Credit: Project Splatter 

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

By Sarah Raymond, PhD researcher, Cardiff University

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 summer 2019, but also due to the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020. 

Project Splatter - Badger roadkill report graph showing 2014 to 2020 with peaks in 2017 and 2019 at nearly 1800 roadkills

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.  

Project Splatter - chart.png

Credit: Anya Griffiths, Project Splatter – top 5 reported animals in 2020

Research into wildlife-human conflict is an important aspect of helping design appropriate and cost-effective solutions for conservation. For road ecology, these solutions could involve research into wildlife bridges and fencing, to enable animals to safely cross over roads and to provide a link between habitats. Alternatively, modifications to the design of roads or cars could provide a solution to the problems caused by noise pollution and installing signage (e.g. a badgers crossing sign) at accident hotspots could warn drivers to slow down near key crossing areas. Educating the public about both the dangers to wildlife and to humans in WVC is an important part of what Project Splatter does. And with corresponding activity such as Badger Trust’s ‘Give Badgers a Brake’ campaign, the overall aim is to work towards reducing and mitigating these potentially fatal interactions. 

Project Splatter - Badgers Crossing.jpg

Example of wildlife warning signage. Credit: BBC News NI

You can find out more about Project Splatter on our website and by following us on twitter and liking us on facebook. You can email us at projectsplatter@gmail.com

 

Please continue to report badger WVCs (RTCs) direct to Badger Trust in the first instance (more on why that route below), but you can report other wildlife vehicle collisions to us directly to help with our work. Report online using the Project Splatter form here or download our app.

 

What happens when a Road Traffic Collision (RTC) report is made to Badger Trust via its reporting centre?

 

The Badger Trust team explain that a number of important things happen when a RTC report is received in via the reporting centre:

 

Firstly, all reports are checked for location and then sent on to the local badger group. Badger Trust has over 50 local groups in England and Wales (our friends Scottish Badgers cover north of the border). Depending on what the report advises and subject to resources available, the local group will check on the badger. This is particularly important during Spring, when cubs are still dependent on Mum for milk. If an injured or dead badger is found to be a lactating sow, the local group will check their sett records and then check the immediate location for any cubs who may need urgent assistance to survive in the absence of their Mum. They may also keep records on badger RTC ‘hotspots’ which can be used locally to inform campaigns or planning matters. So a report can be much more than just a statistic – it can really help protect badgers.

 

Secondly, Badger Trust will collate all reports received in the month and send these to Project Splatter to help inform the UK-wide picture on wildlife roadkill. As such you do not need to report twice – to both Badger Trust and Project Splatter – as the data will be passed on. Reporting badger RTCs directly to Badger Trust ensures that any immediate badger welfare issues on the ground can be reviewed and attended to if possible. And, no pun intended, speed is of the essence here.

 

Thirdly, your RTC report helps Badger Trust build a dedicated picture over time of RTC data, informing our ‘Give Badgers a Brake’ campaign and alerting us directly about any changes to patterns. 

5 steps you can take now to help wildlife on the roads:

  1. Report badger RTCs to Badger Trust online using our Reporting Centre form

  2. Report other wildlife vehicle collisions direct to Project Splatter

  3. Find out more about our ‘Give Badgers a Brake’ campaign and share our dedicated film, presented by Mike Dilger, on social to help educate others

  4. Get one of our ‘Give Badgers a Brake’ stickers and put it in your car or road-facing window of your house – spread the word!  

  5. See if you have a local badger group in your area that you can join or support in some way