Lija tree felling a result of Jose Herrera’s failure, environmentalist says – (2)

July 17, 2017

Alfred E Baldacchino

Monday 17th July, 2017

Following the publication of my comments in the press and on my blog on the destruction of indigenous old Holm oaks at Lija, the Hon. Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Jose Herrera, felt the need of a right of reply to correct some comments which he said are  “baseless and malicious”, at least directed to the heading .

The Ministers reply at least had one positive comment saying that he is: “not insensitive to the public outcry in this regard.”

I feel, as many others also do, that the destruction of such old trees is an insult to any biodiversity protection authorities, and when there is no effort or feeling to control such biodiversity loss, on the grounds that these were not protected, makes the insult more hurting.

The following is the reply by the Hon Minster for the Environment the Hon. Jose Herrera, which was published in the newspaper MaltaToday, beneath yesterday’s article.

And my reply sent to the newspaper follows.

Right of reply:

I take strong objection to this heading, where it will be shown that allegations made against me and my Ministry are totally baseless and malicious. In fact, one should take note of my persistent effort in favour of tree planting and aforestation, a process which I am determined to accelerate.​

The site in question is within scheme, and is not an Urban Conservation Area (UCA) nor a protected area. Thereby, given that the species of the trees (Quercus ilex) are listed in Schedule II, these specimens are not protected through the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations, 2011 (Legal Notice 200 of 2011, S.L. 549.64) and no permit from ERA is required for their removal from this site. 

Nonetheless, as a good practice, as part of ERA’s no objection issued, Transport Malta (TM) were made to compensate for the removal through donation of a number of trees to the local council.

However, I must state that I am not insensitive to the public outcry in this regard. Therefore, I will also explore the possibility of landscaping these new roads with the planting of new trees.

My reply:

What a sorry, puerile, statement by the Hon. Minster for the Environment Jose Herrera. What we, and especially me, were expecting was to hear about the efforts made by the Minister to save these historical old, indigenous Maltese trees, when there were more than one solution. None.

How can one accept the fact that a close to a hundred-year old indigenous tree, which was protected before the tree protection regulations were revoked, and which was suggested for total protection, was approved for destruction with no efforts to save it at all.

Anybody who has the protection of biodiversity at heart, in the national interest,  would be heart broken to see such destruction of indigenous old trees. The more so, one would also expect, the Minister responsible for the environment with the responsibility to see and stop biodiversity loss. But… it seems, not in Malta.

In my opinion this is complete failure. And I repeat it. It is a complete failure by the environment authorities that be. The more so when the Hon, Minister speaks about replacing the old Holm Oaks by a score of sapling, unless he would have to rely on imported stuff.

And we were also expecting that the Hon. Minister would have immediately set the ball rolling for the publication of the much promised and awaited tree protection regulations which would save so many indigenous trees. But no word about this either. There is no mention to his “determination and acceleration” efforts towards the publishing of these regulations.

May I ask what is keeping the Hon Minister from publishing these regulations, despite the fact that these were on his his desk from day one he took over from his predecessor, and despite all his public statements that he will soon be publishing them? Are his hands tied? Does he have a real will to publish them? Or is he under pressure from any individual or entity for specific commercial reasons?

That is what we expected to hear. We all know how much he is involved in paper talk, with no resulting positive environmental protection actions. His statement confirms this.

The Hon Minister’s statement really confirms and gives more strength to my comments. Everybody knows about the loop holes the present tree protection regulations have, drafted to the music of his predecessor from the other side of the political fence.

It is positive to read that the Hon Minister for the Environment is “not insensitive to the public outcry in this regard.” When the Hon Minister decides, and if he want to discuss the matter further, I am ready and willing to discuss the real protection, education, and technical regulations to reach such aims in the national and biodiversity interest.

It is up to the Hon Minister to decide. We have had enough of paper talk seeing indigenous trees falling down to the chainsaw, and replaced by imported invasive species. 

see also:   Lija tree felling a result of Jose Herrera’s failure, environmentalist says – (1)



Lija tree felling a result of Jose Herrera’s failure, environmentalist says

July 16, 2017

16 July 2017

Lija tree felling a result of Jose Herrera’s failure,    environmentalist says

Paul Cocks 

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino bemoans the felling of a number of mature holm oak trees in Lija and says that environment minister Jose Herrera had failed to deliver on his promise to reinstate in law the protection of indigenous trees.

