Reports, with Bird Lists, of our Meetings, Walks and Outings

Birds in a Cage
by Derek Niemann

Date: Thursday 21 September 2017 at 19:30

The first indoor meeting of the 2017-2018 season was attended by 32 people.
Ken Cottam, Group Leader, asked for volunteers for the post of Group Secretary which will become vacant at the AGM in May 2018. He also presented Jane Overall, Group Treasurer, with a long-service pin badge of a kingfisher to thank her for 15 years volunteering with the RSPB, 11 of these as Group Treasurer. Congratulations Jane!
The speaker for the evening was David Niemann, the author of a very popular book titled Birds in a Cage. The presentation was a highly entertaining synopsis of the book which is a story of four men who early in the Second World War became prisoners of war in Austria. They were all bird watchers and used their observation of bird behaviour to occupy their time and mentally escape from the extreme rigours of life in a camp.
They were Peter Conder, John Buxton, John Henry Barrett and George Waterstone. After the war they remained great friends and also became major movers and shakers in nature conservation.
Peter Conder became Chief Executive of the RSPB in the early 60’s and is considered to have transformed it from a small charity of 20,000 members into an influential and active campaigning charity with 200,000 members within ten years.
George Waterstone became the RSPB director for Scotland and was responsible for the protection arrangements for the ospreys at Loch Garten.
The presentation was made interesting and humorous by Derek who is a very talented story-teller and actor as well as author.
The absence of birds as a subject in their own right may not have been welcomed by all present but most people expressed appreciation of the evening’s entertainment.

What's About in our area:

  • Dinton Pastures – spotted flycatcher
  • Dorney Wetlands - Cetti’s warbler
  • Bray – Cetti’s warbler
  • Cookham Dean – whitethroat
  • Little Marlow – yellow-legged gull, 40 chiffchaffs, 5 ravens
  • Slough Sewage Works – 1500 parakeets
  • Moor Green – pectoral sandpiper
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Book Cover


This is the story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, a group of British POWs overcome hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. The life affirming qualities of birds are movingly demonstrated in this inspiring story of these young men who were taken prisoner in the Second World War, and who overcame hardship and fear in captivity by studying birds. Their experiences leave them scarred, but set them on a path to becoming greats of the conservation movement.  One of their number was Peter Conder, who, as director, transformed the RSPB into a powerful force for conservation.

This tale is not just about birds or war, but about the human spirit. Derek takes us through the despair, the suffering, the hope, and the laughter, showing us how a love of the natural world can help us in good times - and in bad.

You don’t need to be an ornithologist to enjoy this talk!



Derek Niemann

About Derek Niemann

Derek Niemann, author of Birds in a Cage, worked for the RSPB for 25 years before leaving in December 2014 to pursue a career as a freelance writer and editor. He writes a fortnightly Country Diary column for the Guardian, and is a frequent contributor to BBC Wildlife magazine. Birds in a Cage is his first book for adults. Derek will bring copies of the book for sale (hardback £15;
paperback £8.99), and he would be delighted to sign copies should anyone wish.

His second book, A Nazi in the Family, is the story of his German family in World War. Derek’s most recent book is A Tale of Trees; the Battle to Save Britain’s Ancient Woodland. You can find out more about Derek and his books at

All pictures are © Copyright. Do not reproduce without permission from Derek Niemann.