This is a very good book. It will be one of the books of the year for those interested in wildlife and wildlife conservation – perhaps THE book of the year. And that’s because it is very well-written, pretty important and deals with what is a largely novel subject to most potential readers. I recommend that you read it.
Traffication is about the impact of road traffic on wildlife and makes the case very well that the collected impacts of collisions between soft wildlife and hard vehicles, habitat loss and fragmentation, noise, light, disturbance and localised pollution add up to a bigger overall impact than is often (almost ever) acknowledged, and that it is so important that we ought to do something about it.
Why have all these impacts been low profile for so long? It’s partly because other factors, agricultural intensification, habitat loss and climate change for example have been higher profile, and so they almost certainly should have been and should be. But another reason is that the evidence has not been brought together in a rigorous yet understandable way until now. That makes this an important book as well as interesting one.
I know the author, we were colleagues at the RSPB for many years, and I rate him highly as a fine scientist and a good bloke, but when he told me that he was writing a book bigging up the importance of these impacts (not the exact phrase he used) I told him that since he was a bright guy I looked forward to it very much but it sounded like a stiff task to me. Well, I was right, it was a stiff task, but Paul Donald carries it off brilliantly. I’m convinced to an extent that I was not expecting.
Let us be clear, this book does not make the case that we should ignore agriculture, climate change etc but it does, very convincingly make the case for more attention to be paid to traffication and for more research into both impacts and measures to reduce those impacts. Understandably, there are many more studies which have demonstrated agricultural practices which do harm to wildlife and alternative practices that will reduce that harm than there are, at the moment, for traffication. Knowing that mowing kills Corncrakes (and other wildlife) in hayfields led to developing of Corncrake-friendly mowing which, backed up by grants to crofters, contributed to Corncrake recovery. Research, much of it by Paul Donald, on Skylarks established low breeding success in wheat crops late in the season, and led to Skylark patches being brought in and shown to work (though their uptake by farmers is poor). What are or will be the equivalents for traffic impacts?
As with most books about terrible things happening to wildlife, this book is better at describing the problem (and we should be very grateful that this book does that so well) than sketching out solutions. But there are more solutions, described here, than you might think. Having coined the phrase traffication, we now need to have practical measures to achieve a fair amount of detraffication. Maybe partial de-roading of some national parks might be a step forward? More traffic calming in rural areas, as vehicle speed is critical in impacts (actual physical impacts and biological impacts)? Maybe all private cars should have tachographs linked to GPSs which score their use of roads by wildlife and climate friendliness and those scores determine the price you pay for fuel the next time you fill up at the pump?
The author seems very optimistic that change can come, and that it can come fairly quickly. Maybe, but our inability, as a society, and in other countries, to solve problems such as overfishing, habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions once the problems have been clearly identified makes me less optimistic that great change will come quickly. The road forward does not look smooth to me.
I was driving in the Northants countryside the other day when I stopped at a T-junction. I could see, as I approached, a male Pied Wagtail scurrying about on my side of the road. The wagtail moved to the other side of the road as I slowed down and when I stopped it was running about on my right, still pecking at tiny insects just a few feet away. It had, it seemed, spotted I was coming and taken rather minimal but completely effective evasive action to carry on with its life. Because I was most of the way through reading Traffication at the time I was more sensitised to this passing event than I otherwise might have been. He was a very beautiful Pied Wagtail and it was one of those brief moments of seeing wildlife that brings happiness into our lives – I’m very glad he wasn’t squidged on the road by me or anyone else. After watching him for a few moments, and then looking left and right, I turned right and in my mirrors saw him move back on to what had just been my side of the road and carry on feeding.
This book is very engagingly written – it is written with humour and culture and clarity, and that makes a huge difference to how receptive the reader is to the messages. The early chapters about the rise of the car and of increasing traffication might have been awfully dull in another author’s hands but are great reads here. I was captivated by the tales of early studies of roadkill, mostly those in the USA, starting on 13 June 1924 in Iowa City. Throughout, this book is an excellent read.
The cover? Striking and quite clever, although it’s odd that it contains an advert for another author’s two books after a one-word endorsement of this one. I’d give it 8/10.
Traffication: how cars destroy nature and what we can do about it by Paul Donald is published by Pelagic.
My forthcoming book, Reflections, will be published on 4 July.
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