Selborne is a traditional Hampshire village surrounded by chalk hills many of which are densely wooded. You can explore these via a network of footpaths – pick up a copy of the "Exploring Selborne" leaflet of circular walks from the local post office. A free car park is in the centre, ideal for exploring the village or for following the footpaths up to Selborne Hill and Selborne Common. There are two pubs in the village and the post office sells a selection of refreshments. The Plestor is the village green at the top of which is the twelfth century St Mary’s Church. It is believed to have been built around 1180 on the site of a Saxon church. Two of the stained glass windows commemorate Gilbert White featuring some of the birds he identified in his letters.
As you travel east from Alton and Chawton you’ll pass through some of Hampshire’s most interesting countryside. It first came to the public’s attention in the eighteenth century after local Selborne resident and naturalist Gilbert White published his letters detailing the first observation based identification of species. As a result White became renowned as England’s first ecologist. Find out more at Gilbert White’s House in Selborne. The house and gardens have been restored as they would have looked in the eighteenth century. The Oates Collection is also held here and galleries within tell the story of Captain Lawrence Oates who lost his life on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1911-12.
Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne
Gilbert White was born and lived in Selborne for the majority of his life. He was a reverend in the village but in his spare time explored the countryside around Selborne. Through his observations he became convinced that you could identify species through differences in appearance or where birds were concerned, their calls. This was quite a departure from previous natural history study where killing and examining specimens had been the norm!
He related his discoveries in letters to the British zoologist Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington, an English barrister, both Fellows of the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. White was able to differentiate between a great number of plants, animals and birds – most notably separating the very similar looking chiffchaff, willow warbler and wood warbler by their songs. His letters were brought together in the publication of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. Pioneering this approach has led to him being considered the first English ecologist as he developed the discipline of studying plants and animals, their characteristics and their habits. Find out more about his fascinating life and work at Gilbert White’s House in Selborne.
Exploring the Countryside around Selborne
Selborne is an ideal base for exploring the countryside of East Hampshire. Gilbert White was indeed in the best place to study nature as there is a fantastic wealth of species-rich habitats all around the village. To the west Selborne Hill and Common dominate the hillsides. This is typical of the hanger woodlands that cloak the chalk escarpments in this area of Hampshire. Selborne Hill and Common are covered in ancient wood pasture and beech woodlands as well as remnants of the chalk grassland which has become much rarer through the last two centuries. Here you’ll find antihills and species including pyramidal orchid, cowslip, common milkwort, twayblade and burnet saxifrage. Gilbert White’s observations detail what these habitats were like in his day and these are now internationally important sites for a range of common and rare wildlife. Many walks are across this area including the Zig Zag Path up Selborne Hanger which Gilbert White laid himself. From here you can see excellent views of The Wakes and Selborne village.