Opinion: new roads and faster cars often spell bad news for our badger populations

In 1934, S.A. Hunter's car ran over a badger in Co Antrim. His son was at the wheel and Hunter commented afertwards that this was one of several badgers run over locally. This is the first report of badgers being run over by cars here in Ireland. It might have been expected in the 1930s, as the cars of the 1920s had given way to motors that were faster and were safer to drive at night as they had better headlights.

Dead badgers on roads get noticed. The size, shape and black and white face get attention. The forces of modernity, it suggests, have literally crushed part of nature.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, zoologist Collie Ennis on badgers

Few badgers are killed on 'normal' rural roads in Ireland. The patterns of such accidents, which account for about 1% of the overall population, suggests these animals are dispersers, distracted non-local animals from somewhere else who are caught out.

In the rest of Europe, dead badgers on roads are found beside woods which have been bisected by the road, which has also bisected badgers’ paths. Breeding badgers - males looking for mates in Spring, and females during lactation in Summer seeking more nourishment - are especially at risk because they cross more roads while searching and foraging.

Hunter’s badger was killed near Ballykelly Wood in Co Derry. The habitat on the side of roads here tends to be pastures, especially ‘improved’ re-seeded pastures, an indicator of high cattle numbers. The type of woods which badgers prefer are almost non-existent here, so they make do with pastures with the setts (their burrows) in the surrounding hedges.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's Mooney Goes Wild, Paul Whelan from Biology.ie explains why looking out for roadkill, rather than averting your gaze, could help provide vital information for the Road Kill Survey

There are three things which would be useful to know about roads and badgers. Do death on the roads reduce overall badger numbers? What are the effects of badgers on other casualties? Does new roads lead to more casualties which, in turn, increases transmission of tuberculosis to cattle from badgers?

Countries with very high and rapidly moving traffic, like the UK or the Netherlands, have high rates of road fatalities for all wildlife and especially for badgers. This rate will clearly impact on the population. Despite this, the badger population in the UK appears to be holding its own and even actually increasing. Ireland has lower traffic rates and badger numbers are holding their own, despite road casualties and official culls.

If it's not badgers, it's hedgehogs, foxes and cats who end up as roadkill instead

One reason for this may be climate change with weather making things better for badgers. For example, the average weight of a badger was about 10kg, depending on the time of year, but is now 12kg, so they are doing well (one might even say thriving).

If it's not badgers, it's hedgehogs, foxes and cats who end up as roadkill instead. Badgers kill and eat hedgehogs so that is simple to understand, and they probably also kill foxes and cats. However it may also be that the vacant badgers' burrows provide cats and foxes with safe places to breed.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Archives, Joe O'Brien reports for RTÉ News in 1990 on a row between farm groups and green activists over badgers and tuberculosis in cattle

The third thing that would be useful to know about such events is the link between roads, badgers and cattle. Does the building of new roads, especially the ones which appeared during the Celtic Tiger boom, cause increased outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis among cattle? The idea is that the spill-over of tuberculosis is caused by disturbed badgers who infected cattle.

There have been two specific investigations in Ireland, one on the N11 at a stretch known as The Tap, in Co Wicklow, and one on the N17/N18 between Gort and Tuam in Co Galway. The Tap N11 study was a road widening, while the Galway study was around a new road across a greenfield site.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

From RTÉ Radio 1's CountryWide in 2015, how cafe chain Caffè Nero got caught up in a row in England about badger culling

The investigations looked at increased transmission of tuberculosis from the badgers to cattle. The study in Wicklow vaccinated the badgers with BCG on capture to ensure the farms they were working on did not become infected. As we now know from the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination limits the severity of the disease in question. It is hoped that vaccinated badgers in Wicklow will not transmit tuberculosis.

The study in Co Galway on a brand new road shows an increase in tuberculosis at certain distances from the constuction. As a result, it was decided to vaccinate badgers at sites before new roads are built in the future.

If you find a road casualty you can record it here.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