Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

An increasingly fruitful recreation for passengers on a long motorway drive is ‘counting the kestrels’, spotting the predatory birds suspended in the air1 above the embankments.

Hovering kestrels, alert for edible activity below, are the most easily visible signs of a surprising2 world of wildlife which is flourishing on the fringes of Britain’s 2,000 miles of motorways.

Imprisoned between a relentless stream of fast traffic on one side, and chemically cleansed farmland on the other, motorway verges are blossoming as unspoiled nature reserves3—a total of some 18,000 acres of them.

The law forbids stopping on the motorway other than in an emergency, so human visitors on the verges are rare. There are no farm animals to graze and trample the soft ground, and with no chemical pesticides the soil flourishes organically4.

There is even evidence that the turbulence of passing vehicles, combined with oxides of nitrogen emitted in exhaust gases, are richly increasing the levels of nitrogen in vegetation alongside motorways.

As a result there is an abundance of insects, which rely on the nitrogen content of plants for building proteins, and which themselves6 become a vital link in the food chain7 which encourages other forms of wildlife to congregate on the motorway edges.

The kestrels are an airborne clue to the growing populations of voles, mice, rabbits, frogs, toads, newts, and smaller birds which we pass within a few feet as we travel along the motorways. There are also hedgehogs, foxes, and badgers colonising sections of the embankments.

The debris9 of motorway traffic does not seem to discourage them. On the contrary.

There is no excuse, of course, for travellers polluting the verges with litter. But unsightly, non-biodegradable items such as plastic or glass bottles, soft drink cans and lost car hubcaps have been found by scientists to have been taken over by colonies of ants, nesting birds, voles and mice, and by the same small animals sheltering from the marauding kestrels.

The hard shoulder10, designated for breakdown emergencies, is popular territory for crows and hedgehogs foraging for the corpses11 of insects which impact with, and ricochet off, passing vehicles.

It is not only the animals which are flourishing. Splashes of colour amid the green of motorway embankments in spring and summer betray the wild flowers which are spreading there.

Look out for corn poppies appearing beside any newly completed stretch of motorway. Their dormant seeds flourish in newly-turned earth, which was the reason for their abundance in the Flanders fields of wartime France, and in freshly planted British fields before the use of chemical weedkillers became so prevalent in agriculture.

(adapted from an article by Sue Baker, The Observer)


1 Why are the kestrels ‘suspended in the air’?

2 Why are the signs of wildlife on the motorway verges described as ‘surprising’?

3 Explain ‘nature reserves’ and say why the verges are compared to them.

4 How does the soil manage to flourish ‘organically’?

5 What does ‘themselves’ refer to?

6 Describe the ‘food chain’ and how the nitrogen in the soil makes vegetation grow abundantly near the motorways.

7 What is the significance of the presence of the kestrels?

8 Explain the ‘debris’ and say what is good and bad about it.

9 Explain ‘hard shoulder’ and say why crows and hedgehogs are found there.

10 What does the phrase ‘foraging for the corpses’ mean in this context?

11 Why were corn poppies found in the Flanders fields in wartime?

12 In a paragraph of 60–80 words, summarise the reasons for the growth of wildlife along the motorway verges.

Sample Answers

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