Wildlife Column: Watch out for roadside ‘killing fields’

editorial image

Local roads are now littered with the corpses of birds and mammals. In part this reflects a time of great activity for wildlife with birds and mammals ranging widely and moving through the landscape. In today’s fragmented countryside and especially in the urban fringe, this situation brings wildlife directly into the firing line of roads and vehicles.

The collateral damage is then visible as roadsides littered with dead fauna – especially foxes, badgers, pheasants, and the like. Less common species to see include tawny owl, partridge, wood pigeon, blackbird and other thrushes, and smaller birds more generally. Once while stuck in traffic on the M1 between Tankersley and Sheffield, I glanced down at the rough ground next to the central crash barrier, and spotted a recently dead little owl. Casualties occur with animals and birds on the one hand feeding on roadsides, and on the other hand crossing arterial routes; and the toll is considerable. Owls and birds of prey having taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by road construction are vulnerable as they scour the roadside grasslands for small mammals.

Casualties occur with animals and birds

Sometimes the animal’s long-evolved behaviour is catastrophic in our brave new world.

Blackbirds, for example, are adapted to wooded countryside, and roads with hedges, copses and plantations seem to be ideal habitat, as do domestic gardens. In order to minimise the risk of predation by sparrowhawks, when blackbirds cross an open area such as a woodland glade or ride, they drop down low to the ground in a sort of looping trajectory. However, do that when crossing a road and it takes you straight down into the path of oncoming traffic. Look out for this as you drive around.

On roads like Sheffield’s A616 Stocksbridge bypass or Chesterfield’s A61 Dronfield by-pass the gutters are littered with the slaughter with the foxes and badgers joined by the occasional deer; on the A61 these are muntjac and roe, and on the A616, red and roe.

Believe me, if you hit a red deer at speed it will cause serious damage to your car and RTAs (road traffic accidents) as they are known in deer recording circles, are an increasing worry.