A recent report in this newspaper highlights the concern felt by The People’s Trust for Endangered Species for birds and animals killed on the roads. PTES wants the public to help monitor road deaths on app or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a splendid idea because it makes urban travellers aware of the existence of different species and the ease with which modern travel decimates them in the countryside.
On a recent journey to Devon I saw 23 dead badgers, for instance. A journey to Norfolk last year yielded 21 dead foxes. I have been watching for road deaths for the past 60 years and have made a few conclusions myself, as I am sure many readers have as well. There have been some changes over those decades.
In the 1960s there were no dead badgers, but scores of dead hedgehogs. Today that is reversed. Why? Badgers have eaten the hedgehogs, obviously. PTES reports that rabbit numbers have declined too, by as much as 25 percent. Again, it is not difficult to find the answer. Badgers are controlling that species too. In the spring a rabbit dug a stop in my garden ten feet from the kitchen door. I thought in my innocence that she had chosen a sensible place because no badger would surely come as close to the house as that.
How wrong I was. Within a week the nest had been dug clean out and scattered almost into the doorway of the house.
This week I have followed the tracks made by a party of foraging badgers through the long grass of a downland hill. The family had in one night dug out at least four bumble bee nests, several nests of voles and many earth worms. These animals are hoovers and will take anything on the ground from eggs of woodcock and tree pipits to adders and woodlice.
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s I used to see barn owls, kestrels and a wide range of small birds on the roads. I used to collect the bodies if in good condition and neutralise decay with formaldehyde and used the dried specimens to good effect in the Kingley Vale field museum. There was no end to the supply.
Today I see far fewer. Wild birds have declined and cars have increased but there is much more to the equation.
The most serious wildlife collisions are those involving deer. I used to help the police with these a few years ago, and most involved wrecked cars and distraught drivers and passengers. Fallow deer were the worst. These were usually still alive but with broken limbs and vast contusions. ‘Can you save the poor animal’s life’ was the usual request from crash victims but of course that was out of the question.
I often wonder how much damage badgers do to a car’s suspension and front bodywork. With that in mind I find myself driving extremely carefully in the countryside, especially past woods. You never know what is going to hit you next: or should that be the other was round.