The Mammal Society estimate that 100,000 foxes, 50,000 badgers and somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 deer are killed on UK roads every year. That is a large number for road kill in the UK.
Did you know that if you hit certain animals that under the Road Traffic Act of 1988 if you hit any of the following animals you must stop and report the accident to the police:
- donkeys and mules
By law you must report all accidents within 24 hours, whether the animal is dead or not.
If you hit any other animal that is not included in the Road Traffic Act then you are not legally required to report it but you may wish to do so. Surprisingly, this includes cats, foxes and deer. If you are involved in a road traffic accident and an animal is involved, even if you didn't hit the animal you should stop. You may have to remain at the scene for the police, owner or RSPCA to arrive.
What to do if you hit an animal
Check when you stop that you aren’t putting yourself or others at risk and look out for oncoming traffic. Be careful when approaching an injured animal as it may try to bite or scratch you as it will be very scared and defensive. Look for a tag on the animal and you may be able to contact the owner so they can come and get their animal. If you can’t trace the owner then you should report the accident to the police immediately. Alternatively, you can call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 for help and advice. If you are able to take the animal to a local vet, you won’t be held responsible for paying the vet fees.
Each year there are 74,000 accidents involving deer and these are most likely to happen around May to June and October to November. This is because of the rutting season and young deer dispersing. Look out for deer warning signs, be vigilant and keep to the speed limit. Take extra care during the early morning and early evening as the deer are more likely to be around.
The local council is responsible for removing any dead animals found on public land including roads. To find out the details for the local council you can use your smartphone or tablet to search for the local council’s details: http://local.direct.gov.uk/LDGRedirect/index.jsp?LGSL=576
You can also contact the Public Highways on 0300 123 5000 to report a dead animal on major roads.
Reducing road kill
There are efforts to consider and ensure the safety of wild animals but it can cause controversy. A good example of this is the proposal to fence in the New Forest to protect the ponies. Many people feel that further fencing would destroy the open character of the forest and damage and restrict grazing. The three A roads in the Forest have been fenced and statutory authority would be needed to fence the other roads.
However, the Verderers who look after the New Forest encourage the local police to enforce the 40 mph speed limit and work with the County Highway staff to put in place warning signs. There is also a scheme to fit reflective collars on the ponies so drivers can see them more clearly. Additionally, there is a £1,000 reward for information which leads to the successful prosecution and conviction of hit and run drivers.
Measures are being put in place to help protect red squirrels as they cross roads which cut through their woodland habitat. In Anglesey a group have set up the Anglesey Red Squirrel Project and they are building rope bridges across woodland roads so that the squirrels don’t have to come down from trees and cross the roads. In Fife a small community worked with the council to end the roadkill of our tufty friends by putting up homemade signs warning drivers about the presence of the squirrels. The move has dramatically cut the number of red squirrel deaths on the roads.
Can you eat road kill?
The Crown Prosecution Service states it is not a crime to eat animals that are accidentally killed on the road by a motor vehicle. There is a myth that if you hit the animal yourself you can’t take it, but that isn’t true. So long as you don’t deliberately kill the animal you can’t be prosecuted for picking up the animal as poaching laws don’t apply to accidents.
Some people think that it is more humane to make use of the animal’s meat and fur, rather than letting it rot by the side of the road. It is also more environmentally friendly as you are not allowing the animal to decay on the open roads. Eating roadkill can be an opportunity to try different meats such as; deer, squirrel or badger for free than pay a huge amount in a restaurant with an exotic menu.
If you do want to eat road kill then you must know how to; skin, butcher, store and cook it properly. Some animals are considered to be more edible than others such as; rabbit, fox, pheasant, squirrel, badger, hedgehog and deer. Others are best avoided, such as rats which can carry Weil’s Disease, also be wary of rabbits as they can have myxomatosis. You have to know the signs of what is healthy to eat; clearly if the animal is not flattened, the blood is fresh, eyes are clear and the body isn’t stiff then it may well be OK to eat. Road kill in winter will last longer than that in summer. Some animals are known for carrying rabies such as foxes so it is always wise to wear gloves when handling the meat, even though rabies dies once its host is dead. Skin and gut the animal and cook the meat very thoroughly to ensure that you kill off any pathogens or parasites that may be present in the meat.
There is a growing number of advocates for eating road kill. Some people claim that eating wild animals is far safer and healthier since the animals are free of antibiotics, hormones and steroids found in factory farmed meat. Some wild animals such as rabbit and pheasant are naturally vitamin rich, lean and low in saturated fat.
Leading figures are pushing road kill onto the menu. Chef, TV personality and ‘real food’ campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been seen on the telly picking up and cooking road kill. He has been credited as the pioneer of road kill cooking and earned the nickname of Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall. Miranda Krestovnikoff, BBC broadcaster and the new President of the RSPB is urging people to eat road kill as she regards the meat as organic and guilt free. Along with her husband she picks up the meat, butchers it and they even keep a tarpaulin sheet in their car for any suitable dead animals they find. Not only does she feed it to her children but she has even served up road kill to her dinner guests in the form of fried rat with a garlic and soy sauce dip. Krestovnikoff believes that if is well cooked it’s safe but the Food Standards Agency doesn’t agree. They advise against eating road kill as the animals may not have been healthy when they were killed and may also have suffered from disease or environmental contamination and harmful levels of bacteria.
Despite all this eating road kill remains taboo in this country. Great Britain is well known for its love of animals and the motor car. Let’s hope they can both continue to live alongside each other for many years to come...