Here you will find a Watership Down summary (Richard Adams's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.
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The story revolves around a group of rabbits seeking to establish a new home after their psychic companion, Fiver, predicts a looming danger to their warren. Despite the skepticism of the warren's leader, Hazel, Fiver's protector and brother, believes in the prophecy and rallies a group of rabbits including Fiver's friend Pipkin, two of his own comrades, Dandelion and Blackberry, and Bigwig, a respected member of the warren. Guided by Fiver's visions, they journey through various adventures, temporarily joining a seemingly peaceful warren farm that turns out to be a trap set by the farmer. Unheeding of Fiver's warnings, Bigwig gets ensnared but is rescued by Hazel and the group, leading them to leave along with Strawberry, a member of the farm warren. Eventually, they discover a perfect spot to settle, Watership Down, a field on a hilltop. However, they soon realize the lack of female rabbits, crucial for their survival and propagation. Two survivors from their previous warren inform them of a devastating poisoning event that happened after their departure. Luckily, they befriend an injured bird, Kehaar, who helps them locate a nearby warren and a farm with rabbits. While Hazel stages a raid to rescue the farm rabbits, another group is dispatched to the new warren, Efrafa. They return injured and describe Efrafa as a brutal place ruled by the tyrant General Woundwort. Undeterred, Hazel insists on going to Efrafa to acquire female rabbits. With a clever strategy, they infiltrate Efrafa where Bigwig finds a doe, Hyzenthlay, who aids them in escaping. A thrilling chase ensues with the Efrafa patrol trailing them back to their warren. They learn of an impending attack from the Efrafans through a mouse Hazel had earlier saved. Despite the odds, they prepare for a battle, while Hazel, Dandelion, and Blackberry attempt to release a dog from the farm to attack the invaders. The climax of the story shows Bigwig overpowering the formidable General Woundwort, followed by the dog disrupting the Efrafan forces. Hazel is caught by a cat but is released by a girl from the farm. The story ends with the rabbits living in peace, and the formation of a third warren between Watership Down and Efrafa, with Campion, a former Efrafan, in charge. Hazel lives an unusually long life, witnessing the prosperity of his warren before passing away.
Two juvenile rabbits, named Hazel and Fiver, are grazing. Even though they're both only a year old and haven't yet reached their full size, it's apparent that Hazel is destined to be a good-sized rabbit, while Fiver will remain small. Fiver starts to sense a strange unease about their surroundings. Upon discovering a sign stuck in the ground, he becomes terrified, warning Hazel that disaster is looming for their warren. The unreadable sign to the rabbits actually details a looming housing construction project that threatens to obliterate their home.
Fiver experiences a terrifying dream about the warren's impending doom, prompting him and Hazel to seek an audience with the Chief Rabbit. With the help of Bigwig, an Owsla member, they manage to meet the Chief Rabbit, known as the Threarah. During the encounter, Hazel reveals his familial relation with Fiver, who then shares his ominous dream with the Threarah. Despite their efforts, the Threarah dismisses Fiver's warning and berates Bigwig for disturbing his rest.
Hazel, Fiver, Dandelion and Blackberry are mulling over their previous discussion with the Chief Rabbit when Bigwig joins them. Having resigned from the Owsla, he expresses his desire to abandon the warren with them. Hazel confirms their departure for that night at moonrise, and encourages them all to persuade more rabbits to join their cause.
Hazel, Fiver, and their pal Pipkin spend time waiting for the rest of the bunny crew to join. Dandelion succeeds in persuading Hawkbit, while Blackberry fetches Buckthorn, an imposing rabbit expected to join the Owsla, along with two unfamiliar faces, Acorn and Speedwell. After a time, Bigwig shows up with Silver, a burly recent Owsla inductee. Right before they plan to set off, Owsla chief Captain Holly tries to apprehend Bigwig, suspecting a plot against the Chief Rabbit. Bigwig, however, confronts Holly and makes him back off. The rabbit group then departs.
Throughout the night, the rabbits cautiously navigate the woodland under Hazel's direction. Despite his efforts to ensure their safe passage, they begin to tire and opt to take a break. Sensing their agitation, Hazel prompts Dandelion to ease their worries by narrating a tale.
