Tuesday, 3 November 2015

As pants the hart…

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
     I bring to life, I bring to death:
     The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
     Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
     Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
     And love Creation’s final law –
     Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed –

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
     Who battled for the True, the Just,
     Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In Memoriam

Context is everything. If I’d have encountered a pricket sitting like this, ostensibly relaxed, in Charlecote Park, I would possibly have photographed it, but then walked on by: so common a sight is it. Although part of me would have wondered why such a young deer was on its own; and then questioned why I could get so very close.

Within touching distance – although the small buck paid me no attention – the previous few catastrophic minutes of its short life were etched on its body; as well as its behaviour. Stock-still: blood and sputum dribbled slowly from its gasping mouth; and when it did eventually try to rise, the pain was too much to bear. At least one of its back legs was badly broken; and it had almost certainly suffered internal injuries.

And so it collapsed again. And again. In the middle of a busy, damp, dark road. Lined with the shelter of trees it so craved. And, although, on the surface, it appeared alert – as all fallow deer must – its ignorance of the cars that flashed and swerved solipsistically within inches of its failing, agonized frame, was proof that these intense moments were almost certainly and sadly among its last.

It was utterly helpless: and yet my sympathy and empathy counted for naught. I could do not a thing to help it. There was no way of comforting it; diluting its undoubted panic and shock. To touch it, stroke it, as one may do with an injured pet, would just have made things worse. All I could do was wait for the vet – and his inescapable conclusion.

My incident report sounds so matter-of-fact:

I was travelling relatively slowly up the hill (40 mph in a 60 mph zone), as I had witnessed deer here, before, and there was still patchy fog; and was overtaken by the car… which then collided, as it pulled in front of me, with the deer crossing the road from Red Hill Wood (from the left). The animal suffered at least a broken rear leg, and was obviously in shock, and could not raise itself – even when approached, or passed closely by other traffic. The Police and Ambulance services attended at my request (the car’s front airbags had deployed), and a local vet was called – I presume to euthanize the poor animal.

All the above forces arrived within minutes of my call; and dealt calmly and admirably with the situation: taking care of the driver – who was also in some distress, of course – protecting the injured deer; and directing the traffic: which, until the police arrived, had obviously just seen the two cars stopped, with their hazard lights on, as a deliberate inconvenience – hooting their horns; chicaning around us at speed (without paying any attention to oncoming vehicles or the poor, anguished, headlamp-highlighted animal); and thanking me for my consideration with a veritable volley of V-signs.

No-one else stopped to help. Or to ask if any help was needed. To my accident‑jaded eyes, everyone actually appeared to be trying to make things worse. The importance of dinner, and an evening in front of the gogglebox, obviously more pressing than the fate of any of the creatures involved. (As a similar accident nearby, last week, demonstrates: such selfish behaviour could have easily increased the situation’s severity.) No-one but the actual driver will have learned anything from the incident. Nothing will be impressed on anyone-else’s tiny minds that could save them from a similar fate.

This is not a post to demonstrate my Good Samaritan status in reacting – from sad experience – calmly, and doing The Right Thing. Nor to thank The Good Lady Bard for putting her life at risk in moving the driver to a safe place: calming them down until the ambulance arrived. We simply, I feel, obeyed our instincts – but I am at a loss as to why we were alone in doing so.

No: this is simply to thank the emergency services for their superb professionalism and care; and to ask – yet again – that people drive within their limits, taking account of conditions; rather than looking no further than the end of their car bonnets; trying to get everywhere in the shortest possible time.

There is plenty of advice and information on the Web about the tragic number of deer-vehicle collisions – as well as what might be done to reduce them:

Warning signs
Signs that warn motorists of high deer-crossing probabilities are the most common approach to reducing deer-vehicle collisions (Putman 1997). Romin and Bissonette (1996) suggested that deer crossing signs may be effective if drivers would reduce their vehicle speed. However, deer crossing signs may not be useful in the long term because warning signs are common for long stretches of road and drivers become complacent unless the warning on the sign is reinforced by actual experience (Putman 1997).
     Lighted, animated deer-crossing warning signs were evaluated in Colorado. Animated deer crossing signs reduced vehicle speed by 3 mph (Pojar et al 1975)…. [They] concluded that motorists observed the animated signs, but their reduction in speed was not enough to affect the crossing per kill ratio.
     Pojar et al (1975) indicated that when motorists were shown that a danger existed, they exhibited a greater response than if they were merely warned of danger by a deer-crossing sign. They evaluated this assumption by placing three dead deer carcasses on the shoulder of the ROW [right-of-way], next to a deer-crossing sign. Vehicle speed was reduced by 7.85 mph after passing the carcasses. The test was quickly discontinued for liability reasons, but the idea that the association of danger with a warning sign produces a pronounced response appears valid.
The above review is also summarized well on Wikipedia. And a very throrough round-up of UK statistics can be found here. Additionally, there are useful comments and suggestions on the BBC Autumnwatch The deer rut webpage; as well as on the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS) website; and, of course, from the RSPCA.

And finally, as well as calling the police, all such collisions should be reported online. Please be careful out there.

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