The holm oak trees were cut off by chainsaw 30cm from the ground.

The environment minister was to be held personally responsible for the felling of a number of old indigenous holm oak trees in Lija, environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino has claimed.

In comments to MaltaToday, Baldacchino said that it was beyond belief that the trees – some of them 100 years old – were summarily cut down when there were other alternatives that would have resulted in the trees being saved.

“This all comes to the fact that minister Jose’ Herrera has failed to deliver on his promise to reinstate into law the protection of a number of indigenous trees,” he said.

“When he took over the ministry from Leo Brincat in April last year, Herrera told Parliament’s Planning and Environment Committee that the protection of trees would be reintroduced into law shortly thereafter.”

Baldacchino said that has not happened yet, leading him to blame Herrera for the felling of the holm oak trees in Lija.

The trees were cut down to make way for an additional south-bound carriageway, aimed at easing the traffic flow – and traffic jams – in the area leading to the Lija roundabout and on to the Birkirkara bypass and Naxxar Road.

But Baldacchino insisted that the transport ministry could have developed an inner service lane into a full carriageway without damaging or cutting down the trees.

“There was already the inner service lane that would have been enough as an extra lane, there was no need to remove the trees as well,” he said.

The trees were removed to expand the south-bound carriageway in Lija

Baldacchino said that when he learnt the trees were being cut down he went immediately on site where he was brusquely challenged by the workers when he attempted to take some photos of what they were doing.

“They were felling those trees with a chainsaw in what appeared to be an orgasmic expression of glee and euphoria,” he said. “They cut the trees about 30cm off the ground, including one that was over two storeys high and must have been over 100 years old.”

Baldacchino said that the lack of foresight by the environment minister, coupled with the failure of the Environment Resources Authority to take a stand on the matter, were appalling.

The ERA, he claimed, had as yet to take a stand to protect Malta’s bio-diversity.

“It is not enough to justify what happened by saying that the trees are not protected,” he said. “They are not protected because Minister Herrera has failed to put into law the recommendations of the ad-hoc committee that was constituted to consider the situation and which recommended that the protection of trees be reinstituted.”

Baldacchino said he was not sure if the transport ministry had also considered the heavy waters that flowed through the area after every heavy bout of rain.

He said that the trees – and the 1.5m-wide strip they were on – served to slow down the water that inadvertently accumulates in the area from Iklin, Mosta and Lija during heavy rainfall.

“What will happen now that the strip has been removed and the area cleared?” Baldacchino said. “Has anyone thought of that?”


Siġar indiġeni Maltin -laqgħa

June 2, 2017

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Wara l-interess qawwi li jidher li hawn dwar is-siġar indiġeni Maltin, u l-għatx għall-aktar tagħrif dwarhom u dwar kif dawn jistgħu jitnisslu, ħsibt li ntella’ laqgħa bir-ritratti, fejn dawk li jixtiequ jkunu jafu aktar jistgħu jilħqu dan il-għan.

Kif jidher fil-poster mehmuż, din il-laqgħa sejra ssir nhar il-Ħamis 22 ta’ Ġunju 2017, fis-6.30 ta’ filgħaxija, fis-Sala Antoine de Paule fil-Palazz ta’ Sant’ Anton. Matula naraw xi siġar indiġeni Maltin, u wara waqfa għall-kafe naraw ftit kif nistgħu innisslu wħud minn dawn is-siġar.

Din hija miftuha għal kulħadd, u d-dħul huwa b’xejn.

Niltaqgħu biex insiru nafu aktar dwar is-siġar indiġeni Maltin biex inkunu nistgħu nqajjmu aktar kuxjenza pubblika b’saħħitha ħalli s-siġar indiġeni Maltin jistgħu jerġgħu iħaddru lill-pajjiżna.

Inkun grat jekk minn jixtieq jiġi jibgħatli tagħrif meħtieġ kif jidher fil-poster.

Nixtieq nirringrazzja llil E.T. il-President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca tal-għajnuna kollha.



