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‘A marvellously original slice of social history’ Daily Mail (Book of the Week)

The facts and folklore of birdlife , and man’s equivocal relationship with birds, are dissected in admirable detail in this handsome new book’ Sunday Times

Birds are a joy and solace in troubled times, as well as a reminder of past experiences and a symbol of hope for the future. For centuries, they were also seen as a source of food, feathers and even fuel, and being so numerous, many were persecuted as pests. When There Were Birds is a social history of Britain that charts the complex connections between people and birds, set against a background of changes in the landscape and evolving tastes, beliefs and behaviour. Birds were once key elements of the nation’s history, traditions and sports, and this gave rise to a rich legacy of literature, language and myths.

No other group of animals has had such a complex and lengthy relationship with humankind. Birds have been kept in cages as pets, taught to speak and displayed as trophies. More practically, they have been used to tell the time, predict the weather, foretell marriages, provide unlikely cures for ailments, convey messages and warn of poisonous gases.

Although very familiar, birds have often seemed strange, sinister and alarming. With their ability to fly, they bridged the gap between the earth and the heavens, and superstitions were rife because they were presumed to be linked to the supernatural. When There Were Birds draws together many disparate, forgotten strands to present a story that is an intriguing and unexpectedly significant part of our heritage.


This is a substantial social history of our interactions with the bird life of these isles. . . With its wide-ranging, informative text, extensive notes, and commendably comprehensive index, When There Were Birds makes its own vital contribution to our perception of our relationship with creation, providing further stimulus for us to achieve an environmental renaissance
Richard Greatrex, Church Times
An appealing social history of Britain that charts the relationship between people and birds [with] a lot of quirky information
Martin Chilton, The Independent
The book is absolutely packed with wonderful stories. You've really researched it to pieces. . . I hope that this book inspires and galvanises those that want to protect birds
Steve Yabsley, BBC Radio Bristol
A wonderful book. . . the perfect gift for Christmas this year for a bird lover. . . In fact, no, bird lovers are fine, buy it for someone that hates birds and see if you can turn them round
Giles Coren, Times Radio
The facts and folklore of birdlife, and man's equivocal relationship with birds, are dissected in admirable detail in this handsome new book ... [with] striking revelations
Roland White, Sunday Times
When There Were Birds is a marvellously original slice of social history, a portrait of our ever-conflicted relationship with the natural world which we so abuse and which we cannot live without; a book beautifully balanced between wonder and warning
Christopher Hart, Daily Mail (Book of the Week)
This book is. . . not only a fascinating browse of all sorts of stories about the past, but it's a real revelation actually. . . it's really going to encourage you to think about birds and the part they played historically and culturally
Guy de la Bédoyère