Dandelion shares a legend about El-ahrairah, the iconic rabbit hero. According to the story, during the early days of the world, all animals were allies and rabbits were spread across the earth. However, Frith, the sun deity and creator, instructed El-ahrairah to control his kind's proliferation. Frith decided to outsmart El-ahrairah and announced gifts for all animals. Foxes, stoats, weasels, and various other animals received cunning and power to hunt rabbits from Frith. Upon hearing this, El-ahrairah chose to flee from Frith. He started burrowing a hole but was caught by Frith. Frith prophesied that the rabbit prince would have countless enemies, but they must catch him, and his kind could survive if they were shrewd.
The rabbits unexpectedly encounter a badger, known as a lendri, causing them to scamper off in fear. Their path leads them to a vast river that Fiver believes they must traverse, even though they harbor doubts about their ability to do so. The river appears monumental in their eyes, yet the prospect of greener pastures on the opposite bank—far superior to their current woodland surroundings—compels them.
Aware of the reluctance among the rabbits to cross the river, Fiver insists they have to. Bigwig seeks a plan, and Blackberry persuades him to scout the other side by swimming across. Upon his swift return, Bigwig warns of a loose dog in their territory. Hazel grasps the imminent danger and the urgency to cross the river, but a wounded Pipkin poses a challenge. Blackberry finds a solution, using a plank to ferry Fiver and Pipkin safely across. This ingenious move bewilders the rabbits, with Fiver being the only one who comprehends the situation.
As his companions rest, Hazel seeks a safer sanctuary and stumbles upon a bean field that can provide protection and camouflage their scent. The group ventures towards the field, spreading out as they ascend a hill. Unexpectedly, a crow launches an attack on Pipkin and Fiver, who lag behind. Hazel, Bigwig, and Silver hasten to assist, with Bigwig successfully intimidating the crow which retreats in fury. The rabbits finally reach the bean field and pause to recuperate. Hazel stands guard first and extracts a thorn from Pipkin's paw that had been causing his limp.
The rabbits jolt awake by the noise of a gunshot, scattering throughout the field. After a while, Hazel and Silver return to the original sleeping location, and the others gradually follow. They proceed across the field but halt when a car approaches. Hazel, unfamiliar with roads, is informed by Bigwig that cars, or hrududil, aren't harmful during the day but their bright lights at night hinder movement. Their journey goes on, navigating through foreign land, until Hazel is approached by Hawkbit, Acorn, and Speedwell, expressing their desire to return. Hazel dismisses this idea as absurd, but before he can elucidate why they can't return, Fiver intervenes. Bigwig scolds the three dissenters. Meanwhile, Fiver, seemingly in a daze, shares his vision with Hazel. He sees distant hills as their destination, warning that their journey will be fraught with difficulties but emphasizes the importance of reaching the hills. Hazel is uncertain due to the distance and fears about their future. When Fiver regains his senses and inquires about his utterances, Hazel tells him to disregard it.
Hazel is aware that Acorn, Speedwell, and Hawkbit are dissatisfied due to Bigwig's stringent control. Sensing their need for relaxation and a permanent home, Hazel, despite his uncertainties, pledges to lead them to a more suitable location. They endure a strenuous journey for several hours through challenging landscapes. Just when their stamina is almost depleted, they stumble upon an ideal field.
The rabbits idly start digging a few holes in the field, but not too seriously, as the responsibility usually falls on does, the female rabbits, and they are all bucks. Suddenly, a large alien rabbit catches their eye. Hazel and Blackberry approach the stranger, puzzled by his nonchalance. The large rabbit, named Cowslip, approaches the group and invites them to his warren, a place filled with vacant burrows. Cowslip departs before the rain, leaving the group to discuss his invitation. With the exception of Fiver, who advises against it, they all consider the invitation as safe. Eventually, Hazel settles on accepting Cowslip's offer.
Hazel and his band descend into the surprisingly visible Cowslip's warren. They end up in a vast burrow, bustling with myriad rabbits, where they blend in seamlessly, except for Fiver who sits isolated. Hazel is shown around by Strawberry, a local rabbit, who explains that their warren is free from predators (elil) due to a nearby man with a gun. Despite this, Strawberry's evasive responses and introduction to an unfamiliar form of stone artwork leave Hazel puzzled, as art is not a common rabbit practice. Hazel discerns Strawberry's unwillingness to respond to any queries starting with "where."
Hazel and Blackberry retreat from the hall, intending to eat outside, but Cowslip dismisses the idea, noting the abundance of food indoors and the rain outdoors. His laughter, an unusual behavior for rabbits, confuses Hazel and Blackberry who go outside to join Pipkin. They notice the peculiar nature of these rabbits and return to sleep indoors. Strawberry wakes them all, announcing the presence of good food outside. They find a field of carrots and feed well. Cowslip instructs them on storing food for later. However, Fiver is uneasy about the warren's oddity, having chosen to sleep outside, and this concerns Hazel. Later, Hazel and Bigwig acknowledge the warren's oddity but owing to their good treatment, they decide to stay. Bigwig compels Fiver to join them underground. The other rabbits request a story. After some discussion, it's decided that Dandelion should share another tale of El-ahrairah, after which all fall silent. Hazel's group holds another private discussion.