EU funds endanger Buskett N2K site

May 13, 2017

Saturday, 13th May, 2017

Endangering Buskett 
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is a Tree Protection Area, with some trees protected for their antiquity, a scheduled woodland, an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, a Site of European Importance, a Special Area of Conservation, a Bird Protection Area, and above all an EU Natura 2000 site.

The remains of an Ash Tree, after being handled by a Landscaper, in the Natura 2000 Buskett.

Yet, to date Buskett has never been professionally managed, especially on the lines of EU obligations. Never. There is absolutely no will, no vision, and no professional commitment. To the extent that a past environment minister was made to believe that Buskett is a garden. There were plans to transform this important ecological habitat into a ‘quality garden’ on the lines eventually implemented at the Mdina Ditch.

One would have thought that this was just a political flash in the pan by a gullible politician who was taken in by those with commercial interests. But to this day, professional environmental responsibilities still have not reached the level of Cabinet’s political acumen.

The only type of management approved by the Authority for the Protection of the Environment is the chopping down of protected trees, such as this one in Buskett – A Natura 2000 site.

As an EU member, Malta had to have management plans implemented for all Natura 2000 sites by six years after accession. This deadline was not met.

Following public consultations, later approved by the government, and boasted about by the incumbent Minister for the Environment, management plans are not yet implemented, and it seems they will never be.

A recent visit to Buskett revealed the complete political failure, lack of professionalism and irresponsibility with regards to the management of this important EU Natura 2000 site.

Clearance of important natural habitat in a Natura 2000 site to restore of a rubble wall.

An extensive area of maquis was recklessly bulldozed and obliterated to enable the restoration of a rubble wall. While the restoration of rubble walls is necessary, and those in hand are being professionally built, this can never justify the massacre of flora and fauna: habitat and species of European importance.

The rich maquis habitat as it was before it was bulldozed with the blessing of the Ministry for the Environment.

I wandered around Buskett and I could see piles of earth and stones dumped on sensitive habitats: habitats important for rare and endangered species, all listed in the data sheets sent to the EU to justify the importance of such a Special Area of Conservation of European Interest.

A butchered Ash Tree where, a couple of weeks before, I was photographing its new seeds.

Piles of stones and earth dumped on sensitive habitat in this EU Natura 2000 site.

It is heartbreaking to see two protected and rare hawthorn trees that were chopped from ground level to make way for machinery, earth and stone dumping. A rare protected ash tree was heavily butchered.

Unfortunately European Union funds are being mismanaged, endangering an important sensitive habitat which according to EU legislation, the Minister for the Environment is obliged to protect on behalf of Malta and the EU.

According to the EU Habitats Directive (article 6.3), an appropriate assessment has to be drawn up for any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site, but which is likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Such an appropriate assessment is needed to highlight the implications for the site in view of its conservation objective.

The national competent authority for the EU Habitats Directive (the Environment and Resource Authority – ERA) shall eventually endorse the plan or project only after having ascertained that the conclusions of such assessment regarding the implications for the SAC will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC concerned. ERA is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the general public.

Two mature protected hawthorn trees in this Natura 2000 site, 2.5 metres high, were raised to the ground seemingly by the approval of the Ministry for the Environment and ERA 

Can the minister publish the appropriate assessment made (naturally if it has been done), which enabled the ERA board to approve such works in this important Natura 2000 site?

If not available, then ERA approved such works blindfolded, which is very irresponsible, or else the ministry is in complete darkness of its responsibility, and its personnel is on a wild unmonitored spree to obliterate a delicate natural habitat just to restore a rubble wall. Ironically, posters at Buskett advertise these works as an EU-funded Life Saving Project.

It seems that following the acquiring of EU funds, the most important thing is to nail a poster acknowledging EU. How these funds are spent, and whether they are in line with the obligations of the EU Environment Acquis, is not important, not even to the Ministry.

Considering the fact that the minister’s Environment and Resource Authority board is made up of the cream of the crop of Maltese academics, such officially approved ecological damage with EU funds is worse than one can image, both from a professional, an administrative and a political point of view.

60 mature olive trees were chopped down by the approval and financing of the University of Malta, following populist demands. So if it can be done on the University campus, why not on public land?

