A “spell-binding” image of the Milky Way has been announced as the winner of the annual South Downs National Park astrophotography competition.

The winning photo in the Starry Skyscapes category was a night-time image of Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters, entitled Galactic Bay, which was captured by Giles Embleton-Smith, from Eastbourne.

Mr Embleton-Smith said: “The shooting conditions at the Cuckmere Haven were ideal, with the Milky Way lining up perfectly over the old wooden breakwaters. I’m absolutely delighted and honoured to win.”

Four images were highly commended by the judges, including There Was A Bear On Litlington Road, showing part of the Great Bear constellation reflected in a flooded road, and Orion Over Black Pond at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, both taken by Steve Geliot, from Brighton.

The co-founder of the Save Our Starlings campaign told The Argus: “I am delighted to be commended in this competition.”

Runner-up in the skyscapes category was a “stunning” image of Cissbury Ring, the largest hill fort in Sussex, dating back more than 5,000 years, which was taken by Carl Gough, from Littlehampton.

He also came top in the Nature At Night category, with his picture of heathland surrounding Burton and Chingford ponds, near Petworth.

Judge Elinor Newman, an astrophysicist who works on the events team at the national park, said: “Lowland heath is one of the rarest habitats in the world and this really does capture the magic of it at night.

“Our heaths are actually some of the darkest spots in the national park and this gives a realistic example of what you might see on a clear night.”

Mr Gough said: “The National Park offers so many opportunities for someone like me that has a passion for astronomy and nature.

“I’m able to view the Milky Way with my unaided eyes, arching over heathland, reaching into land from out to sea and towering over the world-famous chalky cliffs.”

Mr Geliot added: “Huge congratulations to Carl Gough who is setting an extremely high bar both technically and artistically, and to Giles Embleton-Smith for the lovely composition he created at Cuckmere Haven.

"I was also really pleased to see Janette Britton in the mix too: we need to see more astrophotography by women, so thinking about ways to make the natural night more safely accessible to all is something which has been on my mind for a while now. 

“For me the natural starry night reflects the seasons as much as snowdrops and daffodils do. The appearance of Orion, for example, means one thing: starlings are coming."

Runner-up in the nature category was A Sky Full Of Stars by Lorcan Taylor-Hood, taken at Warren Hill dew pond on the Eastbourne downland.

The Power Above, depicting the Milky Way over the Hiorne Tower at Arundel, by Janette Britton, was also highly commended.

Runner-up in the moon category was a picture of the full moon behind Beachy Head lighthouse, near Eastbourne, which was also taken by Mr Embleton-Smith.

The winning photos will be shared and displayed during the South Downs National Park’s Dark Skies Festival, which runs from Saturday to February 18.