White, Gilbert (1720-1793) was an English clergyman who recounted the natural history of Hampshire, England, in his 1789 book Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. White is often called England's first ecologist.
White was a rural cleric who corresponded with other natural historians. These letters became the foundation of Natural History, his only book. Writing about the small country parish where he lived, and nearby parishes, he chronicled the plant and animal life in the area and made observations about bird habits and habitats. He identified three species of English leaf warblers, when previously it had been thought that there was only one. He theorized that the domestic pigeon developed from the blue rock pigeon, a hypothesis that Charles Robert Darwin put to use in his theory of evolution. White also wrote about weather-related phenomena, such as bird migration, as well as folk life, agriculture, and archeology.
White earned his B.A. degree from Oriel College, Oxford, in 1743. The following year, he became a fellow at Oxford, and he received his master's degree in 1746. He then served as curate at Swarraton and three years later was ordained a priest. White very much liked the Selborne area and preferred to accept curate positions that allowed him to either visit or live at The Wakes, his family's home in Selborne. This situation provided him with the opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside and pursue his interest in natural history. White also maintained a garden at his home and kept a garden calendar. He also kept records of wild flowers, noting the times when they seeded and flowered.
White's influence has lasted over the years. His book has been published in about 200 English-language editions and reprints. The Wakes is open to the public and has the original manuscript of Natural History on display.