I liked this book.
Birds in a Cage is the story of four British prisoners of war, Second Lieutenant Peter Conder, Second Lieutenant John Buxton, Second Lieutenant George Waterston and Squadron Leader John Barrett, who, after WWII, went on to influence nature conservation practice and policy.
It’s a remarkable tale which is beautifully told. On the face of it, it might not sound like the most interesting of subjects, but it really is fascinating.
Reading this book made me think of how easy birders have it these days with great optics. and field guides, and recordings of songs, and distribution atlases etc. And it made me think about how important nature was to these men and how their love of nature helped them endure hardships that were extreme. Walking, exhausted, through a frozen landscape these were the type of folk to keep a bird list as they travelled.
And I wonder how the birds have changed in numbers in the last 70 years. Are the skylark flocks flying still over Warburg (North Rhine-Westphalia) in mid-March in numbers of up to 15,000 a day? I wonder.
I wonder too whether any similar records were kept by German or Italian PoWs in the UK? Prompted by reading this book I discover that there was a PoW camp just up the hill from my local birding patch – I wonder whether there were any captive ornithologists there.
The story is interesting and the writing is excellent. For example, the opening sentence to the second chapter is surprisingly funny.
The strong message from this book is that the existence of nature was incredibly important to these men – as was studying the natural world around them. A little thing like captivity during a World War wasn’t going to deflect them from their passion – indeed, in some ways it gave them the time and opportunity, and by chance the companions, to study more, learn more and think more. If you feel imprisoned in any way by your life then there may be a lesson for you in this book. There certainly is a message of hope and human endurance written through this excellent book.