Question time

October 22, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, 22nd October, 1946


Alfred E Baldacchino

Afforestation is beneficial to society, to the ecosystem and also economically if this is undertaken in a professional way. The economic, ecological, and social benefits are priceless. It contributes to better health conditions, reduces stress, contributes to storage of water, and reduces erosion. In some countries afforestation is included in their gross national product.


What everybody is wishing, and hoping and waiting for, but…

Afforestation contributes to the control of carbon dioxide in the atmospheres and gives back the indispensable life bearing oxygen, thus also addressing Climate Change which is having such a tremendous social, economic and ecological negative impacts on life on this planet.

But to be able to plan with determination and achieve such noble aims these benefits have got to be appreciated and understood.

The fact that a report on afforestation has remained on the shelf for two long years clearly shows that there is no political will, no political desire or determination, no political appreciation, no political understanding, no political awareness of the responsibility in taking any action towards the achievement of such benefits.

Not only so but the decimation of trees and the planting of exotics and invasive species going on unchecked, with political blessings also leads one to conclude that there is an official hate for indigenous trees in Malta.

No public consultation has been held on such a report. The only thing that has been done is the usual ‘animated cartoons’ showing where such afforestation projects can take place.

Furthermore, the much promised tree protection regulations, which go hand in hand with such afforestation projects, and which have been drafted three years ago under the previous Minister Leo Brincat, are still ‘being studied’ after being initially shot down by some technocrats. The new Minister during the House of Representatives Permanent Committee on Environment and Development Planning, some months ago promised that they will soon be out for public consultation.

What is holding the implementation of such an afforestation report and the accompanying regulations for the protection of trees and afforestation?

Without doubt the highest hurdle towards achieving such benefits in the national interest is the lack of political will. This is further extended to the many political advisers who are not au courant on related national and international obligations, if they are even aware of the government’s electoral manifesto.

From past experience, one can see how MEPA handled such biodiversity obligations, before it shed its “Malta and Environment” responsibilities and changed its clothing to a PA. One can also see the decisions being hurriedly taken by this PA, blindfoldedly approving developmental permits without any concerns for anyone or anything, except developers.

It also seems that ERA, after three years in limbo, has been so blinded by the light of day that it cannot even find its own two feet and seems to be still under the beck and call of its past bedfellow. Could the implementation of such an afforestation report be seen as a stumbling block to the PA?

Sometimes I honestly hope that such an afforestation report is kept on the shelf and postponed sine die by the Minister for the Environment.  I believe that if it were to be implement with the political expertise he is dependent on, it would be another brick in the wall towards the further massacre of the environment, both with regards to the choice of species, and also with the now institutionalised pro-business vision, leading to the importation of indigenous trees used for such project because of pressure from ‘landscapers’. All contrary to international obligations such as the EU Environment Acquis, the Berne Convention, its recommendations and decisions, and also the Biodiversity Convention.


… unfortunately

Where there is a will there is a way. Naturally where there is NO will there is NO way, afforestation or not. So the best step forward is to let sleeping dogs lie.

For the views of the Dr Josè Herrera, Minister for sustainable development, the Environment and Climate Change see the following link:

See also the following articles on my blog:

Another buskett onslaught

Trees butchered at university

Yet another toothless dog

Trees and invasive species

There is no respite for trees

The national wonders of tree pruning in Malta

Alien invasive species animation film


From a bird’s eye view

October 5, 2016

times of malta

Wednesday, 5th October, 2016

From a bird’s eye view  

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Kurt Sansone’s contribution (September 22), illustrated with bird photos taken by hunters, was a very pleasant surprise. It is of great satisfaction to me. Indeed, another bold step towards the better future of a country which has a reputation for the killing of birds. One cannot but congratulate and encourage these efforts.


What I cannot understand is the amount of ‘fear’ shown about such photos, or rather about the photographers. Without any difficulty one can perhaps understand the criticism from that lone man-with-the-gun who is more accustomed to gunning down protected birds.

But disappointing is the deafening silence from the other side of the fence. Disappointing, because these hunters’ photos, and comments on the social media, contribute towards the positive appreciation, education, and scientific study of birds. Photos of living birds in their natural environment, unharmed, and most important, flying free. What more can one wish for?

I am not saying that obscenities like butchered storks, honey buzzards, and other protected birds should not be condemned without any reservations.

