Carnage on our roads (Allen Fraser)

On a recent drive between Lerwick and Sumburgh I counted 11 birds either lying dead by the roadside or spread across the tarmac as a bloody mess of squashed flesh, guts and broken feathers.
As well as several breeds of gull there were at least three shalders and one tirrick. On many occasions I have seen birds that have been badly injured by motor vehicles wandering in fields to suffer a lingering and painful death.

I don’t believe for one minute that any of these birds were accidentally hit. There seems to be a belief held by many Shetland drivers that all birds alighting on the roads are legitimate targets. These drivers may think that they are ridding Shetland of vermin by using their motor vehicles as lethal weapons. In fact they are using their vehicles to cause death and suffering and leaving a bloody mess in their wake.

Judging by the reaction from my customers, the trail of carnage and suffering left by motorists on our roads is doing nothing to endear Shetland’s image to our visitors during the tourist season.

Allen Fraser
Shetland Geotours


Add Your Comment
  • Colin Pearson

    • July 22nd, 2012 11:44

    I can’t believe what i have just read above.
    I have never witnessed any Shetland driver going out of their way to kill or injure another living creature deliberately on our roads by far the opposite.
    The situation described is more like an indication of how well these different breeds are thriving in Shetland.

  • John Robertson

    • July 22nd, 2012 21:46

    I don’t care too much what the tourists think but I am concerned that somebody is going to be killed or badly injured in a car crash caused by a driver swerving to avoid crows/black backs/scories as they flee their feast of dead bird/rabbit.

    If I was the council’s risk manager I would be instructing the road squads to remove roadkill when spotted, at least by firing the ex-animal over the fence where the “vultures” can do their business unhindered. Otherwise some day that accident is going to happen and somebody is going to sue.

  • Andy Gibson

    • July 23rd, 2012 12:11

    I also saw a large amount of roadkill on that same drive. However I cannot believe people would deliberately drive at and kill animals with their vehicles.
    it’s more likely to do with the fact that there are many younger animals at this time of the year and therefore they are not as road aware as their older companions.

  • Darren Johnson

    • July 23rd, 2012 14:14

    I can’t think of anyone who would aimlessly go out of their way not only to kill a bird by driving into it but potentially doing £100’s of pounds worth of damage to their car in the process.

    But if it comes down to a situation of hitting said animal or throwing the car into the ditch / oncoming traffic then sorry the bird will lose every time.

  • Jim Leask

    • July 23rd, 2012 16:13

    No wonder some of your customers react to ‘this wildlife catastrophe’ you have brought to our attention.

    “Judging by the reaction from my customers, the trail of carnage and suffering left by motorists on our roads is doing nothing to endear Shetland’s image to our visitors during the tourist season.”

    I would suggest that their reactions may be influenced by your utterly ridiculous, over the top and slanderous accusations regarding “many Shetland drivers”

    “I don’t believe for one minute that any of these birds were accidentally hit. There seems to be a belief held by many Shetland drivers that all birds alighting on the roads are legitimate targets.”

    I spend a lot of time driving every week and have never seen anyone deliberately hit a bird. I have seen a couple of birds hit, and with regret hit one myself once, but on none of those occasions were the birds targeted. I actively tried to avoid the bird as it hopped out of the long grass on the verge but was unable to.

    If you are so keen to “endear Shetland’s image to our visitors during the tourist season” then you should maybe more carefully consider the content of any future letters and I hope you that you are more reasoned in your discussions with visitors to our shores.

  • Allen Fraser

    • July 23rd, 2012 17:29

    If you have to swerve into the other carriageway or ditch to avoid a bird on the road then you are driving far too fast.

    I don’t draw the tourists’ attention the trail of dead birds across Shetland’s roads – they can see them for themselves and it is they who tell me that Shetland is the only place where they have ever seen such carnage.

    The tone of most of the comments to my letter shows callous disregard by the authors for the suffering caused to these birds.

    Actually I stand by every word I have written – in fact I would go as far as to suggest that ‘Road-kill’ has become a drivers ‘sport’ in Shetland and it has being going on for years

  • Douglas Young

    • July 23rd, 2012 22:35

    I thought someone had been killed on the road; I cannot imagine how somebody with a death wish on wildlife would be able to be in the right place at the right time to kill a bird. More usually, rabbits and polecats etc are the first to become roadkill, followed by birds who do not rise out of the path of vehicles soon enough. Such headlines do not belong in a newspaper, leave that to the Sun and Mail.

