ROAD KILL MAY seem like a macabre subject to blog about on a sunny day but there are very good reasons why conservationists and authorities are interested in finding out more about the victims – and why they need the public’s help.
I’ve decided to write about road kill right now because last Friday evening my eldest daughter and I came across a dead badger while taking the scenic route from the Nire Valley to Clonmel via the Comeragh Mountains.
Road kill animals
Unlike the bold fox, badgers are shy and usually pretty adept at avoiding humans – unless of course they are deliberately targeted – so most people only ever get to see a badger lying dead on the roadside.
This badger appeared intact, so my daughter persuaded me to stop the car in case it was injured and needed help. This is not wildly unusual for us, we once found an injured hedgehog on the way home from school who, unfortunately, had to be put to sleep by a vet, and we even rescued a bat from drowning in our toilet!
Also, we live in an area populated with wild deer so over the past eight years we’ve become aware of a number of spots where caution is required when driving, particularly at night.
Travelling with our two girls, I’ve gotten into the habit of noticing animal fatalities on the roads, because they notice and care about what happens to rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, pheasants, etc.
In fact, because of the high number of foxes we’ve come across recently we’ve even talked about keeping our own record. Instead, this week I submitted my first-ever report to the road kill survey on Biology.ie in the hopes that it might provide some helpful information.
The website administers a cross-border Road Kill Survey on behalf of Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which is part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG), and is involved in all kinds of nature surveys, from insects to mammals and birds to lizards, that require the public’s participation.
Since 2014, the NPWS has been urging members of the public to log details of any dead birds or mammals they come across on the website.
Why road kill data matters
But why are road kill surveys considered necessary? I sent off a query to the DAHG and received a prompt response from Dr Ferdia Marnell of the NPWS’s Scientific Unit, who says the main value of roadkill data from the DAHG perspective is two-fold:
- It provides distribution data for a wide variety of species, some of which are elusive and hard to locate e.g. the pine marten
- It can help identify road kill hot spots where intervention may be warranted.
I wrote about the otter signs in November 2015 after Kildare County Council warned on Facebook that Ireland’s estimated 12,000-strong otter population was declining and that motorists on the Kilcock to Maynooth Road needed to drive carefully as “they may encounter an otter moving between the Rye River and the Royal Canal as they forage for food”.
At the time, my story also mentioned residents in Ballysheedy, Co Limerick, who had asked the NPWS to put up rope bridges and signs over the R511 after up to 40 squirrels were fatally injured by vehicles in the previous two years.
Because our victim was a badger, and because for many years I wrote about environmental issues in the North, I contacted the Northern Ireland Badger Group to ask why it’s important for the public to contribute to road kill surveys.
The group’s policy advisor Mike Rendle tells me that the region’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has a “special interest” in road kill cases involving foxes and badgers.
Foxes are tested for tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis) which can prove fatal to dogs, while badger carcasses are tested for Bovine Tuberculosis as part of the ongoing debate about cross-contamination (a subject for a future blog).
Public’s help needed
Mike says that road kill data can help indicate species distribution and abundance, mentioning the theory that fewer dead hedgehogs on our roads supports “anecdotal evidence of widespread hedgehog decline”.
Interestingly, he adds that the carcasses of species that have been tagged or collared etc by researchers can be recovered for further analysis, continuing the process of learning.
“When it comes to data-gathering it’s a case of ‘the more the merrier’. In the case of the road kill badgers study, plenty of data will greatly increase the accuracy of the result [while] reporting road kills is an excellent example of ‘people science’ in action,” says Mike, perfectly summing up why we ordinary folk have a role to play in helping protect species.
So, if you pass a dead animal on the road consider reporting it because you could be helping science and conservation!
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can contribute to nature surveys read my article here.