Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, has died aged 96. His classic English novel became one of the best selling children's books of all time.

First published in 1972, the tale is about a group of rabbits in search of a new home after the destruction of their warren. It was later adapted for screen in 1978.

Adams, from Newbury in Berkshire, also wrote Shardik and The Plague Dogs.

Family members confirmed his death on Tuesday (27 December) on Watership's Down website.

The statement said: "Richard's much-loved family announce with sadness that their dear father, grandfather, and great-grandfather passed away peacefully at 10pm on Christmas Eve."

His death was marked with a passage from his best-known work.

"It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be alright - and thousands like them."

Born on 9 May 1920, Adams did not begin writing until he was in his 50s and working for the civil service.

In an interview with the Guardian, he said he began writing his famous novels, while in a car trip with his young daughters.

He said: "I had been put on the spot and I started off, 'Once there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver.' And I just took it on from there."

Watership Down won Adams both the Carnegie medal and the Guardian children's prize.

Prior to writing and working in the civil service, he was called up to join the British army during the Second World War, serving in Palestine, Europe and the Far East.

He was also president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals from 1980 to 1982 and was inducted into the Royal Society of Literature in 1975.