|Cow parsley seed-heads|
When I call Gilbert White 'parochial' it is with heartfelt respect. The term was coined by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh: "parochialism is universal; it deals with the fundamentals", he said. "To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime's experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience."
White knew everything about his parish: which day the swallows would return (though not where they had been); where the bats roosted; why the martins favoured some eaves over others for their nests. He observed, minutely, how animals and plants lived their lives; moreover, those everyday creatures overlooked by other gentlemen-scholars of the time. His diaries and letters remain an invaluable resource, and his contribution to British natural history was immeasurable.