Wildlife get killed in their millions, due to road planners putting profit before animals, and also tend not to educate themselves on the natural migratory routes of fellow creatures (toads to wildebeest will always follow the same migratory routes, whether or not you put a motorway in the middle of it).
There are many types of wildlife crossings including bridges and overpasses, but also tunnels and viaducts. Otters benefit in particular from ledges and crossings near traffic. One bridge engineer writes that if governments spent as much money on building tunnels as they do on cleaning up roadkill, the animals would survive, and save money too, which could be spent on other things that help. Wildlife crossings are a great way to help, as once installed animals can continue their journey, without harm. They are very popular in The Netherlands where you can find many hedgehog crossings.
We spend $8 billion dollars a year, running over wildlife. If we took that cost and quartered it, we could build 200 animal crossings a year. And the problem of roadkill would disappear in a generation. Ted Zoli, bridge engineer
Road ecology is the term used to keep roads safer for wildlife. Most road planners have no idea how wildlife works, so often build highways in the middle of migratory routes or facing the wrong directions to which animals travel. Yet it’s proven that if you build tunnels and bridges alongside experts, most do use them (this also helps river mammals like otters, which also can be harmed by road traffic). Handbook of Road Ecology is a birthday book for your town planner, co-written by the world’s top experts. It offers advice and case studies of ideas already in place, that have worked wonderfully.
- ARC Solutions is the best website to learn more. It again gives solutions and updates on the latest happenings in the road ecology world. One good idea is to learn how animals move – most wildlife migrate north to south (to reach cooler or warmer weaether) yet most highways in the US go east to west, from New York to California. So by making a few changes like shorter bridges covered in topiary that face different ways, you can save animal lives. Making arcs inverted makes the bridges feel like valleys for animals (and gives more light for drivers, a good safety bonus).
- Install wildlife crossing signs. These do help to remind people there are wildlife crossing, from wildfowl to hedgehogs. Many train tracks when flooded resemble rivers to ducks and geese and swans, which then often go paddling on them, not realising the danger.
- California is just putting the finishing touches to Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which will become the biggest of its kind in the world. Stretching 200 feet over HIghway 101 (where over 100 mountain lions are killed each week), it will also offer a safe path to the Santa Monica Mountains for coyotes, big cats and deer.
- Heroine of the moment in road ecology is Nina Marie Lister who is an ecological planner, designing award-winning solutions for humans animals to co-exist safely in urban environments. She was the inspiration behind the wildlife crossing above, as well as The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing in Canada, which is helping to save large wildlife like elk (and make roads safer for humans too).From toad tunnels in Wales to crab crossings on Christmas Islands, and from bear underpasses in Canada to turtle tunnels in Japan (to stop reptiles getting trapped in train tacks), it’s amazing what can be done, when people get together to help.
The Netherlands has more wildlife crossings in Europe, than anywhere else. It has over 600 including the world’s longest wildlife overpass (Naturrbrug Zanderij Crailoo) that is 50 metres wide and 800 metres long) and passes through a river, road, train track, business park and sports complex. A former sand quarry, it’s also now an important corridor for flora and fauna, and a popular spot for walkers.
Keeping Roads Safer for England’s Wildlife
A common species at danger on English road are hedgehogs. See how to help our hedgehogs for more on keeping them safe. Many venture onto roads due to lack of gardens (they roam up to 2 miles a night) and lack of hedges (hence their name, that’s where they like to live!) Up to 4 hogs per kilometre of road are killed yearly, with most being adult males searching for mates, being found mostly on smaller roads. Hedgehog tunnels and fencing seem to be the best answers, if they make it out to urban areas.
A fifth of the adult population of badgers are estimated to be killed on our road each year, and they don’t need to be culled to stop cattle TB (a myth based on bad politics and bad science). Second only to pheasants in being killed (which are overbred to produce money for the shooting industry), like all wildlife, the best solution is to drive less and slow down, and be extra careful at night, when badgers are active, especially when cubs start to emerge in the spring.You can report report badger casualties to help the Badger Trust campaign for better welfare, and they will also try to contact a local rescue group, if the badger is still alive.
As mentioned above, the creatures most at risk from road traffic in England are beautiful pheasants, which are mostly bred to be shot by landed gentry. The industry helps cause flooding (by burning heather to give flat land) and hares and birds of prey are often killed within the industry (occasionally illegally as hares carry a disease that affects pheasants and birds of prey are natural predators). Overbreeding of pheasants also negatively affects endangered sand lizards (which they eat).
It’s estimated that over 2 million pheasants die on UK roads each year (some guesstimate it could be nearer 10 million), often because they fly low and tend to live by the roadside, so often come into contact with vehicles. The Canary has a great article on why there are so many fatalities, which is also upsetting for the humans that hit them. Outside the shooting season from October to February, the birds are bred to be shot so don’t have ‘parents’ to teach them how to live with everyday hazards. They non-native species are lovely, but not the brightest of birds, so have no idea how to deal with roads.
Become a Toad Lollipop Lady!
In the UK, you can become a Toad Lollipop Lady, helping toads to safely cross the road on their migratory journey. England needs volunteers to help toads cross the road safely, to reach breeding ponds. You can sign up and find your nearest crossings at the site. Migration starts from January to April, and you will have to go out in the evenings, when it’s wet! Wear reflective clothing and carry a torch, then just collect toads from one side of the road, to transport them to the other side in a bucket. Then tend to start moving at dusk and continue into the night, but obviously there is more traffic earlier on, so they need more early evening volunteers.
Toads emerge from hibernation later than frogs, when temperatures get milder. You also record the number of amphibians you help, and unfortunately how many you see that are killed on the roads, to see how they can help further. The data is then fed into the national numbers, to see how toads are doing as a whole.
Tips for Being a Wildlife-Friendly Driver
- If you are a driver of a car, then it’s not always possible to be 100% safe, but here are some good tips to help.
- Drive at the recommended speed limits, and use your dim lights if you come across wildlife, so as not to startle.
- Keep a wildlife rescue kit in your car, and the number of your local wildlife rescue team (or failing that your vet). The police will come out for large casualties like deer, as it’s also a hazard for humans).
- Don’t drop litter out of your car, as this attracts scavengers. If killed, they (like birds) then become targets for larger mammals, who are also at risk. If you eat crisps in your car, buy a car trash bag, and empty out later on. Use a car ashtray if you smoke in your car, don’t drop cigaette butts out of the window.
- Be extra alert at dawn and dusk, when wildlife come out to feed. If you see one deer, there will be others.
- If you see wildlife in front of you, use your brakes (not wheel) to avoid swerving. If you are going to crash, crouch down low in your seat, as a deer’s body will crush your roof (then call the vet and wildlife rescue, and the police). To avoid a head-on hit, aim for where the animal is leaving, not to where he/she is headed. Experts say to let up the brake just before you hit a creature, to rise the front end, and less chance of the animal coming through your windscreen, which could harm both you and the animal.
- Keep your car in good working order, so your brakes and lights work well. Clean your windshield weekly (inside and out) and more if you smoke. Keep your windscreen wiper blades in good order.
- Honking your horn may not help, and could scare more. There is no evidence that ‘deer whistles’ work, though others say they won’t do any harm.
- If you are in a three way lane, drive in the middle if not impacting others, as there is less chance of striking wildlife.
- Don’t change antifreeze on your drive, as its sweet taste and toxicity harms pets, wildlife and children (use kitty litter or sand to soak up spills). Instead, use a funnel inside to change it, or better yet let your mechanic change it, it only needs changing every so often.