The largest human-driven cause of death among wild land animals, even greater than hunting, is collisions with road vehicles. The rush of cars and other vehicles put many species in danger, particularly on faster roads such as motorways and country lanes. One species at a particular risk is hedgehogs. These mammals freeze instinctively at the sight or sound of danger, which helps explain the estimated 100,000 killed on UK roads every year.
But less than a week after the start of the lockdown traffic volume fell by 73% and hedgehogs are thought to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of it. They also stand to benefit as roads restrict their movements because of their tendency to avoid the noise and commotion that traffic brings, causing populations to end up isolated and fragmented.
America saw similar declines in traffic, and fatal collisions with deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions, and other large animals has fallen by 58 percent.
However, the lockdown hasn’t all been good news for wildlife in the UK. Many animals depend on humans in various ways for their survival. Staff at the Meltham Wildlife Reserve in Holmfirth, reported that a red kite had arrived underweight and unable to feed itself. These birds are opportunistic, searching through our rubbish heaps as well as scavenging carcasses for their food. But this animal that arrived at the reserve in West Yorkshire suggests that the lockdown may not be ideal for birds of prey. Even the decline in roadkill, as great as that may be for hedgehogs, reduces scavenging prospects for some birds of prey.
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have created many conversations regarding the nature of our societies, and one important subject that urgently needs to be discussed is our relationship with the natural world.
Photo credit: Mark Seton