Inside the large warren, Dandelion shares a tale from the past regarding El-ahrairah and his clan during a time of hardship, residing in a food-scarce marshland. To help his group escape their predicament, El-ahrairah persuades Prince Rainbow, the steward of the world appointed by Frith, to permit them to leave the marshes if he could successfully pilfer King Darzin's lettuces. King Darzin ruled a vast animal realm, and his lettuce patch was heavily fortified. However, with the help of his Owsla captain and friend, Rabscuttle, El-ahrairah manages to carry out the heist. From then onward, rabbits have always found ways to infiltrate vegetable gardens.
Despite Dandelion's successful rabbit tale, Hazel's team uncovers an unexpectedly cool response from their new rabbit acquaintances. It turns out that these rabbits have a different tradition that values dignity over cunning. Silverweed, a young rabbit poet, stuns everyone with a captivating poem about life and motion which deeply impacts Fiver. Fiver distressingly reacts to the poem, creating a scene, and Hazel struggles to move him and Bigwig out of the burrow. Fiver mistakenly thinks they've also sensed danger in the warren, but learns they're merely worried he's damaged their relations with Cowslip and his crew. They eventually return underground for some rest.
Hazel and Bigwig discover Fiver missing and go in search of him. Upon finding him, they learn he plans to leave. Despite Bigwig's resentment, Hazel insists they accompany Fiver to hear him out and attempt to persuade his return. Bigwig, while heading back to the burrow, gets entrapped in a snare, struggling intensely till Hazel identifies the trap. Fiver rushes for assistance, bringing back the other rabbits. The peg is located by Blackberry and removed, yet Bigwig remains motionless. It's revealed that Fiver's pleas for help were ignored by Cowslip and the others. Suddenly, Bigwig springs up, vowing to retaliate against Cowslip. The rabbits, fueled by anger, are ready to attack but Fiver calms them down and narrates his interpretation of the situation. The farmer places the snares to trap the rabbits, who are aware but choose to feign ignorance and distract themselves with art and poetry. Fiver convinces the rabbits that their warren is a deadly trap. Just as they're about to depart, Strawberry pleads to join them. Hazel consents, and they all leave together.
By nightfall, the rabbits have covered a distance exceeding three miles. The previous warren's experience has solidified their trust and faith in Fiver's instincts. Upon resting in a barn, they face an unexpected attack from rats. Silver and Buckthorn, led by Bigwig, ward them off successfully. Eventually, they reach the base of the downs, which Fiver suggests they ascend. Hazel, Dandelion, and Hawkbit take the lead to explore the area. They discover the top of the downs is an ideal location and Hawkbit locates several suitable rabbit holes for their overnight stay.
After a restful night, the rabbits, led by Blackberry's idea, decide to construct their own burrow. This is typically a task for female rabbits, but they proceed nonetheless. Later, Hazel, Bigwig, Dandelion, and Speedwell head downhill in search of plush grass. Suddenly, a chilling sound that they can't identify startles them. They huddle together in fear until the voice starts uttering words, specifically calling out Bigwig. Hazel, intrigued, decides to investigate the source with Dandelion trailing behind. To their surprise, they discover a severely weakened rabbit about to keel over—it's Captain Holly from the Owsla, their former home warren.
Hazel perceives the imminent threat they face due to Holly's blood scent that could lure predators. Soon, Holly's ally, Bluebell, joins them. Hazel successfully brings Holly and Bluebell to the down's peak despite his anxieties. Pipkin and Dandelion care for the wounded duo, ensuring they are left undisturbed to recover. The following day, Hazel leads the crew back to keep constructing the new warren, aspiring to create an impressive burrow like Strawberry's previous one. Strawberry, leveraging his past experience, spearheads the construction of this grand burrow, named the Honeycomb. Hazel rescues a mouse from a falcon by instructing it in the woodland tongue to seek refuge in their burrows. Once Captain Holly has recuperated sufficiently, he prepares to recount his terrifying tale. Prior to this, however, the mouse communicates with Hazel, reciprocating his earlier lifesaving gesture with a promise to help him in the future.