It reminds me of the massacre of 60 established olive trees on the university campus, where no one batted an eye. We now have to suffer this ecological destruction in a Special Area of Conservation of national and European importance. Seems that academic qualifications today at best are of secondary importance when one sits on a political board.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications, approved not only by politicians but also by the top academic institution of this unfortunate country that seems to sit and tacitly approve?

This is a glaring declaration of total failure of the ministry’s obligations with regards to the protection of the environment. It seems that the latest environment ministers, one from either side of the local political hegemony, are competing among themselves as to who is the most committed to the destruction of biodiversity.

It would do no harm to remind, once again, the environmental promise contained in the 2013 electoral manifesto:

“The Environment and Resources Authority… will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection and amelioration of the environment and resources while undertaking also the responsibility of the important role of an environmental regulator, which presently our country does not have.”

A visit to Buskett where this EU Natura 2000 site is being endangered by EU funds, shows not only how an environmental regulator did never exist in the past, but also how the present one is working diametrically opposite to what has been promised and contrary to national and international obligations. Not only is it not functioning, but it is officially involved in such ecological damage.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications?

The minister has gone on record as saying that he has a “sound environmental policy”. Buskett Natura 2000 site, shows the lack of a will to protect biodiversity, as promised, all the result of such a “sound environmental policy”.


The result of the ‘sound environmental policy’ with which some are very proud.  Seeing all the above official ecological damage, this is the best diplomacy I could manage. And I am sure there are many others who feel the way I do.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

see also:

Flora u fawna Maltija – taħdita

April 19, 2017

Nieħdu gost narawkom 

A window pain for sure

March 15, 2017

A window pain for sure

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Alfred E Baldacchino

The Azure Window at Dwejra succumbed to the forces of nature on March 8. It was swallowed by the deep blue abyss. There it joined the cave it once proudly held so high above. There was nothing we could do about it.

Not even control people from roaming over its fragile top.

The Azure Window at Dwejra, Gozo before Wednesday, 8 March 2017,  09.23.

The adjacent inland sea was another sea cave, as were the surroundings of Fungus Rock. Time neither waits nor asks for any permit from any authority. Nor does it inform anyone beforehand of its brusque actions. When it is time up, it is time up.

Those who remember the Azure Window can never contain the void it left behind. The aesthetic landscape so damningly torn can never be restored. Its romantic aura now engulfed by emptiness can only lead to tears. Its contribution to the fabric of the Maltese islands is an unbearable pain.

The last time the Azure Window played Hobson’s choice was in Game of Thrones. It must have been painful to look at the scandalous scene where geological remains and ecological micro-niches were commercially exploited without respect.

The exploitation of fossils and micro-habitats at Dwejra during the filming of Game of Thrones.

The endemic Maltese Everlasting threatened by the invasive Hotentot Fig at Dwejra.

Could it be that the Azure Window could not withstand the ongoing rape of the historical, geological, ecological and social environs? Could it be that it could not bear anymore the onslaught on precious indigenous species, some fossilised? Could it be that it could not stand the sight of invasive species encroaching on restricted endemic species? Could it be that it could no longer sustain the past rock-cutting explosives in the vicinity and the relatively recent illegal explosives to widen the passageway to the inland sea?

Could it be that it could not stand and stare at the rife illegal exploitation of the rich, unique marine life and the blatant theft of underwater archaeological remains? Could it have been jealous of the illegal buildings in its shadow, which mushroomed with political blessings, having a stronger hold on their bedrock than the hidden, submarine, disjointed bedding plate it stood on?

Could it be that being a proud part of such a rich but abused national heritage was enough to shatter the window pane, to the extent that it did not want to look and be part of such a rape anymore? Could it be that smiling faces, not shedding any tears for the onslaught on such a heritage, led to profound heartbreaks?

Will such a loss be capitalised to further exploit the environment under the pretext of making up for the Azure Window’s disappearance?

This lone, overpowering geological giant has in no uncertain way disassociated itself completely from such exploitation.

The Azure Window is now far from this madding crowd, safely and silently contributing to an underwater habitat for the indigenous marine species. The fauna which once caressed its fragile underwater hold are now embraced by the new myriad mazes it offers.

Dwejra is poorer without the Azure Window, no doubt about it. But it is still very rich in the indigenous biodiversity of the area.

