Here Comes the Science Bit

It’s not often I come back from a bike ride disappointed by the lack of road kill, but that was the story today. I had come across the delightfully named Splatter Project* (via twitter, where else…) which is attempting to map UK road kill hotspots through social media. One of the downsides of cycling around here is all the road kill you see – you notice so much more (but hit less) than you do in the car. So here was a chance to add something to the sum of human knowledge, put Bigtownshire on the map (even if we’re not the road kill hotspot of the UK I bet we’re the only one recording any fish) all while riding my bike – if only science had been like this at school, I might have stuck with it. As I set off towards Bigtown this morning, my only real concern was keeping track of where and what I saw for I was positive that I would be seeing more pancaked wildlife than I could reasonably shake a stick at.

Bowling along in with an impressive tailwind, I scanned the road keenly but did not spot so much as a squashed mouse, let alone a pheasant, badger, rabbit, hare or, indeed, brown trout. I was in the outskirts of Bigtown before I clocked anything at all (approximately half a crow, or possibly a rook – it’s hard to tell when there’s not much more than a wing left). Nothing daunted, I decided to return the slightly more scenic way back, along quieter more winding roads, where there was sure to be something splattered on the road – indeed one of them is known locally as ‘Bunny Lane’ due to it being where all the dead rabbits hang out. The tailwind became a headwind, as tailwinds do (headwinds don’t seem to have anything like the same propensity), the road kicked upwards – and I had plenty of time as I crawled up the hill to examine every inch of tarmac, but nada. I did come across a party of school children out on a run, but they were kitted out from top to toe in hi-vis so no chance of any of them adding to my tally. Birds flitted tauntingly in front of me, one of them daringly close to my wheel (I resisted the temptation to try and run it down, mainly because I didn’t really have any acceleration left in my legs by then), chickens played chicken as I passed through the farmyard – but there was nothing dead, nothing dead at all.

I suppose that a negative result is as important as a positive one – and I can confirm that at least 20 miles of quiet country lanes around us are disconcertingly squashed-wildlife free, although why is still a bit of a mystery to me. It certainly wasn’t because drivers had become any more careful (if the White Van Man bombing over the hill at top speed was anything to go by) although it may simply be that our army (airforce?) of buzzards and crows have hoovered everything up. It may just be the time of the year (we’re currently at the point where the only pheasants we have left are the geniuses of their kind) or that the floods have washed all the bodies away. I hope it isn’t because our local wildlife has gone into catastrophic decline – although it did make me realise that it has been a long time since I saw a squashed hedgehog on the road. I will be looking out, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same…

If all that sounds a bit energetic, then there’s also this experiment you can participate in from the comfort of your own home. It’s from a student of Ian ‘long blond wig’ Walker who first discovered drivers give cyclists more room if they appear to be female and less if they’re wearing a helmet (don’t worry, you won’t need to cycle in drag to take part). Science, however, does not record how much room they give cyclists who are too busy looking for roadkill to pay attention to the cars, so whatever you do, make sure you do it safely.

* as an aside, I notice that as these are third-year university students, they have nothing as old fashioned as an actual web page. Clearly websites are for us old people, like email. Please try and keep up at the back…

12 Responses to Here Comes the Science Bit

  1. Alan says:

    This reminds of the RSPB Garden Birdwatch where miraculously most of the birds stay away for the hour I choose to watch!

  2. disgruntled says:

    Just pick another hour…

  3. Isn’t there a slight danger of this roadkill survey that people may be tempted to bump up their score by taking matters into their own hands (eg swerving into the path of an uncoming pheasant)?

  4. disgruntled says:

    It’s a risk that science has to take…

  5. […] while I’m all for science – and I shall still be keeping my eyes peeled for squished critters – I’m quite […]

  6. Joe Dunckley says:

    If they had started this back in the summer I could have added a couple more to your fish. A pair of Mackerel, to be precise. On the side of a lane just outside Bishop’s Caundle, Dorset. I can understand why crossing that particular road was so dangerous for the Mackerel: Bishop’s Caundle is 40km or more from the Mackerel’s natural maritime habitat, and sits on something of a hill.

  7. disgruntled says:

    Mackerel? Dropped by a passing heron perhaps?

    • Joe Dunckley says:

      Dropped by a passing road user, I suspect.

      I employed renowned forensic investigator Professor Matthew Parris’s patented scientific “height in the hedge” method of diagnosing litter loutery and have concluded that they were dropped by recumbent riders.

  8. […] Walking out the other day, I thought we had another record for the Splatter Project […]

  9. […] other day I spotted a mound of bright russet feathers and thought I had another pheasant for the Splatter Project but it turned out to be one of the hens from the Cottage that Used to Sell Eggs, still warm, but […]

  10. […] the recent rain. I didn’t want them run over (boy would that take ages to report to the Splatter Project – 479 individually squashed tadpoles) so I decided to transport them back up to the pond. As […]

  11. […] readers will know, I’m all for a bit of citizen science, so when I heard about the Big Wasp Survey I thought I might as well sign up. It ticked all the […]

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