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Safer more permeable roads

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Associate Professor Darryl Jones looks at how Europe is leading the world in fauna crossings.     
If you looked at the English literature on constructions such as wildlife overpasses on main roads you would think that America was leading the world. This is not the case as, with only a dozen overpasses, America has less than Belgium.

If, however, you looked at the literature that was not in English, you would know that Europe is the leader in building such fauna crossings. France alone has 160 overpasses, while Switzerland has 45 and The Netherlands has 15 with another 10 in train. It is a serious commitment at a number of levels and has been since its inception some 30 years ago. They have solved problems that Australian road engineers won’t even consider and have used cutting-edge techniques to do so.


The Green Bridge (above) in The Netherlands is one example of such success. Is it 1.5 kilometres long, stretching across a six lane highway, two railways and some small roads, and is propped up by some new embankments. It is 80 metres wide, matching up the habitats on either side. With plenty of grass areas the overpass keeps large animals like deer from accessing the road. So popular was the Green Bridge that the queen of The Netherlands opened it. So huge was the structure that people can also walk across the bridge but their access is fenced off from the wildlife. At either end of the bridge are two villages, each one having a picnic area as no recreation is allowed on the overpass. The structure is so large that it creates a continuation of the ecosystem on either side and allows fauna to live there as well as use it as a pathway. Monitoring is being done on the small mammals as well as the frogs, toads and lizards that inhabit the bridge.

As a rule, Europe is not building any more motorways but is instead increasing the number of high speed railways. Economically, it is better if the rails are dead flat, so the rails are raised on large pillars to avoid the unevenness of the ground. This means that the habitats underneath these huge viaducts are less disturbed, a proven advantage for the ecosystems underneath.

In other places like Spain, where cuttings have to be made for roads, a concrete structure is placed over the road and the terrain that is put back, carefully matching what it used to be. Such structures can be very large, like the two kilometre landscape ecoducts in Spain.

Left: a massive viaduct over a sensitive valley in Spain.

Australia has a long way to go to match those European commitment and efforts but Darryl Jones is prepared to become that movement’s driving force. 

In  his own words:
During September, as part of a sabbatical leave from Griffith, I was privileged to travel through parts of Europe on a mission to discovery why things are so different there in terms of attention to the impacts of roads on biodiversity. We tend to think that North America as the main player in the new field of road ecology but that is primarily a result of being limited to the literature written in English. I was astounded at the scale at which fauna crossing structures are included in all roads, at the attention paid to the possibility of impacts on very small sites, and the general 'maturity' of the field. I met archetypical road engineers in France and Hungary who were also passionate about how 'their' roads had solved a major connectivity challenge, and was guided to the most 'permeable' motorway in Europe (northern Spain) where animals can cross safely on over 40% of its length.

I returned to Australia convinced that there is much we can learn from this situation. Obviously there are many legal, historical and ecological differences between Europe and Australia. But the fundamental problems of roads and fragmentation are global - and the key approaches applicable anywhere.

To this end, Darryl has already written a comprehensive and very readable report outlining what Australia can learn from Europe about mitigating road impacts.  Called Safer, more permeable roads, the report is intended for general and wide circulation. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the report please email us here at AQOB.


Associate Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. All images were supplied by Darryl Jones. Summary text was prepared by Victor Barry, November 2010.

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