A STATUE of the 18th century natural history pioneer Gilbert White has been unveiled to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.

TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh did the honours at White’s house in Selborne, near Alton. The house is set to reopen on Saturday August 1.

In his speech he said: “You may wonder what on earth an 18th century clergyman can contribute to the way we live today, with technology and so many things that are so far divorced from swallows perched on hands, but we only got here because of the likes of Gilbert White, asking questions, and studying the natural world. Gilbert gave us the tools to understand how the natural world works, and that’s vital today.”

Gilbert White was born on July 18 1720 and in 1789 published his book The Natural History of Selborne, a classic of natural history thought to be the fourth most published book in the English language and one of the foundations of the conservation movement.

He also inspired many of the great natural scientists of the modern world, including Charles Darwin and David Attenborough.

The house is now a museum and was due to host a year of events to celebrate the tercentenary but due to the coronavirus pandemic most had to be cancelled.

Judith Bowles, co-director of the museum, said: “It is wonderful to finally be able to mark the occasion. So many events have been cancelled, but it is great to be able to mark this important date properly.”

The statue was made by sculptor by Peter Lyell Robinson, and depicts White sitting on a bench, notebook in one hand, with the other just releasing a swallow. It was paid for by The Friends of Gilbert White and The Oates Collections, and other patrons to the museum. It is dedicated to Dr Rosemary Irwin, who served as chairman of trustees for ten years and was instrumental in the commissioning of the statue. Dr Irwin died in June.

Prof Khalid Aziz, the current chairman of trustees, said: “Although today is about Gilbert White, the plaque on the bench also celebrates the life of Dr Irwin. We had no idea that she would not be here today, but I am sure she is with us in spirit.”

Prof Aziz said the statue symbolised a rebirth for the museum. Positioned directly under a maple tree planted 65 years ago on the opening of the museum by the Duke of Wellington in 1955, today’s unveiling coincides with the museum announcing that it will be re-opening its doors from August 1.

The statue is positioned in the grounds of Gilbert White’s gardens and can be viewed when visiting the museum and 25 acres of gardens.