Holly informs the group how, after their departure, the Threarah reasoned that moving an entire warren, even if Fiver's forewarning was accurate, was a massive endeavor. The Threarah suggested it's typically safer to remain burrowed and evade threats rather than abandon home, considering many rabbits couldn't endure a long trip and predators could be attracted from afar. Days after, Holly returned from his lone venture to find men and a boy with a gun. The individuals proceeded to plug many burrow openings and proceeded to pump deadly gas into the remaining entrances. Bluebell takes over the narrative, detailing the ensuing horror in the burrows. As rabbits spiraled into panic and protective mothers clashed with intruders near their offspring, Bluebell found an underground escape route that surfaced in a woodland area, bringing along another rabbit named Pimpernel who was critically ill. Before escaping, Holly shares how a massive plow ravaged the field. Subsequently, Holly and two others traced Hazel's footsteps. Upon reaching the snare-infested warren, they were ambushed by Cowslip and his companions, resulting in Pimpernel's death. However, Holly and Bluebell slipped away. Holly almost killed Cowslip but was given Hazel's whereabouts instead. Without resting, they pressed forward until Holly started to see things and became incoherent. Hazel arrived upon them at this juncture.
Once Holly's tale is over, Hazel takes the opportunity to explain his reasons for rescuing the mouse. He believes befriending creatures who are adversaries of their foes could be advantageous. Hawkbit shares a tip from another mouse about a location with great grazing grass. They all follow the mouse's advice and Hazel feels his act of kindness to the mouse has been rewarded. Bluebell narrates an El-ahrairah tale set shortly after Dandelion's story about the King's Lettuce. Prince Rainbow attempts to discipline El-ahrairah by adding a rabbit named Hufsa to his household and relocating Rabscuttle. However, Hufsa disrupts El-ahrairah's plans by secretly sharing them with Prince Rainbow. But El-ahrairah outsmarts Hufsa, making him look foolish and seizes Prince Rainbow's freshly grown carrots. El-ahrairah and Hufsa set out to rob the carrots, with El-ahrairah causing such a commotion and confusion along the way that Hufsa's narrative is disbelieved during the trial. The jury, consisting solely of elil - rabbit enemies, clears El-ahrairah of the charges, leading to Prince Rainbow's removal of Hufsa.
Bigwig and Silver stumble upon a wounded black-headed gull, unknown to them till then. Hazel communicates with it, recognizes it's starving and they offer it some food. Despite their attempts to assist, it initially rejects their help and they retreat. Hazel later persuades the bird to accept their offer of a makeshift shelter. As the others construct it, Hazel shares their lifestyle with the bird. By the following day, the bird shows significant improvement and friendliness, becoming particularly close to Bigwig. It is revealed that a cat injured the bird, named Kehaar, and he hails from an unimaginably distant, water-surrounded land. The rabbits are skeptical yet fascinated, and Bigwig trusts Kehaar's tale. Hazel proposes a plan to his companions, emphasizing their lack of female rabbits in the warren and their essential role in its survival. He suggests enlisting Kehaar's help to find does due to his ability to cover vast distances quickly. Bigwig agrees to facilitate this plan. When Kehaar is sufficiently recovered, he proposes his own scheme to Hazel - to search for female rabbits. After a few days, he reports the existence of rabbits in a farm downhill and a distant warren. The rabbits resolve to dispatch a team to the remote warren to recruit does. The following day, Holly, Silver, Buckthorn, and Strawberry set out on this mission.
During the evening, Hazel determines to find some does before his group returns. He and Pipkin venture to the farm to investigate the rabbit shed. Hazel delegates Pipkin to be on cat lookout while he converses with the enclosed rabbits. Here, he meets Boxwood who reveals the presence of two does and two bucks. Hazel invites them to join their burrow and assures them of their future liberation. Suddenly, Pipkin signals a cat's presence. Hazel baits the cat into pouncing, and the duo escapes just in the nick of time. Pipkin queries Hazel's intentions with the farm rabbits, to which Hazel responds that he will clarify later.
