We are one of Britain’s longest established conservation organisations. We were formed in 1885 and for the last century and more we have sought to honour the tradition of natural history study, a new area of study pioneered by the 18th century clergyman Gilbert White, curate of the parish of Selborne in Hampshire.
The Selborne Society has achieved this through our stewardship of the Gilbert White Memorial, Perivale Wood Local Nature Reserve in West London which we have owned since 1922. Today, we strive to foster a love of nature and a commitment to conservation amongst our visitors and the general public.
You may be wondering how the Selborne Society got its name. Well, it all starts with Gilbert White, curate of the parish of Selborne in Hampshire, and his meticulous observations of the flora and fauna around Selborne. In 1789, his collected observations were published as “The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne” and since then, it has never been out of print and has inspired naturalists around the world. Nowadays, Gilbert White is widely recognised as the father of modern ecology.
The Plumage League
The nineteenth century saw an upsurge in animal welfare campaigns, with Parliament falling into line with legal protections for certain species, but the trade in exotic plumage for costume decoration continued to boom. Two organisations emerged about the same time to combat this trade, the Plumage League and the Selborne League, founded by George and Theresa Musgrave, and named for the Selborne pioneer, Gilbert White.
The two Leagues were merged in 1886 and as George Musgrave wrote in the Selborne Society’s Magazine a couple of years later: “As there are many other natural objects, besides birds, which need protection, the Plumage League has been changed into the Selborne Society and its sphere of action extended to the protection of wild plants and places of public interest”
A fuller account of the early days of the Selborne Society by Richard Clarke is available here.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Society was a national organisation with branches across the country. The Ealing branch campaigned for the establishment of the Brent Valley Bird Sanctuary at Perivale Wood and first rented and then, in 1922, purchased the wood, renaming it the Gilbert White Memorial.
The Selborne Society has undergone many changes in the intervening years, but is now focused primarily on its stewardship of Perivale Wood and the promotion of learning natural history and principles of conservation.
If you visit Perivale Wood today, you will see we hold true to our original aims with conservation work parties, field meetings on a variety of natural history topics, and junior and adult classes at the Bluebell Education Centre.