With great power comes great responsibility. At no point in my yearly work cycle as the RSPB’s Youth Editor is this more evident than when judging the children’s wildlife art competition, Wild Art. Hours of deliberation and critique across three age categories culminates in the most creative, inspiring and sometimes boundary pushing artwork rising above to be crowned winner, runner-up or highly commended. Of course, everything we receive is fantastic, as each individual piece of work represents a young person’s connection to the natural world around them. Without the help of Mark Ward, Editor-in-Chief and Richard Allen, member of the Society of Wildlife Artists, picking from the wealth of creative talent on show would be impossible. There was only one place to start, the 0-7 year olds – a category guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Can you spot the 0-7 winner?

Garden wildlife always seems to be a theme in this category. It makes a lot of sense, as the garden is likely to be the first place a young person encounters wildlife up close. Ladybirds, snails, garden birds of all varieties and the occasional fox dominated the category, but the surprise three front runners were a sparrowhawk, avocet and a bumblebee, all created using natural bits found in the garden.

"Wild Rabbit" has captured the feral aspect of a rabbit in the wilderness, fighting for survival with its giant tongue

If there’s one thing you can be certain of when judging this category it’s that you’ll be trying to work out where that feather, bead or piece of macaroni came from. The criteria for judging this category focuses on how each piece makes us feel, how much fun we think the young person has had while making it, and if we feel they’ve learnt something.

Flattery won't get you anywhere in this competition...

Next up, the 8-12 year olds. This category never disappoints. There’s playful naivety, technical skill and a lot of different mediums on show, and for several years it’s churned out the winner of the prestigious Richie Richardson award for most realistic depiction of wildlife.

We had over 600 entries this year!

The standard this year was extremely high, and this category took the longest to sift through.

I really felt the passion in this image, and the felt felt nice when I felt it

For this category we start to take into account their technical ability and choice of medium, as well as looking for a slightly different approach to composition.

It's actually really tedious being a kingfisher, and this image captured that perfectly. We named him Kevin

Our hands covered in oil, chalk and sequins, there was just one category left – teenagers.

We get quite a few regular entrants, and each year you can see them improve as they unlock their talent

This category has all the feels. Exploring darkness and light, tone and texture is a GCSE and A-Level student’s forte. This year, the most impressive aspect of this category was the pitched battle of the realists, with several outstandingly accurate depictions of animals coming to life on canvas.

What a clever idea! Lifting the flap reveals the chameleon adopting a different camouflage: D.I.S.C.O

The best part of this category for me, however, is the exploration of “why”. The inspiration behind some of the pieces was fascinating to read about, and definitely added to our interpretation of what the artist wanted to communicate.

This robin has romance on his mind (my favourite image this year)

The criteria for this category looks for something a bit different, or looks for a young person who’s clearly started to unlock their full potential.

There's no time for monkeying around when judging Wild Art

For each category, the winner receives £100 of art vouchers, the runners-up receive £25 of vouchers each, and all of them including the highly commended pieces are exhibited at the Mall Gallery in London for the duration of the Society of Wildlife Artists annual exhibition.

We all felt this sad when we had to return to our day jobs

I feel privileged to be in a position where I can spend part of one working day a year completely engrossed in young peoples' passion for wildlife. We all take the job very seriously, and hope that we’ll always be able to provide budding young wildlife artists this fantastic opportunity for years to come. Look out for next year’s competition!

Jack