I remember during my active years campaigning for the better protection of birds – an aim I still cherish and still contributing to – when one September afternoon, I went bird-watching at Buskett, a bird sanctuary. It was overcast with a slight drizzle. Migrating birds of prey were approaching Buskett in large numbers, all trying to roost because the inclement weather did not allow them to continue with their journey to Africa.

But, within half an hour, 40 dead honey buzzards tumbled down into the woods below. One honey buzzard was seen circling down, wing detached from body – shot with a chained-pellet. Not a sight to easily forget.

During those bad times bird watchers ended with a fractured heads, smashed equipment, and broken ribs. This was years ago. Nothing compared to today’s photos by bird hunters from the same Buskett, mingling with bird watchers enjoying the miracles of nature.


Such positive photographic appreciation is in line with the same aims for which a society was founded in the 1960s. Today, one can see watchers and hunters alike, all clicking to their hearts’ delight and taking pictures not lives. Everyone should be pleased and proud that past efforts are bearing fruit. One does not have to belong to any group to achieve this.

It is not important who the photographer is. The aim is more important than the image. As long as birds remain unharmed, it is not important who pulls the trigger. If it is a good photo, it is a good photo, whether it is from one side of the fence or from the other.

Such photographers should be encouraged, their work appreciated, and their efforts and knowledge in the field shared with others. Congratulations are due to those who are finding fulfillment, appreciation and interest in shooting birds with a camera. I wish them the best of luck and the best of opportunities to carry on shooting with a camera and sharing their photos, so that they can be appreciated by one and all.

The hunters’ photos, and comments on the social media, contribute towards the positive appreciation, education, and scientific study of birds

Without doubt another positive gigantic step towards bird protection. It might not please everyone, but it certainly suits and pleases birds and the photographers in question. Birds seem to be reciprocating by flying past sometimes closer than it was ever thought possible, unless there is a raving party to upset such a positive step. What a thrill, and what a dream come true.

Black-winged stilts - marcus camilleri


German sociologist and political scientist Robert Michels contends that once an organisation engages full-time employees, there arises differences between the general members and their leaders. The presence of specialised personnel creates a dominant elite, and though the role of this elite is to present the view and aspirations of the mass membership, who own the organisation, the gap between these two gets wider and wider.

In such circumstances the leaders tend to be more interested in keeping their position of prestige and influence that goes with their position. The interest of the members is no longer represented, and the organisation with a bureaucratic structure is operated in the interest of preservation of the bureaucracy, which accommodates the elite.

Can this be the basis for such ‘fears’ from the elite on both sides of the fence? Could be not. But it is high time that credit is given where credit is due, by conservationists on both sides of the fence. It may not be easy for some, but if it is in line with the official approved aims of conservation, then what is the problem?

Alfred Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

See also

Friefet Maltin – 1 – Il-farfett tal-bużbież

October 3, 2016





Another Buskett onslaught

September 15, 2016


Another Buskett onslaught

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is one of the few remaining rich ecological areas. It is a tree protection area. It is also a bird protection area: birds of prey migrating in both spring and autumn and for other migrating, wintering and resident species.

Buskett supports eight different habitat types of EU Community interest, whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation (SAC). It also supports six different species of fauna (besides birds) and plant species of EU Community interest, whose conservation also demands the SAC designation.

At Buskett, there are 32 bird species recorded, all qualifying for special EU conservation measures with regard to their habitat to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. Because of this, Buskett is a special protection area (SPA).

Buskett is thus both an SPA and an SAC, making the place an EU Natura 2000 site. These are designed to afford protection to the most vulnerable species in Europe.


BUSKETT – an SPA, an SAC – and an EU NATURA 2000 site.

Within six years, at most, from the designation of a Natura 2000 site (from 2004, in our case), member states are obliged to establish priorities in the light of the importance of the sites for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type or a species for the coherence of Natura 2000 and in the light of the threats of degradation or destruction to which those sites are exposed.


Since EU accession in 2004, the environment has never been
so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today
The priority that has officially materialised so far is a rave party in the midst of this Natura 2000 site during a sensitive migration  for birds of prey. This despite the fact that EU funds were acquired for the rehabilitation of Buskett’s environment.

Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of its conservation objectives.

The competent national authority (the Environment and Resources Authority) has to agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and after having obtained the opinion of the public.

By December 2015, management plans for Malta’s Natura 2000 sites were ready and approved by the government after a public consultation exercise. However, Buskett is still under tremendous pressure and disturbance.