  • James Mackenzie

    • July 24th, 2012 0:17

    Undoubtedly some roadkill is unavoidable – and upsetting. However, the frequency with which I am overtaken by cars going well over the 60 mph speed limit makes me think that such drivers wouldn’t think to brake to avoid a bird on the road (I was taught never to swerve to avoid an obstruction). But even if one is within the speed limit, braking requires split second judgement with regard to weather conditions, cars behind etc. And perhaps sometimes it’s easier just to carry on without risk of embarrasment.

    And although its anecdotal, I have heard of deliberate targeting. I have even been told of one driver deliberately running over a dead sheep, “just for a fun”. I wonder at his humanity.

    Shalders are particularly at risk. If one is killed or injured on the road, its partner is bound to be close by, in what I can only describe as intense grieving mode. Shetland drivers should surely be aware of the possibility of causing another casualty in such circumstances. Two recent instances in Tingwall and Weisdale intimate a total disregard of this.

    As for breeding (and feeding) success, as far as gulls are concerned, the apparent frequency of their road deaths may be an indication of lack of food resources in the sea, or from discards of offal from fishing vessels.

    My wife and I have taken to removing roadkill from the tarmac when we consider it safe to do so, in the hope of preventing further “carnage”. Sometimes we get weird looks for doing this, but it is heartening when you get a ‘thumbs-up’ from a HGV driver.

  • John F Siebert

    • July 24th, 2012 12:08

    The majority of killings/maimings of birds on roads are due to the assumption that they will have time enough to fly away before being struck. The truth that “speed kills” is as ever applicable and the decision whether or not to brake says much about the driver.

  • Eric Handley

    • July 26th, 2012 0:58

    If a bird is in my way I won’t swerve. if there is no cars behind me, i’ll slow down gradually. A lot of the time i come around a blind corner doing 55mph and oh, look, a bird having breakfast. What can you do? I’m not going to slam on my brakes and risk an accident for the sake of a bird. I drive to Sumburgh from Tingwall everyday and every single morning there is at least 5 birds on the road ‘feasting.’
    I counted over the past 3 days for the sake of this discussion. 7 on Monday, 9 on Tuesday and 6 today.
    An average of about 7 birds per morning vs the hundreds of cars commuting south/north every morning/night?
    Calling it intentional roadkill is just silly.

  • Julie Ritson

    • July 26th, 2012 10:09

    Colin Pearson you must be going around with your eyes shut, there is a lot of people who don’t like seagulls and will run over them me personally I can’t be doing with the mess it leaves on the road, I was told by some lads that one night outside the tattie shop this guy ran up to a gull and booted it it lay on the pavement flapping it’s wings so another guy ran up and booted it again and that finished it of they told me the police came past and seen it but all they said was not our problem. I also witnessed a car coming onto the Victoria pier and they went out their way to run a seagull down and I heard the squaks as they ran over it, I don’t think anyone is saying take evasive action like braking if your doing any thing from 60 -80 mph that would be silly but in the town where I have seen a number of seagulls hit are you trying to tell me they couldn’t be avoided when only doing 20 -30 mph

  • ian tinkler

    • July 26th, 2012 12:53

    Very few would intentionally kill a bird or rabbit on the road intentionally, however there are a few who do and enjoy the same. For example the people who defend The Grind and engage in seal clubbing and illegal shooting for fun. Fortunately it is only a few. A dark side of human nature fortunately not all that prevalent in Shetland, just a primal instinct the more primitive of us have not evolved away from.

  • Sandy McDonald

    • July 27th, 2012 12:39

    There is also the fact that even a bird or rabbit bone can puncture your tyre, why run over something that might cost you a couple of hundred quid! As for running over a dead sheep… Jeez!

  • James Mackenzie

    • July 27th, 2012 12:47

    A colleague of mine has told me that he flashes his lights when approaching birds feeding on roadkill. They seem to react more quickly to this than to the speed of car itself.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • July 31st, 2012 12:45

    Much of the problem could be avoided if road kill was removed before the ‘vultures’ settle to feed on them – they take some moving when they are intent on finishing their meal and often end up as more road kill. We find the best way to get their attention is to sound the car horn as we approach; it does work even though they are slow to react.
    Kathy Greaves

  • Freda Smith

    • August 12th, 2012 11:11

    I would point out that the biggest cause of roadkill on the roads are…. cars. Any small animals are going to loose out in a battle with a couple of tons of metal going at 60mph.

    I would think that there are very few people that like hitting *anything* with their car. Between the damage, and the unhappy realisation that you’ve just killed something, there’s no pleasure in it.

    By all means, flash your lights or honk your horn. Even stop if it is safe to do so, but swerving all over the road is dangerous and might kill someone.

    If you feel very strongly about roadkill, please reduce the number of potential cars on the road, and take your bike.


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