Wild Words: Kirsteen Bell

NO F25 Watership Down Cover by Tracey Knight
NO F25 Watership Down Cover by Tracey Knight

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I am of the generation with vivid memories of the cartoon film adaptation of Richard Adams’ children’s book Watership Down.

For many children of the late 1970s and 1980s, the story of a group of rabbits escaping the brutal destruction of their warren was indelibly imprinted on our minds. Re-reading the book as an adult, it was clear how much that early encounter had shaped my perception of wildlife.

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1
NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1

The story of Watership Down began as tales about rabbits Hazel and Fiver that Adams told his young daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, during long car journeys.

But since its publication in 1972, Watership Down has sold several million copies worldwide. It has been translated into well over 20 languages and has been adapted several times, including the aforementioned 1978 feature-length animated film and most recently in 2018 as a major animated TV series by BBC/Netflix.

Now academics at the University of Glasgow and Cardiff University are to host a conference to celebrate Adams’ debut novel on its 50th anniversary and examine its continuing appeal to children over five decades.

Children’s author SF Said will be a keynote speaker at the Glasgow conference, along with Adams’ daughter Rosemary Mahoney. Said said: ‘I read Watership Down as a child. It was my favourite book and inspired me to become a writer.

‘I re-read it for the first time just after I finished writing Varjak Paw and was stunned to see how deeply it had shaped my imagination. There would certainly be no Varjak Paw without Watership Down. I believe it has shaped our entire culture, as only the greatest literature can.’

The three-day conference is being held at the University of Glasgow from September 2 to September 4 2022. The conference is also inviting academics to submit 20-minute papers on any aspect of Watership Down, its influences and legacy. It is hoped these papers will be turned into a collection of essays to mark the 50th anniversary of the novel.

Adams famously said of his book that ‘It’s just a story about rabbits’. However, his daughter acknowledges it has become much more than that. She said: ‘People of all ages continue to connect with the story of Watership Down and its key messages about the environment, leadership and friendship are as important today as they were a half century ago.’

The ongoing battle to protect the landscape on which Adams based Watership Down shows how powerful the right story can be in this world.

Since 2012 there have been five planning applications for Sandleford Downs farmland, surrounded still by ancient woodlands. All five have – so far – been refused. Never underestimate the power of a good story.



NO F25 Watership Down Cover by Tracey Knight

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1