The numerous fossils at Dwejra daily trodden upon by the numerous boots of tourists and locals.

Not only endangered indigenous biodiversity, but also endemic species, which together with the Azure Window have graced and enriched the area without much appreciation.

Consider the extent to which Dwejra is regarded as a special area of conservation of European Union importance. It is a Natura 2000 site, a site which hopefully one day will be professionally managed and protected for future generations, as is morally and legally obliged.

Would it be too optimistic to expect that the Azure Window’s pain, brought about by its disappearance, can instill the real appreciation of our rich, not-yet-understood, natural heritage we have been entrusted to safeguard? Would it be too much to implement professionally sound environmental principles to make up for this national loss?

Can the Azure Window open a social vision to lead many to see and understand that no amount of richness or gigantic strength can stop the natural powers from the inevitable brusque actions, which one day will see them dethroned and naked serving willy-nilly as a habitat for less honourable beings?

Or will such a loss be capitalised to further exploit the environment under the pretext of making up for the Azure Window’s disappearance? Wouldn’t be surprised at all. There are competent individuals who can tear the place apart!

Many have shed a tear for the loss of such a natural national icon, pointing the finger at nature for taking the Azure Window away and depriving locals, future generations and tourists of its majesty. Can all the tears spilled over such a loss wash away the pecuniary blinkers which are blinding many with greed, leading to uncontrolled, irreversible ecological, economic and social destruction?

One hopes, as the Singaporean political activist Alex Tan  believes, that “Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again”, even if this is at a great cost. The view from the Azure Window is there for all those who have eyes to see.

Breaking news: it has been officially announced that it has been decided not to ‘rebuild’ the Azure Window. These fairy-tale decisions from this EU member state dispel any doubt of the miserable, deep depths the endemic political intelligence is in. I have no tears; there is only pain. 

Alfred E Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

see also:










Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

March 2, 2017


Thursday, 2nd March, 2017

Universe of Faith talks to Alfred E. Baldacchino, an environmental expert who is highly concerned about the fact that in Malta, we keep repeating the same mistakes detrimental to human health, the environment and the economy.

Fountain grass, Penisetum at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fountain grass, Penisetum sp. at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

“In the 1970s the government introduced Acacias trees which are detrimental to some people suffering from asthma, allergies, sinusitis etc. This alien species was introduced in Malta after a donation to the government of the time. Today, landscapers are doing the same mistakes by introducing alien species in our roundabouts, streets and other urban areas. One such example is the fountain grass, Penisetum, which following its planting in major roads, has now escaped and is growing uncontrolled along streets, in fields and also in valleys, competing with indigenous flora.” He explained that while there are also indigenous plants which can cause allergies these grow in small quantities and not invasively like the alien species.

Alfred believes that landscaping our streets needs to be combined with respect for the local wildlife and ecosystem. “Australia and New Zealand spray each plane that lands to control the introduction of alien insects from being accidentally introduced in their country. They have learned their lesson hard after Europeans introduced foreign species which brought havoc to their indigenous biodiversity. England is spending billions to control the negative impacts of invasive species. What can we learn from them?”

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

He insists that our approach needs to change and that things can be done more professionally. “We can use many of our indigenous flora, which are so easy to propagate. We have so many beautiful wildflowers. Israel uses indigenous trees, such as the carob, to landscape its streets. We can do the same. Indigenous flora should be propagated locally and not imported for commercial reasons. This would help economically, ecologically and socially. We have to put our priorities right. Environmental landscaping needs to move hand in hand socially and ecologically.”

He also warns about the dangers of importing olive trees which are suffering from a deadly disease causing great economical and ecological damages. “Do we have to go through such negative ecological and economical experience to make us aware of the actions that needed to be taken?” he asks.

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe Major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud

Alfred calls for the appreciation of our indigenous plants, those which have been adorning our country before the arrival of man, as well as implementing clear policies concerning alien invasive species which are destroying our ecosystems.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter On Care for Our Common Home also echoes this thinking when he said that some profits cause “terrible injustices, much greater than the economic benefit to be obtained,”. He also dedicates thirteen paragraphs (24, 32-42, 169, 190) of this letter on the value and protection of biodiversity.

Published: March 2017

Further Reading:
How can I become a “Green Catholic”?