Appreciation: Joe Sultana

September 14, 2018
Friday, September 14, 2018, 07:24

Alfred E. Baldacchino, 
General Secretary 1974-86, Malta Ornithological Society, writes

I met Joe Sultana when I was in my late 20s, through the Teens and Twenties Talent Trust – 4T’s, where I was committed. Eventually I sat on the committee of the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS), the first few months as PRO and later as the general secretary.

We became great friends and worked together for the better appreciation and conservation of birds. It was no easy task, especially during those early times when one had to hide one’s binoculars when out bird watching.

But Joe was determined, focused and had a dream, a dream which was so contagious.

All the bird lovers at that time got this bug. There were difficult times, with threats and also bullying. But under the guidance of Joe we marched on, through thick and thin all with one aim: the protection and better appreciation of birds as an international heritage.

As a nation we are responsible for such a natural heritage which we share with others especially during migration.

From a handful of members, the society grew not just in numbers but also in stature: international contacts, ornithological studies, educational activities all leading to a stronger, public awareness on birds. Joe was instrumental in establishing bird ringing studies through overseas contacts. Scientific papers slowly became part of the MOS work. Publications, from simple stickers, pamphlets to books were published to further increase the scientific and popular awareness by the general public.

Unfortunately, these were seen by some as a threat.

Politicians were not always helpful and neither were the religious entities during those times. But Joe was optimistic, he was not easily discouraged, and his leadership was instrumental in achieving such a noble, social, ecological, dream. Yes, he was.

Like him or hate him, one can never ignore or forget the vision, determination and unstinting dedicated work Joe gave to ornithology and its appreciation. Not only so but today one can never forget Joe Sultana in the world of ornithology.

Although Joe’s leadership gathered many admirers, none the less, there was no lack of enemies.

For 12 whole years, there was rarely a day when we were not in contact discussing and arguing the way ahead. Twelve years during which I learnt a lot from Joe, not only in the field of ornithology, but also in getting closer to achieving one’s dream.

After 12 years we drifted apart, though our aims and efforts towards the better appreciation of birds and nature were never dented. Each was contributing in his own way.

A look at the social media today reveals without any doubt the fruit of Joe’s dream.

The ever-increasing public awareness for the need of better protecting birds, and the professional photographing of birds in their natural habitat spell it all.

Professional photos of birds taken locally can rival others from overseas. It is not just the satisfaction of the stronger public outcry or the photos per se but the fact that during Joe’s early involvement in bird protection, these protected birds were not only butchered beyond any sense of imagination or reasoning, but also publicised as trophies in the mass media.

Surely the greatest satisfaction of all is that some of the professional photos are taken by the same finger which in the not so distant past pulled another kind of trigger. It did take almost half a century, but collective efforts have finally established a permanent basis to make Joe’s dream a reality.

While extending my condolences to Lucy, Mark and Ruth, Joe’s wife, son and daughter, I would also like to thank him for giving so much towards the birds of Malta and also for the many experiences we shared together working for the better appreciation and protection of nature.

Without doubt these have been of great help to me in my life.

Until we meet again, goodbye Joe.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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Credit where credit is due

April 18, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Following concerns expressed by members of the public, eNGOs, and individuals, on the destruction of biodiversity in country paths which were being widened and covered with concrete, Environment Resources Authority (ERA) ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, and issued a stop and compliance order. Furthermore, according to press reporting, ERA ordered Infrastructure Malta to reinstate the country paths to their original state.

One hopes that all country paths mismanaged by Infrastructure Malta will be reinstated to their original state. One also hopes that this is the end of an era where biodiversity is regarded as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (good-for-nothing-vegetation) and that such mentality will be put to rest.

One cannot but applaud the stand ERA has taken and look out to more similar decisions in the near future to protect biodiversity.

The following is one of the article which appeared in the media.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rabat country roads being reinstated after controversial widening

Recent concrete works encroached adjacent land

Keith Micallef

 

Country roads at Wied l-Isqof in Rabat are being reinstated to their original state. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Country roads at Wied l-Isqof in Rabat are being reinstated to their original state. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Some of the concrete controversially laid on country roads in a Rabat valley is being pulled up again by Infrastructure Malta on orders from the environment watchdog, which wants the roads to be reinstated to their original footprint.

The controversy erupted last month when it transpired that a number of narrow country roads used primarily by farmers at Wied l-Isqof were being widened, as part of a government project to “reconstruct” rural roads.

Faced by this outrage, the Environment Resources Authority ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, through what it called a stop and compliance order. The measure was taken because the project was resulting in “biodiversity destruction”, ERA had said.

