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British Wildlife

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British Wildlife is the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiast and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. Published eight times a year, British Wildlife bridges the gap between popular writing and scientific literature through a combination of long-form articles, regular columns and reports, book reviews and letters.

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Conservation Land Management (CLM) is a quarterly magazine that is widely regarded as essential reading for all who are involved in land management for nature conservation, across the British Isles. CLM includes long-form articles, events listings, publication reviews, new product information and updates, reports of conferences and letters.

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Good Reads  Natural History  Biography, Exploration & Travel

Birds in a Cage Four British Birdwatchers, the Unlikely Beginnings of Modern Wildlife Conservation

Biography / Memoir
By: Derek Niemann(Author)
312 pages, b/w photos, colour & b/w illustrations
Publisher: Short Books
Birds in a Cage
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  • Birds in a Cage ISBN: 9781780721361 Paperback May 2013 In stock
    £8.99
    #202398
Price: £8.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

"In the summer of 1940, lying in the sun, I saw a family of redstarts, unconcerned in the affairs of our skeletal multitude, going about their ways in cherry and chestnut trees." Soon after his arrival at Warburg PoW camp, British army officer John Buxton found an unexpected means of escape from the horrors of internment. Passing his days covertly watching birds, he was unaware that he, too, was being watched. Peter Conder, also a passionate ornithologist, had noticed Buxton gazing skywards. He approached him and, with two other prisoners, they founded a secret birdwatching society.

This is the untold story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, the four PoWs overcame hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their quest would draw in not only their fellow prisoners, but also some of the German guards, at great risk to them all.

Derek Niemann draws on original diaries, letters and drawings, to tell of how Conder, Barrett, Waterston and Buxton were forged by their wartime experience into the giants of postwar wildlife conservation. Their legacy lives on.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Famous birders held captive
    By Keith 28 Oct 2020 Written for Paperback
    John Barrett, John Buxton, Peter Conder and George Waterston were four of the most significant British ornithologists to be born in the 1910s. All wrote papers for birding journals at various times and each made his mark on bird study in a different way. By chance they each joined a different regiment in the Second World War, and by tragic coincidence, all found themselves imprisoned at different places during that war, having been captured in Germany, Norway, France, and Greece respectively.

    The War brought together so many people from different backgrounds, and often in very challenging situations. Friendships were forged in the toughest of circumstances – not least in Prisoner of War camps across Germany. These four ornithologists were all moved between different prison camps in varying locations but all were held at the same place between October 1941 and September 1942. That place was the Oflag VI-B camp for officers at Warburg in Germany – roughly halfway between Hanover and Cologne.

    This book tells the story of their wartime service, but particularly the time they spent together. If anything, their interest in birds was strengthened by their enforced imprisonment. There were relatively few things that inmates could do, but each of them had noticed birds around the camp, and – despite the absence of binoculars – they had started to record what they saw. In particular, they noticed the spring migration of 1942 with a daily log being kept of every bird seen over a period of almost two months. In addition, Buxton focused his attention on the Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Their interest in birds attracted the attention of security guards who suspected them of plotting an escape plan. Not surprisingly some of the inmates thought that they were an odd group – not least when they started to correspond with a German ornithologist. All but Barrett were later moved south to another camp in a wooded valley at Eichstätt where Conder studied the Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis and Waterson focused on the Wryneck Jynx torquilla; the latter study totalling an astonishing 1200 hours of observation for him and his “assistants”. Eventually, the men were split up before the War ended in 1945 and all returned home safely.

    In their own ways, each of the four men went on to make their own impressions on the world of ornithology and bird conservation. John Buxton became a teacher and academic and wrote up his studies of the Common Redstart in a New Naturalist monograph (The Redstart, Collins, 1950); John Barrett became the warden of Dale Fort Field Centre in Pembrokeshire and wrote highly-popular guides to seashore wildlife; Peter Conder became the warden at nearby Skokholm, eventually joining the RSPB staff in 1954 and becoming its Director General; and George Waterston also ended up on the RSPB staff and is widely accepted as the man who made sure that the Osprey Pandion haliaetus successfully reintroduced itself to Scotland in the 1950s.

    The great value of this book is that it brings together the story of what these men experienced. These are stories that have rarely been told, as each of them remained relatively tight-lipped about their experiences – even to close family. Peter Conder did write up some of his thoughts but these were never completed, and John Buxton even wrote a book on the subject which was rejected for publication. The strength of this book comes from the fact that you are drawn into their lives and it feels as if the men are in a room talking about what had happened. All four died a long time before Derek Niemann had the idea for this book, but despite having never met any of them he has brought to life their different attitudes and experiences with great ease.
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Biography

Derek Niemann is the editor of the RSPB's children's magazine and has written several books on nature and conservation for young readers. He lives in Bedfordshire with his family.

Biography / Memoir
By: Derek Niemann(Author)
312 pages, b/w photos, colour & b/w illustrations
Publisher: Short Books
Media reviews

"A wonderfully crafted hymn to the life-giving qualities of birds"
– Simon Barnes

"Immensely moving [...] a beautiful and gripping story"
– Tim Dee, BBC Wildlife Magazine

"The most gripping and illuminating tale of a hidden side of PoW life in WWII"
– Toby Little

"A wonderful story [...] gives you that warm feeling that a shared love of Nature conquers all"
– John Beard

"[...] The great value of this book is that it brings together the story of what these men experienced. These are stories that have rarely been told, as each of them remained relatively tight-lipped about their experiences – even to close family. Peter Conder did write up some of his thoughts but never completed them, and John Buxton even wrote a book on the subject, which was rejected for publication. The strength of this book comes from the fact that you are drawn into their lives and it feels as if the men are in a room talking about what had happened. All four died a long time before Derek Niemann had the idea for this book, but despite having never met any of them, he has brought to life their different attitudes and experiences with great ease."
– Keith Betton, 25-04-2013, British Birds

"[...] Birds in a Cage is not simply a book about birds, nor is it a biography of Conder, Waterston, Buxton and Barrett, and nor is it a history book about the PoW camps of World War II. It contains, of course, elements of all three. It is a tale of survival, endurance, adventure and resourcefulness all bound inextricably to a love of birds. Anyone who has sat miserably at a desk gazing out of the window willing a waxwing to appear in a nearby sorbus has some insight into the minds of these men. This is a fascinating and engrossing book, a perfect Christmas gift, but make sure you buy one for yourself at the same time."
– Fiona Barclay, Monday 17th December 2012, www.birdguides.com

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