Friday 19 June 2020

Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann (as recommended by Chris Packham)

Springwatch is always a great programme to watch on the BBC, as it follows the development of spring in the UK. This year, given the coronavirus pandemic, they had a very hard job putting the programme together in compliance with social distancing rules but the result was brilliant, a real feast of the country's best nature and how it can support people's mental health and welfare during a crisis. Hence, this book recommendation from Chris Packham, one of the programme's presenters. 

Once Chris mentioned it, I was keen to read it and I happened to have a copy on my bookshelves (never have I mean more glad of my habit of accumulating books more quickly than I read them). 

This is the true story of four British serviceman who were POWs in World War II, and found purpose and camaraderie in their love of birds. The men were Second Lieutenant Peter Conder, Second Lieutenant John Buxton, Second Lieutenant George Waterston and Squadron Leader John Barrett, all of whom later in life went on to influence nature conservation in the UK. Each of the prisoners found ways to explore the local nature around the prison camps and to keep meticulous notes on their findings (though not all the notes survived). They even met German prison guards who were willing to help them to some extent. 

The book also outlines how these wartime experiences informed the men's later lives, Peter Conder became the director of the RSPB (Rpyal Society for the Protection of Birds), John Buxton wrote The Redstart, which became a model for single species monograph books on birds, John Barrett ran a field studies centre in Pembrokeshre and wrote The Collins Guide to the Seashore and George Waterstone at various points founded the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, worked for the RSPB and the National Trust and was responsible for Operation Osprey, which successfully reintroduced ospreys to the UK. 

This is a fascinating story of how nature can help people get through extremely difficult times. 

Birds in a Cage by Derek Niemann  published by Short Books in collaboration with the RSPB. 


Jeff said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I have read of British POWs in the Pacific, but I think the Japanese may have been much tougher. DId the men have an interest in birds before the war?

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Jeff, yes they did have some interest in birds before the war