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Friday 24 January 2020

Our whizzing cars are wiping out our wildlife

Lay of the Land

Endangered: baby hedgehog
Endangered: baby hedgehog

Fiona O'Connell

Rumpelstiltskin, that ferocious 
curmudgeon of fairytale fame, must be busy spinning this late August, for fields of hay are gleaming like gold. But such fine views are marred by the sight of so much road kill.

It is impossible to drive even a short distance in the countryside without seeing hedgehogs wiped out at every turn. I saw four pulverised prickly parents on one recent trip, their only crime trying to feed their hoglets and find enough food to stock up for winter hibernation.

Countless other creatures fall victim to the fury of our vehicles. I regularly see runover rabbits, foxes, hares and badgers. While most of us are inured to the sight of dead crows, feathers fluttering forlornly on their lifeless bodies. Even these craftiest of critters fail to deal with cars travelling at over 100kph.

How could they? If you have ever broken down on a motorway, as I did last month, you quickly realise just how dangerous and hostile an environment it is. The breakdown assistance urged me to climb a nearby hill for safety while I waited for help to arrive.

As for those signs that you see on some stretches, warning that deer are about, I often wonder what I would do, when driving at high speed, if one of those Bambis did suddenly jump out. What possible protection does a road sign offer either deer or driver?

Yet it doesn't have to be like this. Luxembourg is the latest country to roll out a series of blue reflectors - the colour of danger for wild animals as it is rarely seen in nature - on their roads, to help reduce collisions between vehicles and wild animals at dusk and at night. Similar projects in Germany indicate that they reduce night-time accidents involving animals by up to 73pc. Germany is not stopping there. Following what has been relatively commonplace in the Netherlands for years, it plans to build more than 100 wildlife bridges over the next decade. It's largely thanks to a determined campaign by a forester, Gerhard Klesen, who finally convinced authorities that man-made barriers, which restrict animals' natural movement, limit genetic diversity. This in turn leads to an increase in disease, and shortened lifespans.

The 'Green Bridges' are designed to counteract this effect. Cameras set up along them have captured a veritable Noah's Ark of animals making their way across the specially-designed terrain. There are strips of sand just for insects, as well as vegetation providing food and shelter to some of the smaller creatures.

Several animals have set up permanent home on the bridge. Others, such as stags, travel back and forth in search of a mate.

Isn't it time we stopped paying lip service to the slaughter of other species, due to human impingement on their habitat? Let's be humane, instead of behaving like heartless road hogs.

Sunday Independent

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