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The University of Southampton

Top scientists celebrate legacy of founding father of ecology

Published: 21 July 2005

The remarkable life and work of naturalist Gilbert White, the founding father of ecology who has inspired generations of natural scientists, is the focus of a conference at the University of Southampton in September. The conference marks the 50th anniversary of Gilbert White's House and the Oates Museum in Selborne, Hampshire.

Top scientists, including Lord May, President of the Royal Society and Sir John Lawton, Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, will be addressing key contemporary conservation issues and debating the ongoing importance of recording in the natural sciences at the conference Gilbert White and Recording: Past, Present and Future. The conference, which is being organised jointly by the Museum and the University and is sponsored by Hampshire County Council, will be chaired by Lord Selborne, Chancellor of the University of Southampton.

Conference sessions include Professor Jeremy Greenwood of the British Trust for Ornithology on bird watching for science and conservation; Bob Headland of the Polar Research Institute on a century of change in Antarctic natural history, and Sir John Lawton on Gilbert White and global environmental change. Lord May will consider the Gilbert White's life and contributions to science.

Gilbert White's book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne has never been out of print since it was first published in 1789 and it has influenced generations of naturalists. His house is now open to the public as the Gilbert White & Oates Museum.

Professor Guy Poppy of the University's School of Biological Sciences who is speaking at the conference, comments: "The University is very pleased to be co-hosting this conference which highlights many of the important issues facing our natural environment at the dawn of the twenty-first century. We live in a constantly changing environment. Some of the biggest challenges facing the world - global warming, maintaining biodiversity, food security - require us to have monitored and recorded what shares our planet with us, in order to develop the most appropriate and sustainable solutions.

"Gilbert White pioneered monitoring and recording and I am very honoured and excited to have the opportunity to demonstrate how his approach is still so relevant and important today and for future generations."

Maria Newbery, Director of the Museum, adds: "All of the conference speakers responded to the invitation to take part with great enthusiasm because of their affection and respect for Gilbert White. The conference is a fantastic way to celebrate the life of this iconic figure as well as 50 years of the Museum which is a permanent tribute to his scientific legacy."

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Ken Thornber, says: "I am delighted that we can add our support to this important event by awarding a grant of £5,000. This conference is a great opportunity to celebrate Gilbert White and the 50th anniversary of the Museum, as well as introducing White's pioneering work to a new generation of natural scientists through the participation of schools."

The conference takes place on 20 September 2005 at the University's Boldrewood campus and is open to the public, schools and societies. For more information and to book a place, contact Laura Rose, email: or visit or for the full programme and a booking form.

Related Staff Member

Notes for editors

  1. Gilbert White's House & The Oates Museum is an independent educational charity. The house contains White's own furniture and family paintings and displays his original hand-written manuscript of the Natural History. In the beautiful park, decorated with White's follies, a restored Hampshire barn houses the Field Studies Centre, delivering courses to 5,000 students of all ages a year on ecology and environmental studies. Demand exceeds capacity. The Oates Museum commemorates the Oates family and their exploits, in particular Captain Lawrence Oates who accompanied Scott to the South Pole in 1911.
  2. The conference is supported by the Linnaean Society, the Society for the History of Natural History, The Institute of Biology, and the National Biodiversity Network.
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