Highlighted negative impacts on this Natura 2000 site, according to the management plan, are noise and light pollution resulting in disturbance. Noise was attributed to large groups of people, unnecessary shouting and also the use of megaphones.

Light pollution was also referred to from a transient source, such as from a passing vehicle or from adjacent areas.

The management plan confirmed that “all these result in considerable disturbance to wildlife”.

The plan also recommends that the range, population size, roosting habitat and future prospects of migratory raptors are to be maintained; the future prospects of breeding and wintering passerines are to be improved.


Buskett is a Special Protection Area (SPA) declared under the EU Bird Directive because of its importance for migratory birds of prey.

It further recommends that Buskett should receive full legal protection implemented according to national legislation and local polices. With regard to birds, one of the main objectives is to maintain its high ornithological value. These are all in line with obligations arising out of the EU environmental acquis, which have been transposed to local legislation.

The Minister for the Environment and his ERA seem to be yet oblivious to what has hit them. They failed terribly at their first hurdle, which seemingly was a bit too high for them. Now they seem to have been mesmerised by this rave party, which took place on September 7 in the midst of Buskett. This should never have been given a permit to be held –  unless, of course, it was held without any permit, which would still be of ERA’s concern.



One of the largest flocks of Black Kites congregating over Buskett EU Natura 2000 site on the 7th September 2016, waiting to roost in the trees, on the same day the rave party was held.

The minister and his ERA are intelligent enough, I believe, to see that such a rave party is diametrically opposed to the EU Natura 2000 obligations, especially in a sensitively bird of prey migratory period. Even genuine bird hunters and bird conservationists (who, in the recent past, have never seen eye to eye) have come out in force against such disturbances to this Natura 2000 site.

malta-taghna-lkoll“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.” So were the people promised in the Malta Tagħna Ikoll electoral manifesto in 2013.

But the people are still waiting for this promise to be realised and the responsibility of the environmental regulator (“which our country does not have”) to be effective.

Not only has Malta not become the “best in Europe”, as also promised, but, since accession to the EU in 2004, the environment has never been so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today.

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


Honey Buzzard – Pernis apivoris  – il-kuċċarda
Black Kite – Milvus migrans – l-astun iswed
Marsh Harrier – Circus aeruginosus – il-bagħdan aħmar



A photo of Buskett an EU Natura 2000 site, taken on 12th September 2016. For the attentino of ERA,  the promised environmental regulator.

See also




Il-balluta fuq is-Saqqajja

September 5, 2016

ħarġa 7_Page_1

ħarġa 7_Page_2

ara wkoll


Yet another toothless dog

August 26, 2016

times of malta

Yet another toothless dog

Friday. August 26, 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The way in which the new Planning Authority handled the applications for high rise buildings is a harbinger of things to come with regard to the complete destruction of these islands socially, environmentally and economically. Without any policy on the matter, without any public consultations, without any respect for anything or anyone but with urgency to please the selected few while the sun shines, the PA decided to approve the applications with absolutely no sign of professionality at all.

The fact that the new Environment and Resources Authority was absent from such an important decision is also very worrying.

A new era seems to be dawning on the environment, which, we have been told, ” … will be given the priority it deserves…”

The ERA chairman was indisposed and sent an explanatory letter. If I were the ERA chairman and I were sick, I would have crawled to the meeting, if only to make my presence felt. It would have been important to vote and make ERA’s position known. If medical reasons did not allow me to crawl, I would have sent a letter to the PA chairman stressing the need for it to be read before the vote was taken and highlighting ERA’s vote.

I would also have entrusted one of the ERA board members with the task to substantiate ERA’s official position. I would certainly not have sent the letter to a PA board member to use as he deems fit.

Such unprofessional behaviour simply shows that the government’s intentions to split Mepa into two authorities was just a sham. It wanted to make things easier for the selected few, weakening national and EU environmental obligations and responsibilities, giving a blank cheque to development applications having a hidden political blessing.

This was evident when the environment protection directorate was kept in limbo by Mepa when they were supposed to be in the same bed. Unconcerned, Mepa presented the Parliamentary standing committee on the environment with an impact assessment on Żonqor Point, confirming that the directorate was not consulted and drafters of the assessment had to remain anonymous.

