Watership Down author Richard Adams criticises homes plan

Richard Adams
Image caption Richard Adams grew up in Wash Common, near Newbury

When a young rabbit called Fiver has a terrifying vision of his warren's imminent destruction at Sandleford, his group make the pilgrimage to Watership Down.

The world famous children's book has immortalised the verdant stretches of Berkshire and Hampshire countryside since its publication in 1972.

But in a case of life imitating art, the real life Sandleford Park, near Newbury, Berkshire, could be redeveloped to make way for 2,000 houses if council plans go ahead.

Watership Down author, 90-year-old Richard Adams, is planning some stiff opposition.

"I'm going to oppose it tooth and nail," he said.

"It's a beautiful piece of open country and the most beautiful area south of Newbury.

"The very idea of building on it makes your gorge rise."

Childhood memories

The author was born and raised in Wash Common village that backs on to land surrounding Sandleford Park.

He now lives about 11 miles away in Whitchurch, Hampshire - the county where the rabbits from Sandleford head to in the novel Watership Down.

Aside from the literary heritage of the land, Mr Adams has happy childhood memories of Sandleford.

"I know it like the back of my hand," he said.

"I used to wander over as a boy and although it's private land nobody ever turned me off it, ever."

Image caption Watership Down sold more than 50 million copies

He met his wife Elizabeth at Wash Common as their families lived in neighbouring houses, and Mr Adams had come round to help his young neighbour with her Latin studies.

"I've known that part of the world for many years," she said.

On the morning of her wedding to Mr Adams she said she ate a plate of mushrooms for breakfast that had been collected from the fields.

Mrs Adams is as strongly opposed to the development, south of Monk's Lane, near Newbury College, as her husband.

"I think it's so short sighted of them," she said of the council.

"They started developing the far end of Essex Street (opposite Monk's Lane) so why not continue there?"

West Berkshire Council has said it needs to build the houses and the reason it chose the Sandleford site is because it is near existing roads and services.

The council spokesman also said wherever a site for housing was identified there would be objections.

Mr Adams said West Berkshire Council should buy the land and turn it into a rural park.

"Meanwhile, it should remain as a tract of grazing land, meadows, woodland and it includes a beautiful bluebell wood," he said.

Mr Adams is planning to write a letter to the council and is penning an article for the local newspaper.

"I fully admit my personal stake in the matter," he said, "but it's a beautiful rural area that should be conserved at all costs."

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