Infrastructure Malta argued that the roads in question were not being widened beyond their original footprint – even though evidence on the ground suggested otherwise.

However, an ERA spokeswoman confirmed that Infrastructure Malta had, in fact, encroached on adjacent land. She said that concreting beyond the original footprint was being removed by the roads agency’s contractors through the use of appropriate heavy machinery.

Several truckloads of material have been removed and dispatched for appropriate disposal to enable the area’s habitat to regenerate even in the area previously concreted, she said.

An onsite visit confirmed that the roads had been narrowed, with a stretch of soil replacing the concrete along the perimeter.

In its reply, ERA said it had intervened because the roadworks were degrading the ecosystem of the area beyond the asphalted area.

Among other things, the interventions had altered the physical profile of the valley and the natural course of the freshwater stream to the detriment of the biodiversity and the natural characteristics of the site, the spokeswoman said.

Environmentalists had denounced the works, saying vegetation was being obliterated as concrete was being poured beyond the existing footprint, damaging flora and fauna on both sides of the road.

Biodiversity expert and former assistant director of the environment protection directorate at the now defunct Malta environment and planning authority, Alfred Baldacchino, had warned that turning these roads into “highways” could have a detrimental effect on farmers due to the increase in traffic.

He also criticised the project, saying the concrete was blocking the percolation of rainwater to the water table.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

related articles:

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

 

 

 


The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 

April 12, 2019

Thursday, April 11, 2019,

Alfred E. Baldacchino

A click on the keyboard leads one to the obligations of the EBUS 2020. No need to get muddy boots to arrive at such data. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/brochures/2020%20Biod%20brochure%20final%20lowres.pdf 

Conscious of the need to avert global biodiversity loss, on May 3, 2011, the European Commission adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity, known as EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (EUBS).

This was a response to two important strong political mandates adopted by the 27 European heads of state in March 2010. Furthermore, such a biodiversity strategy is in line with international commitments adopted by 193 countries (including EU member states in the conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2010). Malta is a party to both.

The EU is obliged to establish its own biodiversity policy in line with these international commitments, improving the state of Europe’s species, natural habitats and ecosystems, aware of the services biodiversity provides. The immense value of ecosystem services and the urgent need to maintain and restore these for the benefit of both nature and society are highlighted.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on the planet, essential for our economy and for our well-being. It is about maintaining nature’s capacity to deliver the goods and services that we all need, and whose loss comes at a high price. Life on this planet – we call home – depends completely on biodiversity, a natural capital to be managed sustainably for the benefit of future generations.

The EU Commission co-financed a study on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’. Findings include: the cost of biodiversity loss due to the current over-exploitation of global fisheries estimated at $50 billion; global business opportunities from investing in biodiversity could be worth up to $6 trillion by 2050; the €15 billion a year estimated economic value of insect pollination within the EU.

If one does not understand the economic and social value of ecosystem services and the need to restore them for the benefit of the economy, one can never honour the principles outlined in the EUBS. The economic benefits of biodiversity is not just protecting species and their habitats for their own sake.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on the planet, essential for our economy and for our well-being

It is not ħaxix ħażin (unwanted good-for-nothing vegetation) as unfortunately some Maltese politicians believe, or are made to believe.

For the effective implementation of the EBUS, the main policies need to be integrated to sectoral policies and be taken into account in wider policy concerns, something the Planning Authority is adamantly refusing to accept.

The EUBS lays down six major targets each with actions to be taken:

A full and swift implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives. On paper Malta is in line, but implementation and enforcement – well, well, well, anything but; to establish green infrastructure and to restore degraded ecosystems. Definitely not on the radar of Infrastructure Malta and the Planning Authority (both in the same ministry); to reform the Common Agricultural Policy so that it increases its contribution to biodiversity conservation on farmland and to improve forest management (see below);

To reform the Common Fisheries Policy so that it reduces its ecological impacts, including its impacts on marine ecosystems. The political entity responsible for this is more concerned with animal rights and bird shooting. Perhaps biodiversity is not regarded as including fisheries and agriculture;

To combat invasive alien species including through preventing the establishment of these species and through control and eradication. Such a concept has not yet been conceived by some local politicians; and to step up its contribution to combating global biodiversity loss.

There are separate ministries responsible, directly or indirectly, to combat global biodiversity loss. But how are these contributing to such obligations?

Official ‘landscaping’ with Invasive Alien Species.

