australia

Photographer Georgina Steytler had been on the lookout for birds by a waterhole in Western Australia, but her attention was drawn this industrious duo at the water's edge.

Female mud daubers create their nests from the tiny spheres of mud they collect. They cluster the spheres together and carve chambers into them. The females lay their eggs and place paralysed spiders in the chambers, which will eventually become a pre-prepared meal for the hatched larvae. 

The last great picture won in the Black and White category in 2014

© Michael 'Nick' Nichols

10. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

According to photographer Michael 'Nick' Nichols, the Vumbi pride of the Serengeti are a formidable force. But he was able to capture the lionesses and their cubs in a sublime moment of calm, most sleeping after having just chased off one of the pride's two males.

Lions are listed as a vulnerable species. Just months after this photo was taken, the pride ventured out of the safety of the park and three of the lionesses were killed. 

The Freshwater Forest was Highly Commended in the Plants & Fungi category in 2019

© Michel Roggo

11. Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland

The ethereal beauty of this underwater jungle-like scene belies a problematic reality.

Drawn in by a huge pike that disappeared into a forest of watermilfoil in Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, photographer Michel Roggo noticed there were thick clusters of zebra mussels clinging to some of the plants.

Both watermilfoil and zebra molluscs are prolific breeders and are easily spread by humans to new areas. The arrival of new species into delicately balanced ecosystems can cause significant harm.

Mama's back was a Finalist in the 11-14 Years Old category of Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2015

© Ashleigh Scully

12. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Tiptoeing out of her cabin in the Grand Teton National Park, USA, photographer Ashleigh Scully was able to observe two excitable fox cubs as they played.

Fox families stay together from spring, when the cubs are born, until autumn. The cubs are fed with regurgitated food for a couple of months, so when an exhausted looking female appeared, the two cubs bounded over to greet her.

In 2010, Dawn call was Highly Commended in the Animals in their Environment category

© Pierre Vernay

13. Dyrehaven Park, Denmark

The loud bellows of red deer stags are designed to carry in a forest. They are a clear display of strength to both hinds and competitors.

As the first beams of daylight hit Denmark's Dryehaven Park, photographer Pierre Vernay watched a stag emerge from below a huge oak tree and roar out into the wilderness. The rival stag that had strayed too close vanished, clearly getting the message.

Bad boys was a Runner-up in the Mammals category in 2013

© Andrew Walmsley

14. Tangkoko National Park, Indonesia

This looks like a moment of pure joy. But these critically endangered Celebes crested macaques on Indonesia's Sulawesi island were not pursuing the flying cricket in front of them. Instead their charge and screams were focused on a large male macaque just ahead.

But the group's bravado failed as the intruder stood his ground and stepped towards them. All four youngsters turned tail and ran.

In 2018 A Bear on the Edge was Highly Commended in the Animals in their Environment category

© Sergey Gorshkov

15. Champ Island, Franz Josef Land

Franz Josef Land is a group of 191 islands in the Arctic Ocean that have recently been incorporated into the Russian Arctic National Park.

Polar bears depend on the fragile Arctic wilderness, but natural and anthropogenic changes to their habitat has left them vulnerable. The number of polar bears and the rate of sea ice decline in Franz Josef Land is unknown, presenting problems for the iconic mammals' conservation.