Celebrate the world’s first ecologist, and ‘go green’ in Hampshire

This year will provide an opportunity to discover more about the fascinating life, times and pioneering work of a Hampshire ‘parson-naturalist’, who is today regarded as the world’s first ecologist.

Many may not have heard the name the Rev. Gilbert White before, but this naturalist and gardener helped to shape the modern scientific approach to natural history, whose work culminated in his book The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne.

Born in Hampshire on the 18th July 1720, he is one of Britain’s most influential natural scientists, known as the father of ecology, who revolutionised the way people observed nature and inspired naturalists from Charles Darwin to David Attenborough.

During 2020, nationwide celebrations will mark the 300th anniversary of his birth: especially at Gilbert White’s House & Gardens in Selborne, an attractive village in east Hampshire.

This eighteenth century village house and beautiful gardens will be one of the focal points celebrating a man who has become a hero amongst naturalists; and the first exhibition, ‘Gilbert White around the World’ launched at the beginning of this year is now set to run until 28 June 2020.

But there is plenty more to come during this anniversary year.

The museum, based at White’s home, has joined forces with over 50 partners nationwide – including The Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert and British Library, the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts – to organise a year of events, culminating in a celebration in Selborne on his birthday anniversary, 18th July 2020.

The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne was ground-breaking because it was a study of living birds and animals in their natural habitats, and it has never been out of print since being published in 1789. The house is home to the original manuscript, often quoted as being the fourth most published book in the English language, and it will be on show as part of the new exhibition.

Surrounded by countryside designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Gilbert White’s House and Gardens will stage special 300th anniversary events throughout 2020, including a Nature Festival (24 May), an Unusual Plants Fair (20-21 June) and a free admission Gilbert White’s 300th Birthday Celebration (18 July).

Visitors heading to Hampshire to see White’s remarkable home and gardens, meanwhile, can also do their own bit for the environment as well.

Just under 10-miles away from Selborne, the car-free, off-grid zone of Adhurst Yurts offers ‘proper’ camping for those who really want to be at one with nature, with plenty of creature comforts too. Set in 100 acres of ancient woodland, there’s no electricity, but there are solar fairy lights and solar reading lamps, a gas-heated open-air shower under a canopy of trees as well as dry compost privies – and even the vacuum cleaner is hand-powered. (https://adhurst.co.uk)

Or how about getting back to nature at Feather Down – Manor Farm, just under two-and-a-half miles away. The UK’s first Feather Down farm, it remains a tranquil oasis of calm with luxurious Frills tents, set in the old farm orchard. (www.featherdown.co.uk/location/manor-farm/#detail_nav_accommodation)

To literally follow in White’s footsteps, retrace a route he often took on the Gilbert White Circular Walk, a six-mile route that starts from the village and winds its way around this corner of Hampshire in a figure of eight, which can be done in two parts.

The first circuit is through the village churchyard and Lythes meadow to Priory Farm and back through the beech trees of Dorton Wood. The second, more adventurous circuit includes walking The Hanger, part of a 275 acre meadow, woodland and common overlooking the village, on a zig-zag path cut in 1753 by Gilbert White and his brother, who lived in the nearby village of Newton Valence. (www.visit-hampshire.co.uk/things-to-do/gilbert-white-circular-walk-p361031)

Four miles from Selborne is the start of another literary and environmentally inspired trail, the Hawkley Circular Walk Inspired by William Cobbett. East Hampshire has a wealth of literary associations and a series of walks highlight the work of six writers, all of them close observers of their natural, and social, environment. Politician, agriculturist and journalist William Cobbett is remembered for Rural Rides (1832), a book charting his journeys celebrating the English countryside. (www.visit-hampshire.co.uk/things-to-do/hawkley-circular-walk-inspired-by-william-cobbett-p1062661)

For a more energetic trail, The Writers Way Walk can be tackled on foot, by cycle or on horseback, and covers a 13-mile countryside trail on a mixture of paths and rural lanes from the village of Alton, five miles away, and taking in Selborne – passing Gilbert White’s House as well as Chawton, where novelist Jane Austen lived. (www.visit-hampshire.co.uk/things-to-do/the-writers-way-walk-p45263)

After working up an appetite, the Selborne Arms, a traditional 17th-century beamed village pub with real fires, offers food and drink, with a menu showcasing local and homemade produce; while, six miles away The Royal Exchange pub has a well-earned reputation for locally sourced, seasonal food.

And for those inspired by White’s work, the Sustainability Centre, a learning and study centre 17 miles from his home, aims to be a beacon for sustainability, sharing practical solutions “to inspire and enable people to become the planet protectors and change makers that our world needs”. As well as running eco courses – from craft and upcycling to health and wellbeing – it also has its own accommodation, including tranquil camping, rustic yurts and a cosy eco lodge. (www.sustainability-centre.org)

A new website, detailing celebrations across the country for Gilbert White’s 300th anniversary, has just been launched: www.gw300.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk

For details about visiting Gilbert White’s House and Gardens, see www.gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk

Full visitor information, meanwhile, can be found at https://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk.