Two mice fight over a crumb of food on an empty London Underground station platform

Station Squabble © Sam Rowley

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 55: LUMIX People's Choice Award winner announced

Deep under London, the tunnels are almost constantly buzzing with activity. From the screeching Underground trains to drunken revellers, there's rarely a quiet moment.

But despite the constant din, darkness and estimated two million people meandering through Tube stations each day, nature survives here. 

Lying on a grubby station platform, wildlife photographer Sam Rowley waited patiently to capture the perfect photo.

Mice scurried between small piles of food dropped by innumerable commuters. Although he intended only to capture simple silhouettes, Sam grabbed a split-second chance when two mice jumped at each other and began to fight over the tiny crumbs.

The resulting image, Station Squabble, has been voted the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 55 LUMIX People's Choice Award. 

A winning image

Of a shortlist of 25 images chosen from the 48,000 entered into the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, Station Squabble was selected by the public as the winner of this year's LUMIX People's Choice Award.

Sam says, 'I am so pleased to win this award. It's been a lifetime dream to succeed in this competition in this way, with such a relatable photo taken in such an everyday environment in my hometown. I hope it shows people the unexpected drama found in the most familiar of urban environments.'

A mouse on a London Underground station platform

Sam spent five nights taking photos of London's station mice © Sam Rowley

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Museum, says, 'Sam's image provides a fascinating glimpse into how wildlife functions in a human-dominated environment. The mice's behaviour is sculpted by our daily routine, the transport we use and the food we discard.

'This image reminds us that while we may wander past it every day, humans are inherently intertwined with the nature that is on our doorstep. I hope it inspires people to think about and value this relationship more.'

Tube mice

You might be familiar with the internet phenomenon that is Pizza Rat, but when it comes to the majority of rodents living in the world's underground transport tunnels, such an easy meal doesn't come around too often. Sam Rowley's image of mice battling it out for food might at first seem like the stuff of memes, but life for these tiny animals is brutal.

Sam says, 'These mice only know the constant roar of trains and perpetual darkness. Most won't have ever seen daylight or felt grass under their feet.

'The tunnels are a desperate place to live if they need to have a boxing match over a tiny little crumb.'

A mouse hides under a bench on an Underground station platform

Sam intended to capture silhouettes of the mice until two began to fight over some crumbs © Sam Rowley

Although some might not be fans of spotting mice on the way to work, Sam has found that many of us don't mind the Underground's rodent population so much. He says, 'This really surprised me. Many have confessed to enjoy watching them scurry around the otherwise boring station platform.

'Not everyone is lucky enough to see wildlife in the more remote, unspoilt regions of the world. Therefore, we have to appreciate the commoner species, which is what my urban wildlife photography's all about.'

Sam is a strong believer in how beneficial nature can be for a person's mental health. 'I feel everyone needs to stop and watch mice, pigeons or any other local wildlife,' he says.

A challenging setting

Sam spent five nights working on his project to photograph London's station mice, facing a few challenges on his way to capturing Station Squabble. With the near-constant roar of the Tube coupled with people walking along the platform, the mice frequently bolted for cover.

For the travellers who did pass by the platform on those nights, Sam must have been an unusual sight as he lay on the platform. 

A mouse sits close to the edge of the station platform. A communter sits on a bench in the background watching the mouse.

As he captured images of the mice, Sam often had an audience of curious commuters watching him work © Sam Rowley

'One moment stands out in particular. I was lying down, snapping away, when out of nowhere there was a man lying on top of me. He immediately apologised and told me he'd thought I was having a heart attack!'

'I'm used to lying on the ground and waiting patiently for the perfect photo, but not on a station platform getting stampeded by drunken revellers.'

As he worked, Sam ended up having conversations with curious commuters.

'I guess watching me crawling along the platform was a good way to break up the monotony of the wait for the train. The only annoying thing was in doing that, they scared off my mice.'

A mouse runs for cover

One of Sam's challenges in photographing the mice was that they frequently bolted for cover © Sam Rowley

Photographing nature in an urban world

Sam's favourite subject to photograph is urban wildlife. He says, 'I feel that these kinds of photos strike a chord with people, providing them with the opportunity to see the city as a wild place.

'Urban wildlife is usually more approachable than their countryside cousins, allowing me to get more creative with my approach. Instead of relying on camera traps or spending hours in a hide, I can often approach wildlife without worry.

'This helps me be more flexible in my approach, allowing me to experiment with angles, composition and lighting. '

These days, Sam goes out with a specific photo he'd like to capture in mind. For his work on the Tube mice, he was inspired by a video he was sent.

'My friend sent me a video of mice on a station platform after a night out, and it dawned on me. It surprised me that no one had seriously taken on the challenge of photographing London's station mice before, and it seemed like an obvious project for me to undertake.

Spending five nights lying on a platform for this project, Sam finds that going the extra mile for a photo is exactly what leads to something special. He says, 'Time and effort are needed on a specific project to do yourself justice as a photographer. This approach can be enormously rewarding.'

A mouse walks along under a bench on the station platform

Sam was inspired to capture images of the London Underground's mice after a friend sent him a video of them © Sam Rowley

The top five

Four highly commended images also won over the nature photography enthusiasts who voted in this year's LUMIX People's Choice award:

See the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Museum in South Kensington, open until 31 May 2020.

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18 October 2019 - 31 May 2020

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