How we kill and never think about it
By Pete Field
In the mid-sixties driving in the countryside meant squashed insects on the windscreen, sometimes hundreds of them. You had to get the wipers going, smear them off with water. Now our insect numbers are down because populations have declined sharply due to heavy use of pesticides. Farmers are trying to give us affordable food, but to do so they have created green deserts in the spaces between towns. In England even the common sparrow has vanished from the east side of the country However, insects are not the only creatures killed by cars: household pets are routinely executed by our neighbours.
Tiddles, the terror of the garden at 57, Acacia Avenue, who has herself assassinated hundreds of mice, frogs and birds, has to meet her maker at the hands of Mr Smith in his Ford Cortina from number 39. Lost cat notices abound. Leaving aside the issue of whether running over pet cats might be a benefit for wildlife, we also have to consider the loss of wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians on the roads of the world: trillions of creatures die yearly, a massive cull which goes virtually unnoticed. We may remark a squashed hedgehog, a frog splattered into the tarmac and now dried out, the brown feathers of a pheasant which bounced off a lorry and now lies in the verge. Predators may come to eat these animals and themselves risk becoming the next death statistic.
We poison them, we kick them out, we scare them away and we knock them on the head; we are the enemy.
Such deaths by fast-moving vehicle are known as roadkill. Roadkill never happened before the internal combustion engine because vehicles were slow and noisy and animals had plenty of time to avoid them. Cars, trucks and vans are so much part of our society that we cannot imagine life without them yet the creatures which inhabit our natural environment are dying at our hands; they are mown down on busy roads, deprived of food and habitat by land clearance and roadbuilding. And then there is climate change which upsets the natural cycle for the birds and animals that hang on in the few spaces we have left them.
We poison them, we kick them out, we scare them away and we knock them on the head; we are the enemy. Maybe rewilding, on a large enough scale, will help our wild creatures survive, but we need to do more. Use public transport instead of driving your car. Cycle and walk. If you must drive, drive slowly. Electric cars are cleaner, but also quieter – will they kill more wildlife? The bird slaughter of wind turbines is nothing to holocaust caused by drivers.
There is only one good thing about roadkill, the tally of our casual violence towards other lifeforms: you can eat it.
Much roadkill is on the motorways and on fast B Roads on the countryside where animals and birds may think they have a chance to cross the road. You find the animals tossed onto the grass verge by the collision with the bumper [fender in the USA]. If they remain on the road they will be squashed to a pulp, a meat pate with broken bones, ground into the tarmac by successive vehicles.
There is only one good thing about roadkill, the tally of our casual violence towards other lifeforms: you can eat it. Obviously you won’t be scraping that dried out hedgehog off the gravel. If you find a deer, rabbit, hare or pheasant which has been killed and slung onto the verge, look to see if it is intact. If there are no gaping wounds, just bruising, look at the eyes. If the eyes are quite bright it has not been dead long. If it is not dusty and it does not have rigor mortis then it is fresh and you can eat it. Sling it in a bag and take it home and cook it. Anything which has been there more than a day will either get eaten by carrion birds or foxes or it will look pretty rough. Most roadkill is a lot fresher than anything in a butcher’s shop and there is no lead shot in your pheasant either. If you are a vegan or vegetarian do not visit your vengeance upon me for writing this: if you find a dead animal that is edible and you eat it you are not guilty of its death.
Sling it in a bag and take it home and cook it.
Having said that, the way we live, our over-use of fast vehicles and our acceptance of overdevelopment, pollution and appalling farming practices mean that there are no clean hands (not even the vegans): through the heedless way we live we are all guilty of killing the plants, animals and insects around us. If we are not careful this atavistic destruction will ensure our own end and many other animals will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief.
Pete Field graduated from Oxford University with a passion for all things French. He began his peripatetic life working as the assistant to a lumberjack in the Pyrenees. He is a translator a teacher and an artist. He has lived and worked in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, The UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The author doesn’t live in Sussex