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Friday, 20 August 2010
Owl roadkill

image

One owl looks pretty much like another to me, but this could be a Little Owl as pictured in this interesting article. Treehugger wrote an article recently on how humans are part of the roadkill chain:

You see, what brings animals to the roadside in the first place? Litter. Have you ever tossed an apple core, banana peel, or other food item out of your car, figuring it’s biodegradable and might provide some much-needed food for a hungry animal? If you haven’t, the chances are you know someone who has. And then there are those who don’t give a hoot if it’s biodegradable, chucking out half-eaten Happy Meals and anything else that might otherwise stink up the car (as Bonnie reported earlier today, fast food packaging is by far the most prevalent form of litter). Well, guess what? Animals like food, and they’ll often go to where they can find it easiest. So is it any wonder that when our roadsides look like the finest All You Can Eat Buffet that Bambi has ever seen, we end up with increased roadkill, which further perpetuates this sorry cycle.

This is an interesting observation, but one can’t help wonder whether there are also too many cars buzzing around the country today?  Consider the novelty of the first car fatality in the UK which occurred 114 and 3 days ago.  At the time it was so rare for someone to be killed by a car they assumed it wouldn’t be likely to happen again. Over half a million people have been killed on the UK roads since then. Bikereader wrote in 2003 that:

Between 2000 and 2001, the British Mammal Society collaborated with the Hawk and Owl Trust to compile a national survey of road deaths. Hedgehogs, badgers and foxes made up the bulk of mammal deaths, while tawny owls, kestrels and barn owls made up most of the dead birds of prey.

From the survey, they estimate that cars kill the following animals each year in Britain: 100,000 foxes, 100,000 hedgehogs, 50,000 badgers and 30,000-50,000 deer. As a proportion of their pre-breeding populations, badgers, foxes and barn owls are being culled the worst. (By way of comparison, hunting kills about 10,000 foxes each year, which is something for the hunt sabs to think about if the minibus bumps over Renard on the way home…)

By any standards, that’s a lot of roadkill. As a laissez-faire vegetarian in a nation of omnivores, roadkill doesn’t upset me any worse than McDonald’s. Maybe there’s even a moral argument for scraping it up and eating it, since it only died by accident and not design. Is there good eating on old Brock? I don’t know, and to be honest wouldn’t care to try it. Even if it were stamped out into energy bars, I know I couldn’t take a bite without the Charlton Heston in me screaming ‘Soylent Green is badgers!’

And maybe the accidental death tag is rather too easy to hang on roadkill. While the standard line in driving advice is ‘don’t swerve to miss a small animal, because you might hit an oncoming car or crash; just run over it’, there can’t be many drivers who turn the ignition with carnage on their minds. Yet there are echoes here of all those other accidental deaths - of people. Traffic accident, hit by a car, tragic, like an act of God. The word accident tumbles out so easily. Sometimes there are accidents; generally it’s somebody’s fault.

Animals, of course, aren’t responsible for their actions. People are. Blaming an animal for ‘just sitting there’, or ‘dashing out kamikaze-style’ is just anthropomorphising it to make you feel better. It’s a deer, for ****’s sake, what did you expect? The Mammal Society’s National Survey of Road Deaths concluded that: ‘High traffic speed increased the likelihood of many mammal species, including fox, badger and roe deer, and also the tawny owl, falling victim to vehicles as it reduces the time available for drivers and animals to react to danger.’

Well, well, here we are again: speed kills. Perhaps if we reduced the speed limit on unmarked country lanes to 30mph, there’d be less British wildlife smeared across our roads.

So there is another link between animals and humans and the carnage on our roads: speed. This is a topical subject because our new ConDem government has decided to switch off speed cameras (by axing central government funding for them).  This has been criticised in many quarters for the risks it will pose to humans. See here and here for example. I wonder what effect it will have on the wildlife? 

The Daily Wail and others have pointed out that there are some studies that show no increase in accidents when cameras are abolished. The recent Private Eye however considers the bigger picture:

What Labour and Tory ministers have never understood is that speeding traffic is a problem because of intimidation, not just the occurrence of accidents. Over the past 40 years, children’s independence of movement has reduced dramatically, with worrying health consequences thanks largely to parental fear of traffic.

Elderly people can be cut off from neighbours and services if they’re terrified of passing vehicles. The absence of recent accidents where traffic routinely exceeds the speed limit could be an indicator not of safety but of locals being too scared to cycle or walk on the road, as they’re entitled to.

(‘Hedghog’, Private Eye 1268, p7)

PS I found the roadkill pictured above outside Forres, Morayshire recently.

Posted by bigblue on 20/08/2010 at 08:48 AM
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