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When There Were Birds

On sale

11th November 2021

Price: £25

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Selected: Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781408713570

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A landmark book that charts humanity’s changing relationship with birds – from the ancient Egyptians to the twenty-first century

‘A marvellously original slice of social history’ Daily Mail

‘The facts and folklore of birdlife are dissected in admirable detail in this handsome book’ Sunday Times

‘Roy and Lesley Adkins are masters of their craft’ BBC Countryfile Magazine

No other group of animals has had such a complex and lengthy relationship with humankind as birds. They 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.

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 behaviours. It draws together many disparate, forgotten strands to present a story that is an intriguing and unexpectedly significant part of our heritage.


Guy de la Bédoyère
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
Richard Greatrex, Church Times
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
Annette Shaw, Devon Life
The sheer breadth of information reflects every part of life on earth. And that's what makes it such a worthwhile read
Emma J Wells, BBC Countryfile Magazine
The book is a beautiful, yet original portrait of the integral role played by birds throughout history. . . The social history of ornithology is injected with passion by Roy and Lesley Adkins, who are masters of their craft, welcoming readers to unexpected topics. . . Readers, flock to this tome.
Roland White, Sunday Times
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
Choice Magazine, Great New Year Reads
When There Were Birds by historians Roy and Lesley Adkins charts humanity's changing relationship with birds, from the ancient Egyptians to the 21st century
Steve Yabsley, BBC Radio Bristol
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
Mark Avery
Every chapter is replete with anecdotes which, for me at least, made the book a page-turner . . . The authors used their research skills and experience to put a different type of book together, and I am grateful to them because it is a very good read . . . and I recommend it
Horatio Clare, The Spectator
Unusually for a book about nature, the species in question, in this lucid story of the relationship between birds and humans, is ours . . . An evocative chapter, 'Abundance', assembles descriptions of a British landscape so vivid you feel you almost remember it . . . There are no dodos in this book
Giles Coren, Times Radio
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
Martin Chilton, The Independent
An appealing social history of Britain that charts the relationship between people and birds [with] a lot of quirky information
Christopher Hart, Daily Mail (Book of the Week)
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