A blood-spattered lioness, a gecko wrestling for its life in the grip of a snake and a slick of dead and dying herrings are among the photographs submitted to this year’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

The Natural History Museum has just released a selection of the highly commended images which show a "planet under pressure" and "illuminates the urgent challenges we face".

Raw moment by Lara Jackson (Lara Jackson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Raw moment by Lara Jackson (Lara Jackson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Lara Jackson’s portrait, entitled Raw Moment, shows a lioness staring down the camera after feasting on a wildebeest at Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

Wei Fu’s image of a golden tree snake coiled around a tokay gecko in a park near his home in Bangkok, Thailand, and Audun Rikardsen’s image of herring covering the surface of the sea off the coast of Norway as a result of overfishing also made into the highly commended category.

The gripping end by Wei Fu (Wei Fu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
The gripping end by Wei Fu (Wei Fu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Also included is Sergio Marijuan’s young Iberian lynx in the doorway of an abandoned hayloft. The species was once on the brink of extinction is now rising in numbers thanks to ongoing conservation efforts.

This year’s competition attracted more than 50,000 entries from photographers in 95 countries.

Chairwoman of the judging panel, Roz Kidman Cox, said that the "thought-provoking images" remind us to enjoy nature "in these dark times".

Lynx on the threshold by Sergio Marijuán (Sergio Marijuán/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Lynx on the threshold by Sergio Marijuán (Sergio Marijuán/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

She said: "It was the overall quality of entries that took us by surprise. With most travel plans cancelled over the past year, photographers seem to have spent extra time considering what gems to submit.

"The result is a collection of both thought-provoking images and ones that, in these dark times, remind us of the joy and wonder to be had from nature."

Dr. Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum added: "These extraordinary images showcase the rich diversity of life on Earth and spark curiosity and wonder.

A caring hand by Douglas Gimsey (Douglas Gimesy/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
A caring hand by Douglas Gimsey (Douglas Gimesy/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"Telling the story of a planet under pressure, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition illuminates the urgent challenges we face and the collective action we need to take. This year’s inspiring exhibition will move and empower audiences to advocate for the natural world."

The great swim by Buddhilini de Soyza (Buddhilini de Soyza/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
The great swim by Buddhilini de Soyza (Buddhilini de Soyza/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
The nurturing wetland by Rakesh Pulapa ( Rakesh Pulapa/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
The nurturing wetland by Rakesh Pulapa ( Rakesh Pulapa/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Mushroom magic by Juergen Freund (Juergen Freund/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Mushroom magic by Juergen Freund (Juergen Freund/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Deep feelers by Laurent Ballesta (Laurent Ballesta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Deep feelers by Laurent Ballesta (Laurent Ballesta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Storm fox by Jonny Armstrong (Jonny Armstrong/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Storm fox by Jonny Armstrong (Jonny Armstrong/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Up for grabs by Jack Zhi (Jack Zhi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)
Up for grabs by Jack Zhi (Jack Zhi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

The overall winners, including the Grand Title winner, will be announced on Tuesday 12 October via a virtual awards ceremony livestream. The exhibition of the 100 award-winning images will open at the Natural History Museum, London, on Friday 15 October, before beginning its international tour.

The free event will once again be hosted by BBC presenters and wildlife experts Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin and feature photographers, museum scientists and special guests.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.