A SPOOKY shot of bats flying over Coate Water at night nabbed one Swindon photographer the top prize at a national photography competition.

Paul Colley spent 14 months trying to capture the nocturnal creatures in flight by using a specially-designed infra-red camera and lighting system.

His efforts have been rewarded with £5,000 and the honour of winning the British Wildlife Photography Awards with the photo ‘Contrails At Dawn of Daubenton's bats at Coate Water Country Park’.

Paul said: "No other image in my portfolio had been so clearly conceived and yet so difficult to achieve.

"My artistic intent was to capture this extraordinary little bat's speed of movement and hunting flight path, but the journey to success was littered with disappointing failures.

"I experienced a huge gradient of emotion. There were the lows felt during months of long, cold and exhausting dusk-to-dawn sessions, sometimes waist-deep in water and often without getting a single usable image.

"Then there were the natural highs of those lightbulb moments, when new ideas blossomed, problems were solved and the project inched closer towards the potential to win this exceptional accolade."

As the bats are a protected species, they were photographed following advice from conservation experts.

Paul is giving the first public talk about his award-winning photo this Friday at Shrivenham Memorial Hall at 7pm. Tickets are available from the Shrivenham Post Office and all money raised from the event will go towards a local community project.

A portrait of a badger, a great skua eating a puffin, a magpie on railings in the snow, a close-up of a nursery web spider waiting among petals for her prey, and grey seals being released were among the winning shots in the contest.

Prizes for top pictures were awarded in 15 categories, including ones that focus on the coasts, close-up images of the natural world, the same subject through the seasons, video, and a documentary series of photographs.

Naturalist, author and wildlife TV producer Stephen Moss said: "The extraordinary range of subjects, species and habitats, and the imaginative way they are portrayed, leaves us in no doubt that we in Britain are fortunate to be home to some of the most talented photographers in the world.

"It is also a snapshot of Britain's diverse and beautiful wildlife, at a time when these wild creatures - and the places where they live - are under threat as never before."

An exhibition of winning and commended entries from the competition will go on tour, starting in London on November 6, and a book, British Wildlife Photography Awards 9, will feature Paul's photo and those of the other winners.