At the end of March 2023, there were 40.8 million licensed vehicles in the UK. Whilst there are measures of their impact on air quality, less is known about vehicle impact on wildlife. The Road Lab (formerly Project Splatter) at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences is trying to change that.
Conceived in 2013 by Sam Stafford for his final year dissertation, the project has grown into The Road Lab, led by Dr Sarah Perkins, and is now a citizen science initiative investigating wildlife-road interactions. Their aim is to quantify and map wildlife roadkill across the UK to inform wildlife conservation and research.
East Anglian roadkill reports
“Over the past year we’ve had 1,057 reports across Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex and Cambridgeshire,” says research associate Eleanor Chubb. “However, we’ve observed great variation in the amount of data across these counties, with Bedfordshire only having four sightings over the course of a year. This doesn’t necessarily mean that wildlife-vehicle collisions don’t occur as often in these counties, but that there may be a lack of citizen scientists in these areas.”
“We rely on reports from the public across the country telling us where they see mammal, bird or reptile roadkill,” says Dr Perkins. “The greater their participation, the more robust our data, thus enabling the identification of roadkill hotspots. This analysis we share with developers and road designers so they can consider environmental impacts and implement mitigation measures.”
Companies like Animex Fencing work alongside The Road Lab to assess where to locate wildlife fencing to help guide animals towards mitigation measures, such as overpasses and arboreal bridges for dormice and red squirrels.
Roadkill hot spots
From the data provided by the public in East Anglia the team have identified the following hotspots.
- The area surrounded by Norwich, Acle and Ranworth Marshes, in Norfolk, has a high frequency of reports, especially for pheasant and rabbits.
- A10 South of Downham Market, Norfolk has a high frequency of deer reports.
- Along the A1094 adjacent to the River Alde, Suffolk, has a high frequency of reports for many species, badgers in particular.
“Only one badger was reported throughout the whole county of Bedfordshire in the last 6 months, which is low, considering nationwide the number was 294 for that same time period,” says research associate Katherine Brine.
“It is only because the public have embraced reporting their sightings of roadkill that The Road Lab is celebrating its 10th anniversary,” says Dr Perkins. “We would like even more public engagement. As one of my students said, ‘our volunteer science recording of roadkill contributes to corridor conservation’. This is because the roadkill reports shed light on wildlife movements”.
Dr Perkins goes on to explain that the constant demand for housing developments, and roads increasingly chopping up the landscape, leave fewer, and smaller, road-less areas. “The question is, are wildlife populations robust enough to tolerate roadkill? We don’t yet know if it is old, young or females that are killed. Our research has revealed that when juvenile dispersion occurs there seem to be peaks. But to what extent this killing undermines the strength of future populations, we don’t know.”
Are we becoming accustomed, or even immune, to seeing roadkill?
“The biodiversity of the UK is rich and this is illustrated in some of the other species reported, such as a barn owl in Cambridgeshire and a grass snake, a tawny owl and a polecat all reported in Norfolk,” says Brine.
“Sadly though, much of the public have never seen a badger, a hare, a polecat or tawny owl unless it is dead on the side of a road. When you start reporting roadkill you realise just how many birds, mammals, and reptiles are killed on our roads.”
Dr Perkins gives the example of one journey undertaken by a citizen scientist in late October who travelled from the Hampshire coast to the Norfolk coast. She reported six dead badgers, four hedgehogs, two deer, three foxes, one pheasant, one magpie and 13 unidentified mammals or birds. “Reporting has apparently changed her view of roadkill,” says Dr Perkins, “Not only making her more aware of the sheer scale of roadkill but also it has made her drive more respectfully towards wildlife.”
The Road Lab and you as a citizen scientist
The work of The Road Lab is an essential facet to wildlife conservation, providing knowledge to enable humans to live in greater harmony with wildlife as well as recording population variance over the decade. This may highlight the success of mitigation measures – or it may point to possible species decline.
As one Global Ecology and Conservation MSc student said, “If you are driving home for Christmas, or at any other time, watch out for our wildlife and if it is roadkill, please report it.”
You can report roadkill via the Project Splatter app (which will soon be replaced by a new version) or online at Online reporting form | The Road Lab UK.