‘eighty years of promoting biodiversity conservation through taxonomic research, scientific training and international networks’

Harrison Institute, Centre for Biodiversity Research

David in Iraq in 1954.


One of David’s many pen and ink illustrations of small mammals based on sketches made whilst in Arabia.


David with Sally Balcon (Institute Trustee) and John Clayden on a field trip to Norfolk.


Tadarida gallagheri (=Chaerephon gallagheri) one of seven species of Recent mammals described by David.

Dr David Harrison
Chairman of Trustees

In 1946, David enrolled as a medical student at Clare College, Cambridge and combined his medical training with an active interest in the bats of Cambridgeshire.  In August, 1953, as a National Service RAF medical officer, David travelled to Iraq, where he was based at Habbaniya.  Once in the Middle East, he was transferred to various stations including Sharjah in the Trucial States (present day U.A.E.) and the Buraimi Oasis in U.A.E./Oman. He recorded his experiences and impressions of the Middle East in a fascinating travel book Footsteps in the Sand, which was published in 1959.

David used his time in Arabia to conduct numerous studies of the mammal fauna and published his first paper on his Arabian field work in 1955. [more information]  Nearly 90 papers followed based on meticulous research and extensive field trips to Kurdistan, Oman, (South) Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and Israel The results were summarized and published between 1964 and 1972 in a three volume monograph entitled ‘The Mammals of Arabia’, which was subsequently updated and published as a single volume second edition in 1991.  However, his interests were not restricted to Arabia and in addition he helped assemble one of the world’s most comprehensive zoological collections of African bats and other small mammals and published extensively on the subject. [more information] 

During all this time, David was also a medical doctor and together with his father and brother ran a medical practice in Sevenoaks, Kent.  He was also performed minor surgery in the local hospital and for 30 year was on call for the casualty department.
In 1985, David developed a new interest in the fossils faunas of Britain and continental Europe.  His first in-depth study was of the mammals (large and small) of a Late Pleistocene (35,000 year before present) site in Kent. [more information]

Subsequently, he researched other Pleistocene sites on the north Norfolk coastline, particularly at West and East Runton and Sidestrand [Tab R23].  David then worked on two Late Eocene sites (approx 37 million years b.p), one in Hampshire and one on the Isle of Wight [Tab R25]. A ten year programme to study the Late Middle Eocene (41 million years before present) mammals of Dorset followed [Tab R26] and currently he is researching the Early Eocene in Suffolk . [more information]

To date, David has published 224 papers, books and articles. He has named, as senior author or with colleagues, 29 new taxa, including seven species of Recent mammal new to science (5 bats and 2 rodents) and two new genera and two new species of fossil mammal. In addition he has helped supervise PhD students from the UK and abroad and as one of the principal benefactors of the Harrison Institute has promoted one of the few remaining institutions that is still actively training students worldwide in practical alpha mammal taxonomy.