A striking image of seabirds nesting on cliffs and flying over an inky-black sea has won the top prize in the British Wildlife Photography Awards.

Barrie Williams, from Lossiemouth, beat thousands of other entrants to win the overall prize of £5,000 with his stunning picture of gannets in Shetland.

Judges described it as “beautiful and evocative”.

Last night Mr Williams said he was “blown away” by the number of gannets when he visited Noss whilst shooting a short film to showcase the flora and fauna Scotland has to offer.

The 29-year-old the shot of the “seabird orchestra” after deciding to spend half a day taking photographs when he realised he had gone an entire month without taking a single one.

He said: “Looking down, it appeared to me that the gannets far below looked like stars against the dark backdrop of the sea.

“Add to this the nests scattered across the cliffs, and I knew I had found my image.”

Having just finished a stint as a researcher with the BBC Scotland’s Landward programme this summer, Mr Williams – who has a masters in wildlife documentary production – hopes the victory will be a springboard allowing him to make a living off of watching wildlife through the lens.

He added: “Hopefully, I will be able to use the prize money to buy some camera equipment and book a wee trip somewhere and see if I can do some photography elsewhere.

“Many past winners have used it to launch a career, so I’m hoping I can be the next in line.”

Judge Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscape at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “Worlds collide in Barrie Williams’s beautiful and evocative image, affording a unique insight into the habitat and behaviour of gannets.

“Sea cliffs provide a haven from potential predators, a place for birds to breed, hunt and safely raise the next generation.

“This vertigo-inducing shot shows guano-stained rocks, the bustle of lower ledges with birds packed tightly and gannets hunting over the inky seas below.”

Mark Carwardine, zoologist, writer, photographer and broadcaster, said: “The bar in wildlife photography has already been raised to unimaginably high levels of sophistication, innovation and artistic vision – yet the standard somehow continues to get better and better.”

Prizes were awarded in 16 categories, including for a documentary series of pictures won with photos about dealing with toads on roads in the North York Moors National Park, and a seasons category scooped by images of roe deer in Suffolk fields through tr.