“Pretty much all the damage caused by road traffic- to the environment, to wildlife, and to our health increases exponentially with vehicle speed.”
I've just been reading a book called Traffication by Paul Donald. It's a fantastic book and a fascinating read. There is an awful lot in it that you may well have suspected, but there are some surprises. One surprise was that, numerically, a quarter of birds in the UK are of two species; Wren and Robin, and 60% of UK birds are of 11 species. It seems that traffic, and roads, have been underestimated in terms of their environmental impact. This book is about more than roadkill, more than exhaust emissions, and some of the most staggering information in the book is about the scale and impact of the debris particles that come from our tyres and from our brakes.
What is really surprising, and hard to get your head around, is how roads affect the area around the road. This is proportional to the size of the road and how busy it is. Road noise (from surface as well as engines) and light pollution have a significant impact on nature and wildlife. Its affect varies with distance from the road depending on different species, but typically there is an adverse effect on life up to 750 m from the road.
72% of land in Britain is less than 750 m from a road. In England 92% of land is within 1km of a road. This is very significant because we put all the blame for our dire ‘State of Nature’ on intensive farming, because intensive farming covers, you guessed it, 72% of Britain. Clearly, we need to spend more time looking at the effects of Traffication as well as those of agriculture.
Our roadside verges are often one of the few places where you can actually see natural vegetation. Traffic affects different species in different ways. Different species can be more or less tolerant of traffic. Some species do well on roadside verges as many predators stay clear of them, but it also explains why our bird population is dominated by so few birds.
The book does finish on some positive notes about how we can maintain our freedom to drive but do so in a far more responsible way. It explains how brilliant wildlife bridges and underpasses are. It talks about leaving some roads to retire; we don't actually need all the roads we've got in Britain. We have an ancient network of trackways and too many have been tarmacked. But the easiest thing that we can do is slow down because… “Pretty much all the damage caused by road traffic- to the environment, to wildlife, and to our health increases exponentially with vehicle speed.”
What that means is that a drop in speed of a mere 10 mph can half the problems of trafficiation. We are at the start of experiencing this in Wales. We are learning that if we drive at 20 mph instead of 30 mph we benefit because our journeys are smoother, more economical and far less stressful. We now know this will also make a massive difference to nature and wildlife. If you do one thing today; drive a little slower.
Traffication by Paul F.Donald is available from www.pelagicpublishing.com