Using tech to spot mammals

by ANTONY CLAY

Picture by Paul Bunyard

MAMMALS are often overlooked in our countryside.

They are often secretive, low in numbers or perhaps only come out at night.

But car users are being asked to keep an eye out for our furry friends during car journeys as part of a major national survey of Britain’s mammals.

Sadly, many of us will only see a mammal when it is dead by the side of the road -!q particularly a badger or a fox – but the data gleaned by the project will help determine how well, or how badly, different species are doing.

Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is calling on volunteers across Britain to record sightings of mammals, dead or alive, as part in its annual Mammals on Roads survey.

The charity is urging families going on summer holidays or day trips, car-sharing commuters and anyone else using Britain’s roads, to record sightings of mammals and submit the records via the free Mammals on Roads app.

The app is available on both Apple and Android smartphones via Google Play and the App Store.

The information collected will help conservationists to see changing population trends and identify where conservation action is needed most and for which species.

With clear audio descriptions of each mammal, colourful illustrations and easy-to-use navigation, the Mammals on Roads app is straightforward to use.

It can be set running at the start of a journey and each sighting can be recorded with a few clicks, though this should only be done by passengers for safety reasons.

The wild mammals that people are most likely to spot from their vehicle include hedgehogs, badgers, rabbits, foxes and deer, but there are dozens of other mammals in Britain too, such as mice, voles, stoats, weasels, otters, squirrels and even feral cats or pine martens.

The data collected via PTES’ Mammals on Roads survey will also help inform where new road signs aimed at protecting mammals on highways should be placed.

The new mammal road sign, featuring a hedgehog, to warn drivers about the presence of mammals near carriageways, was launched recently by the Department for Transport.

They will soon be on the side of Britain’s roads and will remind road users to keep an eye out for small wild mammals, in order to lessen the number of collisions involving animals each year.

David Wembridge, mammal surveys co-ordinator for PTES, said: “Mammals on Roads began over 18 years ago, and though no-one likes seeing roadkill, recording such sightings every year tells us how wild mammals are faring in the surrounding landscape.

“For example, thanks to the many volunteers who have submitted records over the last two decades we found out that hedgehog numbers are plummeting. Now, we’re doing everything we can to help this species, but we wouldn’t have known they were in trouble without volunteers helping us.

“Taking part in Mammals on Roads can really make a huge difference and helps ongoing conservation efforts by building a countrywide picture of how mammal numbers are changing.

“Helping mammals couldn’t be easier, so we hope our regular recorders and lots of new ones will take part this year.”

Apart from helping mammals, the new road signs should reduce the number of people injured every year in collisions involving animals in the road.

In 2017, Department for Transport figures show that a staggering 629 people were injured in accidents involving an animal in the road (excluding horses) – and four people were killed.

Between 2005 and 2017, 100 people were killed, with a further 14,173 injured in accidents where an animal was in the road.

Former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled the new mammals traffic sign in June and called on local authorities and animal welfare groups to identify accident and wildlife hotspots where the sign should be located.

Mr Grayling said at the time: “We have some of the safest roads in the world but we are always looking at how we can make them safer. Motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users are particularly at risk.

“The new small mammal warning sign should help to reduce the number of people killed and injured, as well as helping our precious small wild mammal population to flourish.”

Tony Campbell, chief executive of the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA), said: “Powered two-wheelers provide a great solution to road congestion, but like all road users, riders must be aware of those around them.

“Therefore the MCIA is pleased to welcome these new signs that will help everyone, including those on two wheels or four legs, complete their journeys more safely.”

The small wildlife sign complements other warning signs already used on UK roads, filling a gap between warnings about smaller animals such as migratory toads and wildfowl, and large animals such as deer and livestock.

Jill Nelson, CEO at PTES, said: “At PTES roadkill has long been a concern, which is why we launched our Mammals on Roads survey.

“We have also joined forces with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to deliver the Hedgehog Street campaign.

“We welcome this focus on road safety and protection for all small mammals.

“These signs will be used to warn motorists in areas where there are large concentrations of small wild animals, including squirrels, badgers, otters and hedgehogs.”

To take part download the free Mammals on Roads app, and you can also see and post updates on social media using #MammalsOnRoads

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