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  Handing on
our Heritage

Supporting Technical Paper 4.

Consideration of biological and landscape diversity in the development of road transport

by Mr. Jean-Marc Fauconnier, Conseil en Environment, France

Whether directly or indirectly, roads and motorways have an adverse influence on diversity, both by the fact of their existence and as a consequence of their use by traffic and their maintenance, causing negative (and occasionally positive) effects on land areas (biotopes and landscapes) and ecosystems (biocenoses and plant and animal species).  

The impact of road transport on biological and landscape diversity


1.         The impact on land areas

This impact directly concerns the areas crossed in terms of landscape (human environment) and biotopes (supporting biocenoses) and falls into the following main categories:


  • Replacement effect: The road infrastructure replaces an area (elimination of the original environment in the area occupied) and transforms the surrounding land (replacement of the original environment by a new environment) within boundaries which vary but considerably exceed the actual road surface (agricultural consolidation; industrial estates consequent upon construction of road infrastructure).  This effect usually increases human influence, resulting in standardised and uniform landscapes.


  • Dissection and fragmentation effect: Dissection takes the form of a barrier whose permeability varies according to the scale and characteristics of the infrastructure (road or motorway, total land requirement and geometric characteristics), leading to landscape and habitat fragmentation.  This effect acts on landscape structure and affects both animal and plant diversity.  Biologically, population interchange may be jeopardised (risk that non-viable populations could be isolated) and habitat sizes may be reduced below the necessary threshold (depending on the species concerned).  The fragmentation effect is the main obstacle to conservation of fauna diversity in industrialised countries.
  • Edge effect: This is the effect which the road (or motorway) has on nearby environments, mainly on flora (and indirectly on fauna), owing to the local environmental changes which it causes (microclimate parameters, illumination, alterations affecting ground, drainage, etc).


2.         The impact of construction sites

Construction work may disturb habitats, affect the species which they harbour and adversely influence biodiversity in areas varying in distance from the construction zone.  The causes are, in particular, site clearing and earthworks, activity and noise, uncontrolled liquid wastes, as well as borrow pits and storage areas for materials.


3.         The impact of toxic emissions

Directly related to traffic, these emissions have an adverse effect on air, water and soil quality, and consequently on biotopes and ecosystems, mainly in the areas along both sides of the road (local influence over 50 to 100 metres), but they may also affect more distant areas (depending on methods of transfer, in particular through the air).


4.         The direct impact on fauna

For the habitats which it crosses, which are occupied by animal species of varying mobility, the road represents a hostile zone (fragmentation effect) that animals may try to cross in response to their biological needs (access to traditional feeding or breeding grounds, or migration routes).  This being so, the risk of animal mortality due to collisions will depend on infrastructure characteristics, traffic density and habitat type.


5.         The indirect impact

Indirect effects (away from the actual road area) which may be created by spatial changes and the redistribution of human activities in the area concerned (industrial estates at intersections and agricultural consolidation) often account for a not inconsiderable part of the impact on biological and landscape diversity.


Necessary policies and practices


1.         The need for a common approach in the various policies pursued

  • A determination to use spatial planning and integration.
  • Consideration of environmental criteria in spatial planning.
  • The idea of ecological networks (just as there exist transport networks).


2.         Better implementation of the principle of continuous assessment

Although the principle of continuous environmental assessment is generally accepted, in practice environmental experts work consecutively on separate studies without any real continuity.  This leads to a damaging loss of information between the various project stages.  A sole co-ordinator responsible for interdisciplinary dialogue and the temporal continuity of environmental assessments would prove more effective.


3.         Development of operational methodologies and tools

Ecology and landscape experts often lack reference material and tools for analysing, assessing and planning.  This dearth contrasts with proven practices in road engineering and means that ecological and landscape factors are given inadequate consideration in the choices made and measures taken.


4.         Guidelines for biodiversity-oriented professional practices

·        When deciding whether a new road is justified, account must be taken of alternative modes of transport and serious consideration given to the zero option.

·        Environmental impact studies must offer choices in terms of spatial planning.

·        The study area must be large enough to include all effects and allow a functional approach to landscapes and ecosystems.

·        Crucial issues, key species and sensitive areas must be defined according to scientific criteria alone, disregarding pressure groups.

·        When choosing a new route, account must be taken of biological and landscape diversity, and the areas of least impact first ascertained.

·        The importance of ecological and landscape criteria must be sufficient to balance that of economic and technical requirements. 

  •  Ecological and landscape requirements for preserving biodiversity must be taken into consideration at all stages of the project (from initial design studies to the actual opening of the road).



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