Introducing Matt Harrow | Identification Trainers for the Future

The next new trainee from our Identification Trainers for the Future project is Matt Harrow. Matt has a passion for a subject many may not initially share – Diptera (the true flies), but having started out identifying the more charismatic hoverflies, his interest quickly extended to some of the more unusual groups within this diverse and fascinating Order and he hopes to pursue this interest through the traineeship with the help of our colleagues in the Diptera team.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had the urge to get outside and see the wonders of the natural world. For the most part my forays into nature have simply focused on being in the landscape with next to no interest in the smaller things; the plants, birds and insects which do in fact make the place what it is.

Matt Harrow

It was only whilst studying for a degree in countryside conservation at Aberystwyth when I really started to look at the bounty of life all around. My final year project was decided after scrolling through social media and seeing all the wonderful photos people had posted of Hoverflies, after a few emails to the recording scheme organiser I had a solid title and lots of data to play with! The only problem now was that I knew next to nothing about this fascinating group of flies so off I embarked on some serious reading, realising soon enough not only the vast amount of information there is to take in but also how much is unknown and the opportunities for discovery.

It was also around this time I saw the traineeship advertised for the first time (a whole year before having the opportunity to apply) and I just thought “wow, that’s exactly what I want to do”, so I ploughed as much time as I could spare to figure out what was what and why it lived in such a place. By mid-spring I was hooked.

Over the years preceding this point I volunteered with various organisations and local groups, carrying out habitat management and wildlife surveys at some amazing locations. A particular highlight was in helping out at Tiritiri Matangi Island (New Zealand) working amongst some truly strange birds. However in terms of being immersed amongst nature at it’s best, it is hard to forget the sights and sounds of mid-Wales whilst helping out the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales surveying the gulls of Cardigan Island, not to mention tramping through the remote Cambrian Mountains with The Vincent Wildlife Trust! As well as volunteering with conservation groups some of the more interesting locations visited were when helping out independent researchers and local ecologists where you can gain a real sense of achievement. It is in doing these activities and adventures which have given me my love for the natural world and in terms of satisfaction and enjoyment you really do get out what you put in.

Once finished with my studies I set my sights on this traineeship. I began attending workshops with the British Entomological and Natural History Society and spending what time I could identifying a range of insects, frequently visiting Epping Forest and Hackney Marshes. Adding a bit of structure to my learning I began a project to survey the Diptera, or True flies, within Woodbury Wetlands. Spending what seemed like days gazing down a microscope I identified almost a hundred separate species, acquiring knowledge of the taxonomy and ecology of the family as well as immense satisfaction upon completion (although the task of finding new species to an area is never complete!).

With the traineeship setting out to be such an action packed year it has seemed as if focusing on any one subject will be near impossible. Already we have been taught about some truly fascinating subjects leaving my imagination fired up each and every day. Being realistic with the knowledge I can acquire over the course of the year I aim to focus my learning towards Diptera, specialising eventually on a particular family, although with the amazing array of diversity in this order constantly grabbing my attention I have yet to settle. I look forward to the opportunity to pass on such knowledge and more importantly enthusiasm for the natural world as well as some of the lesser known taxa which pass by too many people.

Matt Harrow – Trainee, Identification Trainers for the Future