Millions are budgeted per annum and used substantially, to import alien invasive species, some serving as carriers for other alien species and diseases; spray herbicide and pesticides on indigenous wild species, uproot indigenous mature trees and bulldoze other indigenous vegetation. Other funds pay official entities to ‘clean’ vegetation, from country lanes and rural areas. These funds are literally a waste of resources, when biodiversity is crying out loud to be managed, monitored, legally protected and discerned to honour such EBUS obligations.

Besides, the Public Authority involved in ‘planning’ regards biodiversity as the main enemy of the State, to be exploited to the fullest as long as commercial considerations are met.

Government projects with a ‘ħaxix ħażin’ mentality, subsidised with EU funds, completely ignoring EBUS targets.

 

Since the inception of the EUBS, two outstanding official government projects stand out: a quality garden of excellence at the Mdina Ditch; and the present widening of valley paths to ‘highways’ in Malta and Gozo.

Il-Lunzjata, at Rabat, cleared from, its ‘ħaxix ħażin’

 

 

The cherry on the cake is that these are subsidised by EU funds. And none of the EBUS targets and activities outlined in the EUBS are taken in consideration, but all managed and executed with a ħaxix ħażin mentality.

These two projects, besides others, cannot but show the complete resistance and ignorance of the concept that biodiversity loss is one of the main environmental challenges facing the planet (if we regard ourselves as forming part of the planet), despite the ‘economic value of ecosystem services and the need to restore them for the benefit of the economy’.

And if this is not enough, some politician/s, tongue in cheek claim, that Malta is the best in the EU. Would be a perfect statement if intended to mean that nobody ignores the obligations of EUBS as we do.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

related articles

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

The ‘garden’ at Mdina Ditch officially inaugurated

MASSACRE OF MDINA DITCH TREES – IS THE EU REALLY INVOLVED?

Cash cow in the ditch

Qerda tal-biodiversità fil-foss tal-Imdina… biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità!


Wirt Għawdex tunnel debate

March 22, 2019

A debate on the Gozo-Malta Tunnel

Wirt Għawdex – Oratory Don Bosco Hall, Victoria, Gozo.

Monday, 18th March, 2019

Wirt Għawdex organised this debate so that the general public would be more informed of the pros and cons of the Gozo-Malta proposed tunnel.

The list of speakers is being attached.

Furthermore, a questionnaire which was distributed to those present, is also being attached.  Those who are interested can also forward the filled in questionnaire to Wirt Għawdex at: http://www.wirtghawdex.org or: Triq L-Imġarr, Ir-Rabat Għawdex VCT 9010.

The recording of the debate can be seen on this link.

List of speakers:

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

related articles:

To Gozo with love

Tunnelling the cross

Efficient link to Gozo

 


More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

March 4, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

Monday, 4th March, 2019

Having received a number of photos from many environmental friends, I paid a visit to Wied l-Isqof, yesterday, Sunday 3rd March 2019 to see for myself what is being done.

The photos taken shows the great irresponsibility in the work being supported, and financed by the Ministry for Transport. To the extent that now I regard biodiversity destruction in the Maltese Islands as synonymous with the works undertaken by this Ministry (also keeping in mind that the Planning Authority is also in the portfolio of this Minsiter)

Following a lengthy exchange of emails with officials of the Ministry for Transport, all I could get from them is an apologetic reply:

Grazzi hafna tal-email tieghek u kif ghidtlek f’korrospondenza precedenti u anki meta ltqajna fil-passat, it-tnejn li ahna nixtiequ l-gid tal-bdiewa taghna li b’tant dedikazzjoni jiehdu hsieb l-ucuh tal-ghelieqi fil-pajjiz, xi haga li hija mportanti ghal biodiversità. 

Fuq sigar, sfortunatament dawn tqacctu bil-maltemp imma ser inkunu qed inhawlu sigar indigeni kid tajjeb irtakomandajtilna int f’rapporti li kkumissjonajnik biex taghmel ghalina.

 Meaning: Many thanks for your email and as I told you before in previous correspondence, even when we met in the past, both of us have the interest of  our farmers, who with so much dedication cultivate their fields in the country, something, which is important for biodiversity.

With regards to trees, unfortunately these were damaged by the storm, but we are going to plant indigenous trees as you so rightly recommended in your reports which we have commissioned you to compile for us.

NO,  definitely not, this is not in the interest of the farmers. They will have to pay a heavy price because of such works. And there were other suggestions in the reports mention. Works being undertaken are diametrically opposite to the recommendations made.

