The forgotten dead

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I’m fed up of seeing dead animals on our roads. I’m not talking about our treasured dogs and cats; if they are lost, lives stop, hearts break, patterns change. What I mean are the foxes, deer and badgers whose lifeless bodies are left to decay lonely on the curbside, smashed into oblivion by the wheels of a thousand cars.

The figures are appalling. According to surveys carried out annually by the PTES, about a million mammals die on Britain’s roadways every single year, along with three million pheasants and seven million other birds. Scottish animals in particular are living life on the edge, with studies showing that the five hotspots for ‘wildlife-car collisions’ are all found north of the Border. Apparently if you’re a deer living in Iverness you’ve pretty much signed your own death warrant; drivers are up to 34 times more likely to hit an animal in the IV4 postcode area than anywhere else in Britain (puts female driving into a whole new perspective doesn’t it!)*¹

But why does no-one seem to take this seriously? Some of you reading this may be guffawing at my doey-eyed, environmentalist sensibilities   …and I guess that partially answers the question.  Ironically, whilst many of us still shed a tear for Bambi and the loveable characters of Watership Down, most simply do not care when they run over their real life counterparts. Roadkill may be justified as ‘preventing overpopulation’ or ‘keeping those TB –infested badgers in check’ or even as ‘an alternative to battery farming’ (for the more ethically minded, the new trend is to curb your ‘roadkill guilt’ by eating the victim for your dinner – it’s locally sourced, reduces waste and is good husbandry…. hey, at least the pheasant has seen the sky!) But the truth of the matter is that losses on the road could be taking quite a toll on some of Britain’s already suffering wildlife*².

Is there anything we can do about it? Apart from the obvious (which is to slow down when driving at night!), Cardiff University is now offering you the chance to participate in the gruesomely named ‘Project Splatter’, which aims to produce a ‘roadkill map’ for the whole of the UK*³. The hope is that ‘Splatter Spotters’ will report their roadkill sightings on facebook or twitter and these can be used to establish whether or not there are any more ‘roadkill’ hotspots or problems with particular species . Scientists can then use these findings to implement appropriate preventative measures. For example, ‘Toad Crossing’ signs that can now be seen around Sussex were installed in response to the elevated toad death rate during the spring migration.

Yes animals can be stupid, and most have no road safety awareness whatsoever. But, to be fair to them, evolution didn’t really prepare them for the four-wheeled (and two-wheeled) metal boxes that speed across our landscape. Even if you don’t have an altruistic bone in your body, save yourselves a few car repair bills and slow down at night ….after all, you never know what could be around the corner.

*¹ It should probably be noted that Britain is still lagging behind America, which boasts a roadkill count of a whopping  one million animals a day (although I suppose we Brits don’t have as much wildlife to kill or as much space to kill it in).

*² The problem is that road deaths further reduce the population size of species already in decline. Whilst it may not be so important if you run over a few rabbits or foxes, iconic British species like hedgehogs and red squirrels are already low in number – it may be that roadkill losses will tip the balance past the point of no return.

*³ To get involved with ‘Project Splatter’ see http://projectsplatter.co.uk/

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Louisa Wood

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