British Wildlife 35.3 December 2023

Book review: Traffication: How Cars Destroy Nature & What We Can Do About It

View this book on the NHBS website

That traffic is bad for wildlife should not come as a surprise, the numbers of bird and mammal corpses on Britain’s roads delivering a brutal record of the seemingly endless numbers of collisions between humanity’s favourite technology and our resident fauna. What is surprising is the take-home message from this well-written and deeply researched book: that while the slaughter is monstrous, it appears that the animals at greatest risk from our love of the automobile may actually be those that cross no roads at all.

After a fascinating introduction to the arrival of the motorcar and the process by which we have very quickly become culturally addicted to it, Paul Donald leads us through the different ways in which traffic and its associated infrastructure impact on biodiversity. The author starts by looking at roadkill, an approach that recognises that much of the early ecological research on this subject was directed towards the most visible impact of road traffic on our fauna. Such research highlights that, while it is difficult to put precise figures on the numbers of animals killed annually on our roads, there is little doubt that these figures are huge and that a number of species are at risk because of traffic.

Subsequent chapters cover the less obvious impacts of motor vehicles, from noise and particulate pollution through to habitat fragmentation. Much of the material quoted comes from papers published within the last decade, underlining the late-to-the-party but growing research interest in road ecology. Having outlined the effects of traffic on biodiversity, Paul Donald turns his attention to some of the efforts being made to mitigate its impacts. He then outlines ways in which we might de-traffic our lives.

Traffication is not a polemic against the car, but it is perhaps a wake-up call to ecologists and those concerned with the biodiversity crisis. The fact that the impacts of roads and the traffic they carry extend well beyond their verges, fragmenting and isolating communities, suggests that traffication could be as significant a threat as intensive agriculture and urbanisation. While this book could feel like another iron nail in biodiversity’s coffin, Paul Donald offers five sources of hope and the vision of a future where our current love affair with the car has been well and truly parked.

Reviewed by Mike Toms
Changing perspectives
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