"Now, even though Walter was a water shrew, he wasn’t very fond of water. In fact, he made sure that he stayed out of it as much as he could."
This was true. Walter's preferred mode of transport was the little rowing boat that he always tied up at the end of the jetty, just outside his burrow. Until one morning...
The tiny shrew, who was deep in sleep, was dreaming. Now, you might wonder what a shrew could possibly dream about. Well, in Walter’s case, he was dreaming his favourite dream. It was the one where he is stretched out in his boat on his best Macleod tartan blanket, with his hands behind his head. He has his feet resting on the large wicker picnic hamper, that had contained his lunch but is now empty. And as he and the boat gently bob along with the gentle flow of the river, he is soaking up the summer sun.
A contented smile appeared on the little shrew’s face and he sighed with pleasure as he lay in his bed.
Suddenly, in his dream, his little boat began to bob a little too briskly, as if a motorboat had just driven past at high speed.
“River hog!” shouted the little shrew in his sleep.
It was at this precise moment that Walter woke from his dream. To his surprise, he could still feel himself being rocked by the gentle lapping of waves.
The little shrew immediately sat up and put his spectacles on. He then blinked several times, hardly able to believe his eyes.
His bed was indeed bobbing up and down in several inches of water, much like a cork.
“This is not good,” he said, as he saw one of his slippers float by. “This is really not good at all.”
There was nothing for it, he would have to investigate where this water was coming from and, more importantly, where his other slipper was.
"The Adventures of Walter Shrew will change the way you look at rivers forever."
"James has an extraordinary talent for bringing a scene to life."
"Within a few lines, I was lying on the river bank watching everyone going peacefully about their business while Walter got increasingly annoyed at the loss of his boat AND slipper!"
The Adventures of Walter Shrew is suitable for ages 5-11 years (and adults, but we won't tell anyone.)
An extract from The Adventures of Walter Shrew
The tranquillity of the River Thames as it flows gently through Oxfordshire and Berkshire inspired Kenneth Grahame to write The Wind in the Willows in 1908, over 115 years ago.
Like thousands of children before me, my parents read the tales of Ratty and Mole to me before I was six years old. Now almost fifty years later the magic of the story still resonates in my heart. To pay tribute to that great book, I wanted to write my own version, with my own characters.
Suddenly Walter Shrew just happened by.
..... but if you are very quiet and you just might see Walter rowing about in his boat.
If you do, then please touch your hat and say "it's a fine day for it Walter".
The Adventures of Walter Shrew will highlight the amazing work the Gara Water Vole Reintroduction Project is doing to reintroduce water voles to the River Gara and its tributaries in South Devon.
Water voles have been part of our British wildlife for thousands of years and if you’ve ever read Wind in the Willows you’ll remember the character called ‘Ratty’, who was a water vole. They are around 20 cm long, have chestnut brown fur, a round nose and a furry tail and live along our rivers, streams and ponds right across the country. They build themselves burrows in the riverbank and feed on the vegetation that grows alongside the water. Sadly water voles have been disappearing as our rivers have become polluted, their bankside habitats have grown rarer and, to add to their problems, they’ve been hunted by mink, a non-native escapee from fur farms.
However, water voles have a very positive effect on their environment, creating a dynamic habitat that supports many other species, and are vital to maintaining abundant wetland ecosystems along riverbanks. As they chew down the vegetation they create flower-rich banks which benefit butterflies, bees, moths and other pollinators. That then creates more food for the birds, mammals and bats that eat those insects and many other small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians use their burrows for refuge and as places to breed.
Water voles have all but disappeared from Devon so we wanted to bring them back to our local rivers. To achieve that we’ve first identified an area, the River Gara, which has the food and conditions that water voles need. We’ve been monitoring the whole river system and are now sure that there are no mink living nearby, although we’ll need to be constantly vigilant in case any appear. The next step is that an animal expert has started breeding water voles for us so that we’ll have plenty to reintroduce. We’ll need to have at least four reintroduction sites along the river so that when they have babies, their young will have other vole colonies to find as they grow up and wander off looking for mates.
In total, we’ll need to reintroduce around 800 water voles to ensure a strong, viable population and this will be done over three years. Water voles can have up to three litters a year and, if we’re successful, they’ll end up spreading right along the River Gara and into the streams that feed it and the ponds around it. Ultimately the Gara feeds into a big freshwater lake called Slapton Ley, which lies just back from the sea, and the day we see water voles there we’ll know that we, and the hundreds of people who have supported this project, have succeeded in bringing these little creatures back into the South Hams.
If you’re walking by a stream then listen out for a distinctive little plop, which is the sound water voles make as they jump back into the water when they hear you approach. Look out for small burrows in the bank above the water and, near them, areas of nibbled vegetation. If you look closely and see that the plant stems have been chewed at a 45* angle then you’ve definitely found water voles.
"The water vole has been part of the British countryside for more than 10,000 years. In the early 20th Century over 8 million were recorded in the UK, but these charismatic and ecologically important creatures are rapidly disappearing from our waterways. Recent records suggest we now have just 100,000 left, with water voles declining by 90% in the last 20 years alone."
Sign up to James Hywel's newsletter for updates on the latest release, excerpts, news and more.