 Furthermore information forwarded by me to the Ministry for Transport, and others, have all been ignored, , which leads me to conclude that they are reluctant to stop the destruction being done:

  • the country paths in valleys are being turned into highways ;
  • some areas in the valleys seem more like urban squares – big enough to hold political or public meetings.
  • the complete destruction of vegetation and other fauna in the pathways have all been destroyed;
  • the concrete paths made are, in some places, lower than the foundation of the rubble walls. These will eventually all collapse;
  • The valley bed has been reduced to a gutter, with a four-lane concrete road taking its place;
  • European Union money is being used for this destruction of biodiversity. Something which the EU is, not only against, but has a program to conserve biodiversity by 2020.
  • It is not true that the trees at Wied l-Isqof were damaged by the latest strong winds, but by the irresistible chainsaws paid for by the Ministry for Transport.

All these are, according to the Ministry for Transport, in ‘the interest of our farmers’. NO this is not in the interest of our farmers as far as I am concerned. They will have to pay dearly for such mismanagement of the environment.  Most of the works can be done with more thought, more professionalism, and more attention to local and international obligations. But it seems this is not in the interest of the Ministry for Transport. It seems that they are having more fun in such destruction, and how they are spending the EU money, despite the public outcry and criticism of such destruction so loud on social media.

I believe that this follows the complete failure in managing transport by the Ministry for Transport who are now turning to exploit every country path, in ’the name of farmers’ to widen and give it a fresh covering of concrete so that it can be used as a by-pass for traffic. Naturally with a little bit of help from their Planning Authority.

This is being done in a number of valleys both in Malta and in Gozo.

Hope I won’t be disturbing the Environment and Resources Authority, but can they intervene please to stop such destruction of our biodiversity?

Some of the photos taken yesterday, of the works blessed, authorised and paid for by the Ministry of Transport, from public and EU funds, naturally for the ‘benefit of farmers’

rubble wall foundation exposed – naturally in the farmers’ interests

Valley bed filled in. No problem it is only destroying biodiversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More effects of the strong winds? Why not tell this to the marines?

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the benefit of our farmers: a four-lane concrete road in the valley bottom!

 

The valley bed reduced to a gutter to make way for a four-lanes concrete road.

More destruction of the valley bed, naturally ‘for the benefit of farmers’ too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejoice farmers, rejoice. This is all being done in your name. You can now also race your pickup trucks without any fear of having them scratched. Rejoice.

Future Ministers will have to apply for EU funds to restore collapsed rubble walls which collapsed through the help of EU funds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A country path for the benefit of our farmers! It has to be the Ministry for Transport to come up with such a vision, naturally with a little bit of help from their Planning Authority.

 

Will we be having horse racing in this country path built for the benefit of farmers, and also to accommodate the former too?

Ministry officials ‘experts’ say that this tree was damaged by the strong winds. The winds must have been carrying chainsaws to achieve this. And the winds must have been God sent to eliminate the tree which was obstructing the country path!


Orchids of the Maltese Islands

February 25, 2019

Stephen Mifsud (2018) Orchids of the Maltese Islands: a descriptive guide. Malta: Green House. ISBN 978-99957-1-367-6

Monday, 25th February, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Maltese flora is mostly unappreciated, overlooked, senselessly butchered, and exploited. Considering the smallness of the Maltese islands, compared to the United Kingdom, Malta has more different species per square kilometer than the UK has. Such is the richness of our country.

It is left to individuals or environmental NGOs to take the lead in scientific studies, fieldwork, publications whether scientific, popular or educational, and public awareness. Official entities are more interested in paper talks, drafting guidelines without any legal powers, or publishing regulations, hardly, if ever enforced.

One of the natural fields in this biodiversity richness with which the Maltese Islands have been gifted is Orchidaceae – the family of orchids. Scientific data on indigenous orchids was scattered. Such data was mainly available to botanists dedicated to scientific research. This data was not easily available in a popular way to many educators. As with many other wild species of flora and fauna, popular interest lacking scientific background, usually leads to a negative way of appreciating such a delicate, priceless richness – through collection.

Without any doubt, a breath of fresh air in this field, is the new 232-page book, Orchids of the Maltese Islands – a descriptive guide, by Stephen Mifsud. The initial efforts came from Green House  Malta and BINCO. The former is a non-profit eNGO with its major aims to conserve through ongoing monitoring schemes of threatened flora and fauna with the help of citizen scientists.

Biodiversity Inventory for Conservation (BINCO) is an international non-profit organisation with a passion for nature and a desire to help preserve the remaining natural resources on this planet. The Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change; EcoGozo within the Ministry for Gozo; the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) co-sponsored the publication.

Stephen Mifsud, though relatively young, is definitely on the way to becoming one of the leading botanist on these islands. With years of dedication, field work, an eye for detail, a vast experience in macro-photography, especially in the study of wild flora, he could not have been a better choice to author this book. The past difficulties he found in his studies without doubt gave him more drive and experience for such work.