Fiver learns of Hazel's farm trip and accuses him of grandstanding, confident that Holly will return with enough does. Hazel disputes this, and he and Pipkin share their plan with the rest of the group. Bigwig shows enthusiasm, joining them with Blackberry to strategize on liberating the caged rabbits. Dandelion, Speedwell and Hawkbit also sign up, despite Fiver's forewarning of danger to Hazel, who pledges to avoid the farmyard. The group sets off the following evening. They encounter a cat near the barn which they manage to scare off. Using Blackberry's idea, they successfully free the rabbits. However, Boxwood and Clover are the only two that join the rescuers, while Haystack and Laurel hesitate. The alarming arrival of another cat and a barking dog forces them to abandon the two reluctant rabbits. They regroup with Hazel, who instructs them to proceed. Hazel, along with Dandelion, backtrack to retrieve Haystack and Laurel. Their plan is disrupted when a car arrives, and the men seize Laurel. Hazel attempts to divert the men, enabling the rest to escape, but he gets shot in the process and manages to hide in a drain. The rest of the rabbits wait anxiously for Hazel, before Dandelion and Bigwig search for him and discover traces of blood and men's footprints. They relay the grim news to the others and head back to the downs to meet Fiver, who had already seen Hazel's misfortune in a vision. That night, Holly returns with Buckthorn, Strawberry, and Silver. None of them are females and only Silver is unharmed.
Fiver experiences a vision where he understands that Hazel hasn't passed away yet. He then requests Blackberry to guide him to where Hazel was injured. Despite Blackberry's firm belief that Hazel couldn't have survived, Fiver manages to persuade him to accompany him. They make their way back to the farm with Fiver speeding ahead and urging Blackberry to quicken his pace. Fiver navigates the ditch and traces the blood path to a drain. Peering inside, he spots Hazel, who is injured but alive.
Without a leader, the rabbits are unsure of their next move. Holly recounts their journey to the warren Kehaar had mentioned. During their journey, they encountered a rabbit warning them away from Efrara (the warren), just as three large rabbits arrived to guide them in. Efrafa is tightly controlled by the Owsla, a Council of advisors, and led by General Woundwort. The rabbits are grouped by similar markings and are only allowed above ground with their group, a measure to avoid human detection. The Owsla conducts a "Wide Patrol", venturing far from the warren to keep an eye out for potential threats. Captain Campion, another rabbit, took Holly and his group into a burrow where they learned more about Efrafa. A doe named Hyzenthlay revealed the warren's overcrowding. When brought before the Council, Holly requested a few does for their own warren, only for General Woundwort to inform them they were now Efrafa residents. It quickly became clear they were captive, not visitors. Holly devised an escape plan, and they slipped away while their guard was distracted. But they were soon chased. Their salvation came in the form of a train track, which they scrambled over just in time for a train to divide them from their pursuers. Holly likened the train to a colossal hrududu, a divine intervention by Lord Frith. They returned to their warren only to discover Hazel had died during the barn raid.
Blackberry discloses that Hazel survived and is currently with Fiver at the foot of the hill. Swiftly, Bigwig dashes down the hill to provide aid and discovers Hazel in slumber. When dawn arrives, Kehaar removes the shotgun pellets lodged in Hazel's leg. After a three-day recovery period, Hazel instructs Holly and the others on their next steps. The mission is to journey back to Efrafa and rescue some does, entrusting Blackberry with devising a plan for the operation.
In the morning, Hazel discloses his intention to journey to Efrafa for some does. Holly vehemently opposes this, deeming it a suicidal mission. Fiver, however, supports Hazel, even volunteering to accompany him, as he believes the venture will be successful. Bigwig, expressing the same sentiment, declares that he, along with Kehaar, will join the expedition. Both Silver and Pipkin willingly offer their assistance. Additionally, Blackberry, who initially had doubts, acknowledges the plan has merit. Kehaar commits to aiding them in their doe search, but asserts that he must part ways afterwards, promising a future return.
The group of rabbits embark on their mission to obtain does from Efrafa, leaving Buckthorn, Strawberry, Holly, and the rabbits from the hutch behind in their wake. Hazel formulates a plan to secure a refuge close to Efrafa, receiving affirmation from Kehaar that a suitable spot exists across the nearby river. As they journey, they request a tale from Dandelion, with Bigwig specifically asking for the story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
Dandelion recounts a tale where King Darzin dispatched his troops to exterminate El-ahrairah and his clan. The soldiers ambushed the rabbits, leading to immense suffering. Unable to devise a plan against King Darzin, El-ahrairah decided to ask for help from the Black Rabbit of Inlé, an ageless rabbit who oversees the death of every rabbit. He resolved to sacrifice his life to secure his people's safety. El-ahrairah, accompanied by his ally Rabscuttle, embarked on an arduous journey to the Black Rabbit's abode. He attempted to negotiate with the Black Rabbit, but his offers were declined. His attempts at trickery resulted in losing his whiskers, tail, and ears. The Black Rabbit dismissed him, revealing he'd already dealt with King Darzin's forces. El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle journeyed back home through numerous obstacles and adventures. Upon their return, they found a larger warren with young rabbits oblivious to the past conflict with King Darzin, deeming war senseless. Reflecting on events, El-ahrairah was visited by Lord Frith who gave him new tail, whiskers, and starlit ears while imparting that wisdom comes with difficulty. At this point, Pipkin interjects the narrative with news of an approaching fox.