The Environment and
Resources Authority, still so
young, has signed its own
death warrant


The new ERA, the promised champion of the environment, failed at its first hurdle. ERA, still so young, has signed its own death warrant through its impotency. The subsequent news that the ERA chairman described the EIA of the Sliema skyscraper as a “sham” confirms that ERA is another toothless authority.

I am indeed sorry for the ERA chairman. I had high hopes and honestly believed he would go far towards the protection of our environment – the basis of life as professionally he fully well knows.

The Sliema parish priests and the Church Environment Commission were constrained to voice their concerns. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. The leadership of the Church is emerging to be a solid promoter of the social and environmental responsibilities in the country, in line with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Yet, it is already being hounded by the square-circled political mentality.

Considering the local conditions, the high rises approved and others being proposed are anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-economical. Unfortunately, the powers that be, despite claiming they hail from the socialist camp, are dead set to accommodate the selected few at the expense of the exploited many, who sooner rather than later will have to pay through their noses, financially, socially and environmentally.

Such an official blinded vision is an extreme capitalist mentality rather than a moderate socialist commitment. But this is of no concern to those involved in these decisions. Greed, materialism and the exploitation of everything, at everyone’s expense, seem to be the order of the day.

As a past chairman of the Church Environment Commission once wrote: ” … Mepa, which should be our national watchdog on environmental protection and good management, has been turned into an old toothless dog often receiving merciless battering from all directions, including from the authorities, the public at large, NGOs and also from environmental speculators. And, let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter!”

He had also said: “What we need is a national watchdog called MEA: the Malta Environment Autlority. This should be able to act as a strong regulatory body in environmental matters, with all the required resources, including a well-trained and motivated staff. And, as a national watchdog, it should be able to act independently of all other govemment entities and authorities. Our MEA should play second fiddle to none” (Times of Malta, January 1, 2010).

Bold and noble words indeed when said with conviction.

cartoonThe old toothless dog is still running the show. And it is not only the old toothless dog that is still receiving such criticism. It has now been joined by a seemingly toothlless ERA.

One has to be aware that scientific decisions are arrived at in a very, very different way from political decisions. “And let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter”.

Who has let down whom?

Alfled Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.


Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 8 – Il-Kaħwiela

August 16, 2016

logoSoċjetà Filarmonika Nicolò Isouard – Festa Santa Marija Mosta – Awwissu 2016    

Il-kaħwiela – Anemone coronaria – Crown Anemone

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fuq ir-riħ tal-Wied tal-Isperanza nsibu Triq il-Kaħwiela. Isem ta’ fjura li ta’ min inkunu nafu ftit aktar fuqha.

Il-kaħwiela hija fjura li tikber fis-selvaġġ madwar il-Mediterran. Tinstab tikber ukoll f’pajjiżna għaliex hija fjura Maltija. Fjura indiġena għal Malta, jiġifieri minn dejjem kienet tikber fil-gżejjer Maltin u ma nġabetx hawn mill-bniedem. Din l-ispeċi tagħmel parti mill-familja taċ-ċfolloq (buttercups)  u tinstab fil-grupp (genus)  tal-Anemone.

L-ispeċi ta’ fjuri f’dan il-grupp għandhom basla tonda li tkun midfuna mhux fil-fond taħt wiċċ il-ħamrija. Din il-basla tagħmel il-kaħwiela pjanta perenni, jiġifieri tgħix għal aktar minn sentejn. F’pajjiżna twarrad minn Jannar sa Marzu. Imbagħad torqod matul ix-xhur tas-sajf, u kif tħoss l-ewwel xita fil-ħarifa, mill-basla jfeġġgħu u jikbru l-weraq.

Anemone_Coronaria 2Il-weraq jikbru fuq magħseb twil u x-xifer tagħhom ikunu maqtugħ forma ta’ swaba’. Il-magħseb tal-fjura wkoll jikber mill-basla. Dan joħroġ minn taħt l-art mgħawweg bħal ganċ, imma aktar ma jitwal aktar jiddritta. Tard fix-xitwa jiftħu l-fjuri mill-buttun tal-weraq, fuq magħseb twil mingħajr weraq, iżda muswaf.

Il-fjura tal-kaħwiela jkollha bejn ħamsa sa sitt petali, b’diametru ta’ bejn 3 sa 8 ċm. Dawn jistgħu jkunu jew ħomor, bojod jew koħol. Huma jkunu mwieżna fuq it-tliet werqiet modifikati li bihom ikun magħmul il-buttun. Il-kaħwiela togħla minn 15 sa 45 ċm.

