Elegy For a River

Elegy For a River

Whiskers, Claws and Conservation’s Last, Wild Hope



'Somehow laugh-out-loud funny - passionate, warm and full of fascinating insights into the eccentric world of the field naturalist.' - Isabella Tree, author of Wilding

Water voles are small, brownish, bewhiskered and charming. Made famous by 'Ratty' in The Wind in the Willows, once they were a ubiquitous part of our waterways. They were a totem of our rivers. Now, however, they are nearly gone. This is their story, and the story of a conservationist with a wild hope: that he could bring them back.

Tom Moorhouse spent eleven years beside rivers, fens, canals, lakes and streams, researching British wildlife. Quite a lot of it tried to bite him. He studied four main species - two native and endangered, two invasive and endangering - beginning with water voles. He wanted to solve their conservation problems. He wanted to put things right.

This book is about whether it worked, and what he learnt - and about what those lessons mean, not just for water voles but for all the world's wildlife. It is a book for anyone who has watched ripples spread on lazy waters, and wondered what moves beneath. Or who has waited in quiet hope for a rustle in the reeds, the munch of a stem, or the patter of unseen paws.

Praise for Tom Moorhouse:

'The pages of this book are shot through with quicksilver light reflected from wet fur - not a lament for our rivers but a chorus of hope for their future.' - Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path

'Beautiful and important. Tom's book is extraordinary in its gentle curiosity and sympathy for his subjects. I love this book.' - Sir Tim Smit KBE, Executive Vice-Chairman and Co-founder of the Eden Project

'Terrific. Lightly but beautifully written. Very moving. Water voles are adorable little beasts. They are also tough, randy and stroppy, as Tom Moorhouse makes clear in this wry, amusing account of the often bloody, painful and frustrating business of conservation fieldwork. 'I hold stubbornly to optimism,' he declares, and his Elegy for a River demands that we do the same.' - Christopher Somerville, walking correspondent for The Times and author of The January Man


  • Oh my ears and whiskers. I loved this... Self-deprecating humour combines with a paean to the wonders of creation, hard facts and hope for an imperilled species.

About the author

Tom Moorhouse

Dr Tom Moorhouse is a conservation research scientist who has worked for twenty years at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, part of Oxford University's Zoology Department. His work has focussed on the conservation ecology of water voles, the management of signal crayfish, hedgehog conservation and the impacts of wildlife tourism. He is the author of Elegy for a River and also award-winning children's fiction. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oxford.
Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more