THE little-known story of how a medieval Dutch fox inspired much-loved children’s characters is set to be explored as part of a new project.

The Bodleian Library has teamed up with Oxford-based charity Flash of Splendour Arts and the University of Bristol to organise a major exhibition on the cultural creations forged from links between the UK and the Netherlands.

Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animation have signed up to work on the project which will culminate in a show in the Weston Library and a new illustrated children’s book, both due in 2020.

The story of Reynard the Fox, who became the inspiration for the Disney adaptation of Robin Hood and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, will be one of the subjects being explored.

Disney had intended to make a film about this character, a star of medieval Dutch fables, but decided it was too dark for children and used their creation in the cartoon version of Robin Hood instead.

The project, which has just been given a National Lottery grant of £163,100, will be called ‘North Sea Crossings’.

Children with special educational needs who work with Flash of Splendour Arts will be given training in animation and filmmaking so they can create their own films inspired by Reynard’s adventures.

Anne Louise Avery from Flash of Splendour said: “The Heritage Lottery grant will have a life-changing impact on the lives of the young people we work with, enabling them to acquire film-making skills from an Oscar-winning studios and explore ideas, art and literature to which they would never normally have access.

“North Sea Crossings is a hugely ambitious collaborative project and we hope that it will blaze a trail for real accessibility and innovation within university outreach.”

Other activities planned include child-friendly plays about Reynard the Fox, a film festival and a ‘Reynard the Fox week’.

It is hoped that the project will open up university research to new audiences and help young people with disabilities engage with history.

Oxford’s Dutch twin town of Leiden is also involved and will organise a celebration.

Catriona Cannon, deputy librarian at the Bodleian Libraries said: “We’re delighted to be working on such a unique collaborative project, with such a fantastic array of partners, and to be able to present an exhibition and range of events that will resonate with communities in Oxford and beyond.

“It’s exciting to be able to present our historic, medieval collections to children and local communities and to be able to tell the fascinating story of Reynard the Fox and Anglo-Dutch relations.”