This first comprehensive book on the subject, introduces the biology of orchids, systematic and classification.

The book goes in great detail about orchids in general and deeper on indigenous orchids. The main part of the book is taken up by orchid species profiles – 36 indigenous species of orchids, grouped in 7 genera. It goes in details with regards to recorded species. The present names of the species together with any related synonyms, including the etymology of the botanical name. The habitat, frequency, and local and global distribution, detailed morphological description, species variability, closely related species, taxonomic notes and problems, history accounts in Malta, observed pollinators and a useful quick identification note are also discussed. The status of each species is given: very rare, rare, scarce, frequent, locally frequent in restricted areas, or common.

The book is lavishly illustrated with 300 professional scientific photos the majority of which are taken by the author himself. Line drawing are also included where it was found necessary to illustrate details of parts of the species. A distribution map for every local species is also included. The distribution  maps are compiled from data available from the mid-19th century to date of publication. Wisely enough, the rare species are not accompanied  by a distribution map, to protect them  from avid orchid collectors, both locals and foreigners.

A classification table of each species, its description, and morphological, availability, reference to closely related species, flowering period are also given. These are also accompanied by a quick identification help.

It also explains that there are 20 species which are either misidentified or extinct because of the above given reasons.

A reference list shows the extensive research conducted. Two appendices further contribute to the great wealth of the book.

Appendix I relates to orchids occurring in Sicily.

Appendix II contains a number of tables with valuable data such as:

  • history of orchid taxa recorded in the Malta – a references table;
  • a table on selected taxa recorded from the Maltese Islands and their current treatment;
  • a taxonomic guide of the Maltese orchids – lumping and splitting classifications;
  • a botanical, English and Maltese names of orchids – one sorted by species name; one sorted by Maltese name; and one sorted by English name;
  • flowering periods of orchids in the Maltese islands;
  • orchids flowering per month;
  • known pollinators of orchids found in the Maltese islands;
  • and orchid protection provided by ERA.

These are followed by a glossary, index, and short notes on Green House, BINCO, and on the author.

Another great contribution of this book is the standardisation of Maltese names for wild natural species, in this case orchids, given in Appendix II.

This comprehensive reference on indigenous orchids is not only a much needed updated scientific platform for locals and other foreign botanists, but also for orchid enthusiasts, as well as for educators, planners, as well as those passionate about Maltese natural history. One also hopes that such a publication will catch the attention of politicians to help them realise the biodiversity richness of our Country, and the destruction for which they are responsible by their decisions, taken without any thought for the safeguarding of our national and international heritage.

It is also another tool to help create a stronger public awareness which can be a deciding factor in the harnessing and controlling the continuous destruction of natural areas resulting in the ever bleaker outlook, not only for dwindling orchid population, but also for all Maltese biodiversity.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Maltese indigenous trees and their propagation – A two session course

January 26, 2019

published by Josmar Azzopardi on 2019.01.22

A 6 hour course, including a practical session, where one can learn about Maltese indigenous trees, the need for their protection, the negative impact of invasive aliens species, and how to propagate them.

The first session will take place – 7th February at 5:30pm -8:00pm – Scout Island Head Quarters Congreve-Bernard Memorial Hall, E.S. Tonna Square, Floriana.

The second session will take place 16th February at 8:30am – 12.00pm – Ghajn Tuffieha International Scout Campsite

The sessions will be presented and facilitated by Mr Alfred E Baldacchino and the course will be delivered in Maltese/English.

Maximum number of participants is limited to 20. If you are interested to attend this training course please complete the application form below.

The course is open to active member of the Scout Association of Malta and the General Public.

Course Fee is 10 euros for Scouts and 15 euros for non Scout participants.

REGISTRATION can be done online via https://bit.ly/2Dtkufx by  Tuesday 5th February 2019.

Brief cv of trainer: Alfred E. Baldacchino D.P.A.; D.E.S.; P.G.D. Env. Managt.; M.Sc. Env. Mangt & Plan. 
Born in Rabat, Malta in 1946. Studied at the Malta College or Arts, Science and Technology; Teachers Training College; and the University of Malta. General secretary of the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS) from 1974 to 1986. Assistant Director at the Environment Protection Directorate from 2002 till retirement in 2007. Author of a number of books on Maltese biodiversity.

This Training course is being undertaken as a TSAM Ltd initiative to create a better understanding of the wealth of biodiversity available at the Ghajn Tuffieha Campsite.

For more info please send an email to chairman@tsam.com.mt

aebaldacchino@gmail.com