Hazel rallies the group to evade the fox, but Bigwig unexpectedly diverts the predator's focus and bolts into the shrubs. They hear a rabbit cry out, yet Bigwig returns unharmed. Hazel scolds him, but Bigwig defends his actions as tension relief. He shares that he encountered three unknown rabbits in the underbrush. Despite his warning, they attempted to halt him, forcing him to subdue one before escaping. He suspects the fox caught the incapacitated rabbit. They continue their journey under the cover of darkness. By daybreak, Kehaar warns them of a nearby patrol. They must hide or risk discovery. They traverse the iron road—the railway Holly previously mentioned—and Kehaar confirms their safety. The rabbits then settle down for a rest.
Hazel deduces that Bigwig's fox deception likely thwarted a Wide Patrol from discovering them. He solicits Kehaar's help to lead them to the river, a vast entity that leaves the rabbits in awe. Their challenge is to cross it, and Kehaar guides them towards a bridge for this purpose. Fiver placates Hazel's apprehension about the bridge by stating it's no more intimidating than other places they've traversed, and even surpasses some in safety. Fiver, Hazel, and Pipkin pioneer the crossing, which Silver and Dandelion soon mimic. The remaining rabbits exhibit greater reluctance, but Fiver persuades them to follow suit. After surveying their new surroundings, they rest. Hazel and Blackberry are tasked with devising the final part of the plan. They scout the opposite river bank and stumble upon a smaller bridge further downstream. Accompanied by Fiver, Bigwig, and Bluebell, they cross it and discover a boat. Kehaar educates them about the boat, inspiring Blackberry to suggest they use it. With the plan falling into place, Hazel signals to Bigwig that it's his turn to proceed. After a brief pause, Bigwig sets off.
General Woundwort, a large and brave rabbit, has battled diverse enemies in his time. He formed Efrafa out of a desire for dominance and has been its absolute ruler since its inception. He employed the Wide Patrols to progressively command the surroundings of Efrafa, making his warren highly secure. The patrols also served as a training ground for the rabbits to become aggressive and cunning, even Woundwort would occasionally participate. Despite his bravado, Woundwort is troubled. The departure of Holly and his team has dented the reputation of the Owsla and resulted in the loss of a valuable captain, who was struck by a train. Additionally, a fox, prodded by Bigwig, slayed another of Woundwort's top ranking officers. Captain Campion, another of Woundwort's officers, informs him of a rabbit wishing to join Efrafa. Unaware of his true identity, Woundwort is introduced to Bigwig. After Bigwig persuades the General of his value to the warren, Woundwort elevates him to the position of an officer.
Bigwig becomes aware of the extreme security in Efrafa, leaving him feeling a bit despondent about his mission. During his time there, he meets Blackavar, a rabbit who was severely injured in an escape attempt thwarted by Campion. As a harsh warning to other rabbits, Blackavar is displayed publicly. Moved by Blackavar's plight, Bigwig pledges to include him in any escape plan. Bigwig also encounters Hyzenthlay and a few other female rabbits, inviting Hyzenthlay later for a private discussion. He shares his scheme to liberate some does from Efrafa. Hyzenthlay, being perceptive and cooperative, advises him they should escape within the next two nights due to their Mark's nocturnal restrictions. They agree on the following night as their time for escape, with Hyzenthlay informing the does just prior to their evening meal.
Bigwig is roused from slumber by an officer and heads outside to graze with his Mark. Spying Kehaar, he converses with him while feeding, instructing the bird to ensure the rabbits are set for action by evening and to ambush the guards. Bigwig then proceeds to fill Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang in on the scheme. However, as nightfall arrives and Bigwig gears up for the escape, General Woundwort intercepts him for a conversation.
