Project Splatter: Citizen science data is unveiling the true extent of the UK’s roadkill problem

Project Splatter was set up in 2013 at Cardiff University with the goal to collect wildlife-vehicle collision reports from volunteers across the UK. The project relies upon members of the public submitting sightings of any wildlife they spot dead along roads, including details on the species or taxa of the animal, the location of the sighting, and the date.

To date, the project has received over 81,000 reports from over 2,600 contributors, with Badger Trust a contributing organisation from the reports it receives concerning badgers. In this guest blog, Sarah Raymond, a PhD researcher at Cardiff University, gives us the latest from the Project.

How often do you notice roadkill along the side of the road on your daily commute or on the way to the shops? Have you ever wondered what the most recorded animals killed on UK roads are? Do you want to help contribute to scientific research into the effects of roads on wildlife?

The past year and the associated nationwide lockdowns have offered an interesting, and possibly once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity to monitor the impact of traffic reduction on animal behaviour. The first lockdown in March 2020 saw a large reduction in human movement, including the use of roads and transport – this decrease in human activity has been coined the ‘anthropause’. At Project Splatter, we are currently investigating whether this reduction in traffic impacted upon the species being reported as roadkill compared to previous years (watch this space).

Since the project started, there have sadly been over 14,000 badgers reported as victims of wildlife vehicle collision (WVC). In 2020 alone 1,395 badgers were reported to Project Splatter, a slight decrease since 2019. This is likely to be due to the increased media and public interest that the project experienced in the summer of 2019, but also due to the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020.

Badger roadkill bar chart from 2014 to 2020 showing lowest number of about 900 in 2015 with two peaks of about 1800 in 2017 and 2019
Credit: Project Splatter – Badger roadkill reports 2014 – 2020

According to the Department for Transport, there are approximately 247,500 miles of road in the UK and 38.4 million licensed vehicles. It is, therefore, no surprise that roads can have a huge impact on wildlife. Road ecology is an area of research aiming to investigate how, where and to what extent roads affect animal behaviour, habitat connectivity and wildlife contaminants. Due to the huge expanse of roads in the UK, it would be impossible for researchers alone to directly monitor roadkill on such a large scale. This is where citizen science and Project Splatter come in.

Using volunteer data submitted to us, the team has already published research on predicting habitat-specific hedgehog mortality risks on roads, long-term patterns in pheasant mortality in relation to management decisions, and the urban-rural gradient of roadkill risk across the UK. Additionally, Project Splatter has an active social media account, reporting weekly totals for commonly reported species, as well as any unusual sightings – these can range from herons and long-eared owls to an escapee wallaby. Annual roundups of the top five species reported as roadkill are also released. In 2020 these were badgers, pheasants, hedgehogs, foxes and rabbits.

Infographic showing Top 5 reported road kill animals in 2020. 1 Badger 1,395. 2 Pheasant 815. 3 Hedgehog 677. 4 Fox 606. 5 Rabbit 476