Natural passions

Birds in a Cage: The Unlikely Beginnings of British Wildlife Conservation, by Derek Niemann, Short Books, RRP£20, 302 pages

In October 1941, four British prisoners of war were sent to the Oflag VI-B camp in Warburg, Germany. There, between assisting the regular escape attempts, they began birdwatching. “Through natural history, and especially birds,” writes Derek Niemann in Birds in a Cage, “they regained self-respect and a passion for living.”

The four – John Buxton, Peter Conder, John Barrett and George Waterston – would go on to become some of the most important figures in British wildlife conservation as a result of the experience. Buxton wrote the acclaimed natural history book The Redstart; Conder became director of the RSPB; Barrett was “arguably the inventor of the modern guided walk and author of the century’s most popular seashore guide”; and Waterston established the Fair Isle bird observatory.

Through diary entries and letters, Niemann brings to life the remarkable and moving story of the men’s passion for the natural world.

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