Woundwort interrogates Bigwig, as one of his patrol officers recognizes Bigwig from a previous encounter with a fox. Bigwig reassures Woundwort that the fox incident was not deliberate. When questioned about the other rabbits pursued by his Patrol, Bigwig denies having any knowledge of their whereabouts. Despite the suspicions, Woundwort includes Bigwig in a future Wide Patrol and instructs him to watch Hyzenthlay for potential complications. Hazel and his group sense something awry and decide to retreat to the opposite side of the river, maintaining an optimistic outlook. Meanwhile, Bigwig is highly anxious, especially after discovering that Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang have warned the other does to be alert. His fear is that one of them might reveal their plans. Bigwig manages to communicate a message to Kehaar the next day, using an oblivious officer as a medium. He requests Kehaar to return that night. Later, he advises Blackavar, who momentarily deviates from his escort, to be prepared for a potential escape that evening.
Upon receiving Bigwig's message via Kehaar, Hazel and his group ready themselves for the rendezvous. Bigwig is woken by Hyzenthlay with news of a doe's arrest. Urgently, he instructs her to assemble the others and he rushes to free Blackavar. An altercation ensues, with Bigwig bringing down Blackavar's captors, and they all make their escape. Signs of their breakout are detected by the Efrafans. The news reaches Woundwort, who immediately gives chase. Bigwig, however, ignores Campion's calls for them to halt and they press on, only to be caught up by the General and his soldiers. As they brace for conflict, a flash of lightning halts everyone, followed by a heavy downpour. Suddenly, Kehaar swoops down to join the fracas, providing the necessary distraction for the fleeing rabbits to hastily head towards the river. Their escape isn't easy, with Woundwort's group attacking from one flank and Campion's from the other. With all rabbits now on the boat except Dandelion who's concealed in the shrubs, Woundwort advances to eliminate them. Despite Bigwig's passionate cry of Kehaar's presence, Hazel insists they must depart. Woundwort recoils, giving Dandelion the chance to leap onto the boat. The momentum snaps the worn-out rope, leading the group to drift away from the clutches of Woundwort and Efrafa.
As they drift along the river, the rabbits find themselves unsure of their next move. Kehaar informs them of an upcoming bridge that could be difficult to navigate. Despite some struggles and one doe getting injured, they manage to make it under. Another bridge obstructs their path, prompting Kehaar to suggest swimming under it. Though Hazel doubts the bird's advice, the sight of men crossing the bridge convinces him of their precarious position. He, alongside Pipkin and Blackavar, plunge into the river. Once on shore, Blackavar highlights a way to circle to the other side. They signal their companions it's safe to follow suit. After a bit of persuasion, the remaining does take the leap, drift towards shore, and finally succumb to sleep.
The rabbits discover in the morning that the doe wounded while crossing under the bridge has not survived the night. Hazel and Bigwig bid farewell to Kehaar, who departs for the sea but promises to come back in winter. The group then recommences their journey home. Blackavar proves his worth with his Efrafan-informed tracking expertise. Hazel contemplates taking a break and digging burrows to rest for a few days, an idea Fiver supports. Despite Blackavar's caution about fox territory, Hazel chooses to rest, conflicting with Bigwig's view. Two days afterwards, a fox seizes one of the does. The group continues their journey and unexpectedly encounter Captain Campion. Campion initially mistakes their number and attempts to make them surrender, but soon realizes his error. Hazel plans to sidestep any conflict, but Blackavar insists that they must eliminate the patrol to avoid being reported back to Efrafa. They opt to move forward without combating and eventually return to their home warren on the downs. Upon seeing the warren, Campion and his patrol retreat and head back to Efrafa to give their report.
All is peaceful in the rabbit burrow. The sixteen males coexist harmoniously with the ten females, finding joy in their ordinary rabbit existence. They convince Dandelion to share a tale, the story of El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle's clever prank on Rowsby Woof, a ruthless dog, to secure some nourishing food. El-ahrairah posed as the Fairy Wogdog, a mythical being from Dog Queen's realm. El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle enjoyed their meal, leaving Rowsby Woof under the impression that he had protected his owner and the Fairy Wogdog from a wicked rat spirit.
Once Dandelion's tale is over, he swaps places with Acorn at the lookout spot, accompanied by Hazel. A mouse friend of Hazel's brings news of nearby rabbits, catching Bigwig's attention. Hazel, however, ensures the mouse's message is heard and sends Holly and Blackavar to investigate. They soon learn that Clover has given birth to six kittens, delighting Speedwell. However, their joy is short-lived as Holly and Blackavar return, breathless with news of an impending raid from Efrafa. They suspect that Campion and possibly even Woundwort are part of this group. Hazel quickly formulates a plan to block the burrow entrances, leaving only one accessible. He then decides to confront General Woundwort himself, appointing Bigwig as Chief Rabbit in his absence.
