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



Se nsiru deżert

August 14, 2016


Il-Ħadd, 14 ta’ Awwissu, 2016

Albert Gauci Cunningham

ilma 1

ilma 2

ilma 3

ilma 4

ilma 5

Ara wkoll:

It-triq għar-Rabat

August 8, 2016


harga 3_Page_1




harga 3_Page_2

Trees and invasive species

July 9, 2016

times of malta

Trees and invasives

Saturday, 9th July 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It was definitely good news to hear the new Environment Minister announce two new regulations for the protection of biodiversity during the last meeting of the Permanent Committee of the House of Representatives for the Environment and Development Planning (June 28).


Trees growing as they should grow, not like those at the University Campus. Photo Times of Malta.

Good news to hear that two sets of regulations will soon be published: one on the promised and much awaited protection of trees and the other on the transposition of the new EU regulations on invasive species. Credit has to be given where due.

butchered tree 7

Endemic ‘landscaping’ in the Maltese Islands. And also on the University Campus. Photo A E Baldacchino.

One hopes the new regulations on tree protection will address the present mismanagement of trees, mostly paid out of public funds. And that they will also include provisions which will put an end to barbaric practices such as those which took place at the University campus, where close to 60 indigenous mature olive trees were butchered.

José Herrera’s brief reference to invasive species shows he is in need of urgent help and exposure to the definition of invasive species. It would be to his benefit if he were to read, even if only the preamble, the EU regulations about invasive species which his ministry is about to transpose to local legislation.

Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of October 22, 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, will definitely put Herrera in a better position to understand the obligations of this legal instrument on invasive species.

One hopes the new regulations on tree protection will address the present mismanagement of trees, mostly paid out of public funds.

The more so since these EU regulations contain many references to other EU and international conventions binding legislation on invasive species.

Such references will enable Herrera to understand the real legal and technical definition of invasive species in the field of the protection of biodiversity. He will then certainly realise how poor the definition he has been handed is, on which unfortunately he is basing the whole concept for the protection of trees.

Penisetum - Għamieri - 2014,12.18

Fountain grass – one of the recently introduced invasive species – growing profusely at the Għammieri car park. This does not have any impacts on any gene pool, but it is growing wild in an area which is under the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment.

It would be a great help to him if he arrived at his own conclusion on these international legal provisions, and being a legal person it should not be that difficult.

Herrera’s body language and brief speech on the advice given by his technocrats regarding such EU obligations put him in an embarrassing and uneasy position especially when referring to the scientific aspect of invasive species. He showed that he is not au courant with such important legal instruments.

It is quite evident that these have not yet been brought to his attention although one cannot understand how this can be done by technocrats who may not be aware of them.


Hottentot fig – one of the worst 100 invasive species in Europe. Yet planted and paid for by public funds for landscaping purposes. The photo shows how it is suffocating the endemic Maltese Everlasting (Sempreviva ta’ Għawdex) in Dwejra Gozo. It does not have anything to do with polluting the local gene pool of any indigenous species, yet it is one of the worst invaders.

Invasive species control is not only relevant to the pollution of the gene pool of indigenous species, as Herrera seems to have been advised. The negative social, economic and ecological impacts of imported invasive species such as fountain grass, siris tree, hotentot fig, tomato leafminer, and the red palm weevil (just to mention a few), do not have anything to do with the pollution of the gene pool.

Most of these invasive species have and some are still being used in this so-called ‘landscaping’ paid from public funds by one of his colleagues.

One invasive species mentioned is related to agriculture. The Plant Health Department, which is in his portfolio, can shed a lot of light on the negative impacts of invasive species.


One of the 5000+ dead palm trees killed by the red-palm weevil, imported with palm trees to be used for landscaping purposes. Profits were made, but society and the environment are still paying the cost of such a short-sighted political decision.

Herrera’s speech also shows his need to widen his view on what is an invasive species. Admittedly, he is still green on this delicate subject matter, which makes such need more urgent. The definition he is projecting can only have come from technocrats who have never attended or been exposed to international meetings on the subject, be it that of the Bern Convention, or the Convention on Biological Diversity or of the European Union. If they had, Herrera would be in a more comfortable position.

The first decision taken by Herrera as an Environment Minister against the continued use of glyphosate was widely applauded. This he achieved because he wisely and attentively heard all stakeholders and took the decision himself. A decision which made him stand head and shoulder above all the other EU environment ministers, taking in consideration the social and ecological impacts of the further use of this pesticide.

It is an open secret that his technocrats’ advice was diametrically opposite before Herrera decided to listen to what others were saying. It now seems that the same blinkered scenario is leading Herrera on the same negative footsteps with regards to invasive species.

The above are some of the Government's publications, all adequate administrative and legal tools which can make any green dream come true. Yet they are mostly ignored and hardly enforced at all. Why? I hate to think that these were published just for the attention of the EU and its Member States. Or perhaps to take the public for a ride? But if not so, then why are they not taken into official decisions and enforced?

Code of Conduct on Invasive Alien Spaces. This booklet was financed by the Ministry of Finance, the Economy and Investment through the Fund for Hosting International Conferences in Malta (MFEI Circular 5/09).   Surely a must read for every Minister of the Environment, before taking any stand on invasive alien species. Incidentally the species behind bars in the picture is a hottentot fig flower.)

If the regulations covering the protection of trees are to address invasive species as explained and projected by the Minister, than these are bound to fail even before publication.

With regards to the other local regulations transposing the EU regulations, being regulations already approved and published by the EU, these are already in force in toto in all EU states. It would indeed be a great pity if Herrara’s new regulations contradict others.

Whether Herrera choses to dance to his technocrats’ music, and bar all other views with regards to the obligations of international and EU obligations, is up to him. As Environment Minister, Herrera is responsible for the administration, monitoring, implementation and enforcement of these EU obligations on invasive species; even if these are ignored by one of his colleagues.

This is a collective responsibility shared with his Cabinet colleagues. And one cannot image any technocrat worth his mettle to even think that requests to honour EU obligations on invasive species regulations can be attributed to any fundamentalist.

It is assumed that Herrera can easily understand these legal obligations, when and if these are brought to his attention.

One regrets to say that EU Environmental Acquis with regards to protection, management, enforcement, communication, education and public awareness in the Maltese islands are at their lowest ebb since accession to the EU in 2004.

Herrera has a golden opportunity to address this, but not through half-baked, possibly contradicting regulations and comments not exactly in line with EU obligations being suggested by his technocrats.

One cannot put all the blame on Herrera. He should be given the time and opportunity to inform himself, hear carefully and more important, to listen.

Whether he desires to do so, to be able to reach his own reasoned political decision, is completely up to him. I just cannot understand why he is making it so difficult for himself.

The political duty and decision to inform himself better before concluding is solely Herrera’s, and not that of any of his technocrats. Once bitten twice shy as he is sure to know.

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

Further reading on trees and invasive species: