The stretch of the river Pang at the Moor Copse Nature Reserve which inspired The Wind in the Willows and is now under threat
Photo credit - Ian Jones
Worrying wind blowing through the willows
By Nicole Martin
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 14/11/2006
"It was so beautiful that the mole could only hold up both fore paws and gasp, 'O my!, O, my!, O, my!"
The Wind in the Willows
Conservationists are racing against time to save the riverbank thought to have been the inspiration for Kenneth Grahame's much-loved novel almost a century ago.
Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust fears the "beautiful and wildlife-rich" piece of land beside the River Pang in Berkshire could fall into the hands of developers wanting to convert the area into houses if it can not raise the money to buy it by a deadline of Dec 8.
It says it would be "a crying shame" to lose this "unique wildlife haven" immortalised in Grahame's 1908 classic about the lives of Ratty, the water vole, Badger, Mole and Toad.
When Mole first sees the river, the author writes that he is "bewitched, entranced and fascinated" by it.
Nigel Phillips, the wildlife trust's head of reserves, said the site was home not only to the endangered water vole but also to other threatened species such as the spotted flycatcher and stag beetle.
"The number of meadows and woodland sites in Berkshire has declined dramatically in recent years due to development," he said.
"It would be a crying shame if this was lost forever. Protecting this piece of land would not only be wonderful for wildlife but for people too. We want people to come and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this inspirational site for generations to come."
He said the trust hoped to turn the 72-acre area, by the Moor Copse Nature Reserve, near Reading, Berks, into a wildlife refuge.
"Our aim is to create new habitats that will allow wildlife, including water voles, to thrive," he said. "By creating stepping stone ponds and channels between Sulham Brook and the Pang, water voles could move safely back to the Pang. As long as the population is healthy and growing, the water voles should stand a good chance of migrating across the wet grassland."
Grahame was born in Edinburgh in 1859 but spent most of his childhood with relatives in Berkshire.
His son Alastair, affectionately known as Mouse, was the original audience for the stories of Ratty and Toad, told through a series of letters.
In 1908 the author, who lived in Pangbourne from 1924 until he died in 1932, turned the letters into The Wind in the Willows.
June Hughes, of Pangbourne Parish Council, said: "Our main fear is that this beautiful area suddenly turns into a building site. That would be a tragedy.
"It's a wonderful piece of land, which is very open and full of wildlife. It would be a horrendous and total travesty to have houses built on it."
Cemex, the cement manufacturer which put the site on the market for £235,000, said it had accepted a bid from the wildlife trust, despite receiving a higher offer, as part of its commitment to sustainable development.
"The company has achieved a number of outstanding developments through partnerships with the wildlife trust," said a spokesman. "Many of the UK's best angling lakes, nature reserves and recreational sites were created that way."
The trust is hoping to raise £95,000 through a public appeal and is seeking £140,000 from grant-giving trusts and charities.