Selborne Society

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The Selborne Society or Selborne League formed in November 1885 to "perpetuate the name and interests of Gilbert White, the Naturalist of Selborne" and following the philosophy of observation rather than collection was Britain's first national conservation organization. The object of the Society was the preservation of birds, plants and pleasant places.[1] It was founded by George Arthur Musgrave (1843 - 29 August 1912) and his wife Theresa of Torquay in Devon and it was inspired by Gilbert White's well-known book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne.[2] The society amalgamated with the Plumage League which had been founded by the Reverend Francis Orpen Morris and Lady Mount Temple in January 1886[2] with the full title of the Selborne Society for the Preservation of Birds, Plants and Pleasant Places while the campaigners against the use of birds for fashion formed the Plumage Section with royal patronage from Princess Christian, daughter of Queen Victoria.[2] From 1887 it started producing the Selborne Letters as well as the Selborne Magazine. The organization became more organized after a meeting held on 26 January 1888, when Alfred, Lord Tennyson was appointed as president. The aim of "education" was added at this meeting. The Selborne Magazine was retitled as Nature Notes from 1890 under the editorship of Percy Myles and James Britten. After Britten's death in 1897 the editor was G. S. Boulger.[2][3] The Parkinson Society founded in 1884 by Juliana Ewing to encourage gardening also merged into the Selborne Society.[4]

Cover of Nature Notes (1890)

Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley, members of the Society, joined Octavia Hill to form the National Trust in 1895 to preserve "pleasant places". The Plumage League spawned off similar groups like the Society for the Protection of Birds in Didsbury, Manchester and the 'Fur, Fin and Feather Folk' in Croydon. These two merged in May 1891 to become the Society for Protection of Birds which became the Royal Society for Protection of Birds in 1904. From 1919 to 1939 the role of education became a primary one and the society went beyond natural history to become a lecture bureau that covered science, history and exploration.[5]

Today the Selborne Society owns and operates Perivale Wood Local Nature Reserve in London.


  1. ^ Musgrave, George A. (1893). "The Selborne Society". The Irish Naturalist. 2: 123–126. 
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Blackmore (1985), The Selborne Society. Its Origin and History (PDF), The Selborne Society 
  3. ^ Clarke, Richard (2004). Pioneers of conservation; The Selborne Society and the (Royal) Society for Preservation of Birds. The Selborne Society and Birkbeck College CEPAR, London, UK. 
  4. ^ Greenway, Betty, ed. (2013). Twice-Told Children's Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults. Routledge. p. 198. 
  5. ^ Clarke, Richard (2005). Informal adult education between the wars: the curious case of the Selbourne Lecture Bureau. FCE Occasional Paper No.6 (PDF). Birkbeck, University of London. ISBN 0907904246.