After Bigwig masterminds a daring escape, Woundwort's authority takes a hit, igniting his desire for payback. He tasks Campion with tracking down the fugitives at the fox-disrupted patrol location, and subsequently organizes an expedition upon discovering their warren. Upon spotting the rabbits, Woundwort, along with a few loyal followers, investigates the enemy's activities. Hazel steps up, proposing a compromise: the establishment of a joint warren between Efrafa and the downs, populated by rabbits from both territories. But Woundwort dismisses Hazel's proposal almost instantly. He issues an ultimatum, stating that unless all the does, Blackavar, and Bigwig are present upon his arrival, all the bucks will meet their end.
As the Efrafans wrestle to break through, Bigwig proposes a plan to Hazel. He advises moving everyone to the burrows beyond the Honeycomb and obstructing the entrances. This strategy would place Bigwig as the final obstacle between the Efrafans and the rest of the warren. Meanwhile, Fiver undergoes a mysterious trance, letting out a scream. This triggers a vision for Hazel: he must head to the farm and liberate the dog. Joining him on this mission are Blackberry and Dandelion, and they hastily depart through an available exit.
Hazel leads Dandelion and Blackberry to a farmhouse. Blackberry hangs back and Dandelion watches as Hazel chews on the dog's tether. Out of the blue, a feline approaches. Hazel thumps a warning to Dandelion. The cat springs forward, the dog breaks free from its tether and dashes off, causing Hazel to tumble from the dog house. As he recovers, he finds himself under the gaze of the same cat he had previously evaded.
Woundwort ventures into the burrow, readying himself for combat. He assumes Fiver, left behind by Bigwig because he couldn't be roused, is deceased and disregards him. Woundwort calls for reinforcements and they notice a fresh wall at the hallway's end. As they penetrate it, Woundwort leads the way, only to get ambushed by Bigwig who had camouflaged himself beneath the entrance. Bigwig fiercely bites the General's leg, to which Woundwort retaliates before continuing his advance. Bigwig attacks the leg once more, but Woundwort overpowers him. Just as the General is about to strike the fatal blow, his injured leg buckles, causing him to stumble backwards. Bigwig seizes the opportunity to land a few hits as the General retreats.
Dandelion runs, closely pursued by a dog. He rests briefly in a cowshed, then leads the dog to where Blackberry awaits. Although the dog initially loses interest, Dandelion and Blackberry succeed in provoking its chase up the hill. Woundwort attempts to force Bigwig to move, aware that his carcass would obstruct the way. Despite Woundwort's aggressive attempt, Bigwig resists and their struggle results in Woundwort enduring a bloody nose, hindering his breathing. Weakening, Woundwort retreats, leaving his troops shocked. Unable to convince a fellow rabbit to finish off Bigwig, Woundwort seeks a new strategy and ascends to the surface for fresh ideas. Suddenly, Campion rushes in, urging everyone to escape. The dog is rapidly approaching, and only Woundwort holds his position, imploring the others to stand and fight.
The young farm girl, Lucy, hears a distress sound and saves Hazel from her pet cat. She plans to present the injured bunny to the physician. Coincidentally, the doctor arrives just as the canine returns, nursing a scratched snout and a bitten limb. The physician reassures Lucy that the bunny is well, and proposes to accompany her to a suitable place for its release. The bunny is freed at the foot of Watership Down.
Woundwort's defiance against the dog has likely shielded numerous rabbits, allowing them to escape. Campion concludes that it's time for the Efrafans to return home and, under his direction, a majority of them survive the journey. Many Efrafans, frightened by the dog, sought refuge in the burrow and instantly gave in to Fiver. Bigwig has suffered severe injuries, but shows signs of recovery. Meanwhile, Hazel rushes forward to share his experiences.
October has arrived. Two additional female rabbits have given birth, and the community thrives. The defected Efrafans, now part of the warren, coexist peacefully despite their belief that Woundwort survives. Hazel contemplates establishing a new warren midway between their home and Efrafa. The juvenile rabbits mature, entranced by tales of daring endeavors and learning combat techniques against cats from Bigwig.
Years have passed since the formation of the fresh burrow, and peace has prevailed in all three warrens. Woundwort vanished without a trace, yet, his memory persists. Hazel has defied the common lifespan of rabbits, surviving far beyond the norm. On a frosty March morning, a radiant rabbit with glowing ears approaches Hazel. Together, they stride into the dawn, leaving Hazel's earthly body behind. Hazel casts one last glance backward, ensuring everything is in order before transitioning into his new existence.