Richard Adams, the author of classic adventure novel Watership Down, has died aged 96.

The story, which follows the life of a group of rabbits who possess their own language and culture, became one of the best-selling children's books of all times.

It was made into a cartoon in the 1970s, before being converted into a television series -starring Stephen Fry and Rik Mayall - that ran between 1999 and 2001.

A statement on a website devoted to the book, Watership Down Enterprises, 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."

Adams did not begin writing until 1966 when he was 52 and working for the civil service.

While on a car trip with his daughters, he began telling them a story about a group of young rabbits escaping from their doomed warren. The novel won Adams both the Carnegie medal and the Guardian children’s prize.

The success of Watership Down allowed Adams to become a full-time writer, penning several novels, including Shardik in 1974, a fantasy novel about a wounded bear, which he described as his favourite work, but which failed to replicate Watership Down's success.

In his later life, he expressed regret that he had not realised his talent sooner, saying: "If I had known earlier how frightfully well I could write, I'd have started earlier".

Adams spent his later years with his wife at their home in Whitchurch, Hampshire, retaining a passion for reading and writing.