COP26: Photographer to highlight climate change in exhibition

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image captionBrian Matthews tracked polar bears in the Canadian Arctic

A photographer is hoping to raise awareness around climate change by displaying wildlife pictures at a summit of world leaders.

Brian Matthews, from Hartlepool, travels the world photographing animals, from polar bears in Canada to orang-utans in Borneo.

He wants to highlight the challenges and successes of nature conservation at COP26 in Glasgow this November.

"I hope my images, especially the polar bears, help people smile," he said.

Mr Matthews, who is in talks with the UK government about engaging the public through a UK wildlife photography competition and exhibition at COP26, said he hopes pictures of animals in their natural environment will "make people understand and care a little more".

"Getting even a little message out there that there's loads and loads of cool animals that you can see and we can look after, we can work with to make sure that they don't become extinct or in trouble, is really important."

Dozens of world leaders will attend COP26, the most important round of climate change talks since the global Paris Agreement was secured in 2015.

Mr Matthews hopes a competition will "bring the planet together" by showing off the best conservation photography in the world.

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image captionThe project will showcase the stories of 26 international wildlife photographers

"Sometimes, a little photograph of a polar bear or an orang-utan, or a little bit of video of a seal in Northumberland, just twigs someone's brain to think they're really worth caring for," he said.

"And people then, hopefully, will actively get involved in conservation and preservation of either the habitat or the animals themselves, or just go and enjoy them."

'Playing the waiting game'

The 42-year-old took up photography in 2003. After leaving university, he bought his first camera and did a bit of travelling.

Last year he spent 15 days "playing the waiting game" with Cree Indian trackers, hoping to catch a glimpse of polar bears in North West Canada.

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image captionMr Matthews said: "We hope the images will make people smile and engage with nature"

He explained: "You have to be in the right place at the right time. Obviously that's the first step.

"And make sure you've got the right kit on because it was -65C some days. The polar bears don't seem to mind but my fingers and nose were absolutely frozen.

"You just have to sit and wait and some days you're just sitting in the freezing cold, usually for about 12 hours, either waiting for the bears to do something interesting or, of course, just to find them.

"To see polar bear cubs is just unbelievable and to be within 50m of them and them being quite comfortable, we being really safe and then to be able to get some amazing photos and videos, was just staggeringly unbelievable."

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image captionCloser to home, gulls in Hartlepool provide a stunning image

As well as international photography, Mr Matthews loves the local wildlife near his home.

"The North East is an incredible place to see wildlife, from the kittiwakes on the Tyne up to the seals on the Farnes, and there's a surprising amount around Teesside itself, be it the Moors or Seal Sands.

"I don't think people realise it's like a little secret wildlife area. Saltholme and the sort of industrial lands of the Tees is an absolute amazing place to visit.

"I think wildlife makes everyone smile a little bit… so hopefully my images, particularly with the polar bears, will make a few people smile a bit more and hopefully care as well."

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image captionIt is hoped after COP26, the exhibition will travel around the UK
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image captionThe conservation of puffins on the Farne Islands could form part of the UK focus for COP26

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