The Road to Success? Experts map route to try and safeguard wildlife in the future (written by Jules Robinson).
The UK’s planned transformative infrastructure developments must not be at the expense of the countries wildlife, concluded experts at Froglife’s Widlife Road Mortality Webinar. Wildlife conservationists from around the world came together online at 1pm on 10th March 2021 to discuss their work in relation to mitigating the death of wildlife on our roads.
Froglife’s CEO, Kathy Wormald, introduced the webinar by sharing the work of Froglife over the past 30 years, particularly with regards to Froglife’s ‘Toads on Roads Campaign’ where thousands of volunteers take part each year to help toads and frogs successfully navigate roads on the way back to their spawning ponds to breed. Froglife is also currently running a Wildlife Tunnel Campaign, having undertaken research at a number of highway crossings for smaller wildlife including toads, demonstrating that for relatively small costs, tunnels and grids can be included in road schemes which provide a safe crossing for many other species. Common Toad populations have declined by an estimated 68% in the last 30 years, and roads are a key factor. Research has also recently shown that in addition to the death of the adults, going to spawn, a few months later there are thousands of small toadlets, migrating from their spawning ponds into the countryside which are killed and not seen. The creation of balancing ponds and drainage ditches next to roads only exacerbates the situation.
Did you know that 1/5 of the Earth’s terrestrial surface is located within 1km of roads and that up to 100million animals die on roads around the world each year? Badgers and pheasants top the list for the most common mammal and bird species in the UK, according to figures provided by Dr Sarah Perkins, co-ordinator of Project Splatter, a citizen-science monitoring scheme for wildlife vehicle collisions across the UK. Their research has also shown that 95% of the public are interacting with wildlife more by seeing it dead on the roads, than seeing it alive in the wild.
Citizen science proved to be a strong theme throughout. Debobroto Sircar (aka Debo), Head of Species Recovery and Wildlife Crime Control Division, Wildlife Trust of India spoke of the successful launch of RoadWatch, a user-friendly smartphone app that they’ve encouraged members of the public to use, which gathers necessary data such as photographic records, GPS location, type of animal, date of record etc. The app can transmit the data in less than a minute, with minimal effort and has helped them successfully map roadkill hotspots, identifying India’s most affected species so they can instigate mitigation measures, including signs, fencing and road closures at different times of the year. Their ‘#I brake for wildlife’ social media and car sticker campaign has also created awareness and is gradually reducing the incidence of wildlife road kills across the country and signs put up at rail crossings notifying train drivers of elephant corridor areas has also had a huge effect in reducing speed and the number of elephants being hit.
Dr Sean Boyle, a postdoctoral researcher at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, also recognised the importance of engagement and outreach activities, particularly involving youth, and he too mentioned a range of mitigation measures including the closure of roads such as one in Ontario for salamanders to make their yearly migration. He also spoke of recognising road mortality, as not just the roadkill itself seen on the surface of a road, but the ‘Road Effect Zone’ which is the area surrounding the road that an animal won’t approach or go near because of a combination of factors including pollution, light or sound and the fragmentation of habitat. His research has indicated this can be between 2-5km for some species. He also reminded us that we should include the effects of railways on wildlife mortality and the area around the tracks. Following on from his surveys into reducing the harmful impacts of roads and evaluation on the success of fences and crossing structures, he summarised that to best avoid wildlife road mortality humans need to modify their behaviour. Whilst he recommended the use of signage and putting up fencing directing wildlife to tunnels, he also recognised that people who regularly use the same route, initially reacted to the road awareness signs but then became less receptive as they got used to them. Tunnels are costly and mitigation should be thought of at the time of construction.
Fragmentation was a key concern of both Froglife’s Reptile Project Officer, Ben Harris and author and ecologist Hugh Warwick. Ben spoke of the lack of desperately needed reptile road mortality research in the UK but that European data has indicated that despite the noise and ground vibrations from traffic, reptiles are still susceptible to road collisions, especially on smaller roads when adjacent to their preferred habitat and they may be attracted to the warm tarmac to bask. In the UK adders exist in small numbers so even if 1 or 2 are killed this could lead to a genetic imbalance. He suggested that we may need to adapt and install tunnels that reptiles will use it like the ‘Herpetoduct’ in the Netherlands, to reduce reptile road mortality and help stop fragmentation.
Hugh Warwick, a spokesperson for the British Hedgehog Protection Society, continued with this theme – as he told us that habitat fragmentation is one of the most serious threats to face hedgehogs. Whilst 167-335,000 hedgehogs were killed on the roads in a study undertaken in 2004, the current road kill estimate is 100,000 a year because of the hedgehog populations overall decline. He told us that with a starting population of 32 hedgehogs they would need 90km of unrestricted landscape not fragmented by fences, roads, lakes or ditches (created alongside roads to stop flooding, which can act as pitfalls). He called for all new infrastructure to have eco-ducts built in such as in the Netherlands, the A556 near Knutsford in the UK or the tunnels built over the A3 near Hindhead. “We need to start making our case for the value of nature and how life-giving it is”, he summarised at the end of his presentation which was the final talk.
Professor Roger Downie, Froglife Trustee who hosted the event agreed, “A big message coming loud and clear from to-day’s timely Froglife webinar on ‘Wildlife Mortality on Roads’ was that the UK’s planned transformative infrastructure developments must not be at the expense of the country’s wildlife. Wildlife needs safe routes to travel through our landscapes, and these must be built into all developments.”
Kathy Wormald, Froglife CEO concluded by saying, “We are extremely pleased with how the webinar went today, it has certainly raised the bar for action to be taken to stop the carnage of wildlife death on the worlds roads. Let’s collectively take positive action to bring this matter to a halt. We know that it is impacting on the sustainability of wildlife across the globe resulting in population declines and in some instances extinction. Governments need to take this matter seriously and help conservationists to address this issue.”
You can watch a recording of the webinar here: www.froglife.org/webinars
To sign Froglife’s Wildlife Tunnel Campaign please click here.