F’nofs il-fjura nsibu għenuq irqaq li fit-tarf tagħhom ikollhom il-boroż żgħar bil-għabra tad-dakra, kif ukoll il-partijiet li jkollhom l-ovarji bil-bajd. Dawn ikunu blu metalliku skur, jidhru suwed, li jiġbdu lejhom l-insetti, fosthom naħal, li jdakkru l-fjura. Ta’ spiss wieħed jista’ jara xi ħanfus fil-fjura tal-kaħwiela.

Anemone_Coronaria 3Din hija pjanta li tagħmel iż-żerriegħa li tkun magħluqa ġo frotta b’qoxra ħoxna. Għalhekk din l-ispeċi hija Angiosperma, kelma Griega li tfisser żerriegħa li tkun magħluqa b’għatja. Il-kaħwiela tagħmel numru kbir ta’ żerriegħa li jkollhom troffof ta’ xagħar fin biex jgħinhom jinfirxu u jissiefħu ’l bogħod bir-riħ.

Il-kelma Anemone hija kelma Griega li tfisser maħbuba mar-riħ. Skont in-naturalisti Rumani Pliny u Elder, il-kaħwiela tiftaħ biss meta jkun ir-riħ U forsi għalhekk il-ħajja tal-fjura ma tantx hija waħda twila.

Il-botanista Grieg Dioscorides, jgħid li l-kaħwiela tintuża għall-għanijiet mediċinali. Huwa jikteb li meta l-meraq tal-għeruq tal-kaħwiela jintgħasru fl-imnifsejn, dan inaddaf ir-ras. U meta l-għeruq jintgħomdu jnaddfu il-mogħdijiet tan-nifs mill-maħta.

Jgħid ukoll li meta l-għeruq tal-kaħwiela jitgħarrqu fl-imbid, dan jgħin kontra l-infjammazzjoni u dwejjaq oħra fl-għajnejn. Barra minhekk, jgħid, li l-magħseb tal-weraq u l-weraq jintużaw biex jgħinu n-nisa li jkunu jreddgħu, u anki fit-tnixxija tad-demm tagħhom.

Anki Plinju l-Ikbar jikteb li l-anemone tista’ wkoll tintuza kontra d-deni, imma l-fjura trid tinġabar hekk kif tidher waqt li jitlissen kliem meqjus. Din tinżamm imġeżwra f’ċaruta ħamra u tinżamm fid-dell, biex tkun lesta biex titpoġġa fuq dak li jkollu d-deni. Tant li fl-Ewropa, fiż-żminijiet tan-nofs, kienet titpoġġa kuruna magħmula mill-fjuri tal-kaħwiela madwar l-għonq tal-persuna marida, għax kien maħsub li din tgħin biex tniżżel id-deni.

Anemone_Coronaria 1Fit-twemmin u tradizzjonijiet tal-Griegi tal-qedem, kien maħsub li l-kaħwiela kellha rabta mal-imħabba ta’ Venere ma’ Adonis. Skont il-mitoloġija Griega, Adonis inqatel minn ħanżir selvaġġ waqt li kien għall-kaċċa tiegħu. Meta Venere ratu mixħut fuq ir-ramel f’għadira demm, ferxet ftit għasel ifuħ fuq id-demm tiegħu u minnu kibret il-fjura kaħwiela!

Fil-gżejjer Maltin il-kaħwiela nsibuha tikber kemm fl-għelieqi maħduma, fl-għelieqi mitluqa, u anki qrib il-widien. Mhux daqshekk rari, u nstabet tikber, fost oħrajn, f’Wied id-Dis, il-Għargħur, il-Buskett, il-Wied ta’ Kandja u Wied Qirda. F’Għawdedx tista’ tinstab ukoll fix-Xagħra, Marsalforn u d-Dabrani, kif ukoll Kemmuna.

U t-triq fil-Mosta hija msemmija għal din il-fjura.

Ara wkoll:

Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 7 – Is-Sempreviva ta’ Għawdex

Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 6 – Għajn is-serduq

Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 5 – It-Tengħud tax-Xagħri

Fjuri indigeni Maltin 4 – It-tengħud tas-siġra

Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 3 – Il-Kappara

Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 2 – Il-Kromb Il-baħar

Fjuri indiġeni Maltin 1 – Il-Ħannewija