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


The impact of coronavirus

May 4, 2020

Monday, 4th May, 2020
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Coronavirus is lesson that the Earth does not need us

Hello coronavirus, or should one say COVID-19? You have spread and conquered the planet! Indeed you have outclassed SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) and Ebola, all linked to animal food sources or wet markets.

You have infected over three million people and claimed over a quarter of a million victims.

Without a doubt you are familiar with wet markets, where animals are traded in unsanitary conditions, an adequate habitat enabling viruses to undergo fast mutations. The damp floors constantly hosed by vendors to clean food scraps of species they sell: from fresh vegetables and processed meats to live animals, consisting of fish, poultry, and also crocodiles, snakes, lizards, bats, turtles, dogs, pigs, civets, birds, badgers, pangolins, toads and more, all waiting to be slaughtered. It was pointed out, since 2007, that: “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.” At that time, you were still within your natural confines.

You must be thankful to mankind’s intelligence and to his cultural pride for your existence. Many of the animals on sale at wet markets never have had the possibility to come in contact with each other in the wild where viruses would coexist. The ecosystem does not allow this.

You must be thankful to mankind’s intelligence and to his cultural pride for your existence

But to satisfy an urge (mainly commercial), man brought them over from everywhere to be sold and eaten. Crammed in small cages, together or near each other, the unlikely transmission of inter species disease became possible, more so in such an unsanitary and unhygienic environment. A perfect place for viruses to jump on to other animals as intermediates, or directly to humans who crowd the stalls in such close contacts, in search of food?

It is documented that vendors often slaughter animals in front of customers, skinning them in front of shoppers, aerosolising things in the process. You know pretty well how popular beliefs of the use of animals to cure common ailments is heavily capitalised upon, mainly for commercial reasons.

One would assume that you will not tell us about your origin. Some assume that bats and their faeces could have been your parental source considering that your virus type share 96 per cent of genetic code found commonly in Chinese bat populations. Incidentally even SARS has, as a point of origin, direct relations to bats, also sold for food in such wet markets.

You have incredibly reached heights which mankind, because of invested interests, can never reach. In the few months of your existence you have rendered sophisticated military warfare to children’s toys. You have grounded almost all airplanes, garaged most of transport vehicles to the extent that this has had a significant effect on climate and the environment.

Such is your invisible strength that you have also succeeded in isolating man indoors, making him experience the fearful feeling of stressed animals in circuses and in zoos, caged for commercial purposes.

You have also echoed, and proved correct, the words of one religious leader on our planet, Pope Francis, who emphasised that: “Economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain. As a result, what is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of the deified market, which becomes the only rule”.

The mentality that man is not part of the ecosystem is making him pay through his nose. This mentality has given rise to your presence.

The message that you are delivering with every victim you take, is very clear: Mother Earth does not have any need for anybody to save her, not even the self-proclaimed most intelligent being. If this message is heeded or not is still too early to bet upon.

Alfred Baldacchino is former MEPA assistant director

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


Wied il-Qlejgħa jispiċċa vittma tal-vandaliżmu

April 13, 2020

Samuel Lucas

Il-Ħamis, April 9, 2020

Wara li ftit tax-xhur ilu Wied il-Qlejgħa magħruf aħjar ma’ ħafna bħala Chadwick Lakes, irċieva tindifa papali sabiex ikun jista’ jżomm aktar ilma, dan spiċċa vittma tal-vandaliżmu.

Dan l-istazzjon mar fuq il-post fejn hemm hekk seta’ jara trakki ta’ ħamrija maqluha minn quadbikes li għal xi raġuni niżlu fil-parti fejn jinġema’ l-ilma.

Dan l-att vandalu sar waqt li bħalissa fl-istess wied għaddej proġett ta’ madwar ħames miljun ewro li jinvolvi t-tindif ta’ tlieta u ħamsin elf metru kubu ta’ ħamrija minn fejn jgħaddi l-ilma biex b’hekk il-Wied jiġi jesa’ ħamsa u tletin miljun litru ilma iżjed. Dan filwaqt li fost oħrajn se jitħawwlu ħames t’elef siġra fiż-żona.

 

 

Wied il-Qlejgħa jispiċċa vittma tal-vandaliżmu

 

L-ambjentalist Alfred Baldacchino li hu kwalifikat fl-ippjanar u l-immaniġġjar tal-ambjent spjega l-vandaliżmu li sar fil-wied fejn fosthom semma’ wkoll kif twaqqa’ ħajt li nbena lura fis seklu dsatax.

Baldacchino stqarr, “Qegħdin jagħmlu l-ħsara għaliex f’dak id-daqxejn ta’ ilma hemmek hemm ħafna Flora u Fauna li jkunu hemmek reqdin għal ġranet tax-Xitwa u meta issa jasal is-Sajf u r-Rebbiegħa jagħtu l-ħajja u tgħaffiġ bħal dak jagħmel ħafna ħsara.”

Huwa spjega wkoll kif xi persuni ħelsu minn speċi nvażivi li jistgħu jkunu ta’ ħsara għall-biodiversità fil-Wied.

Kompla jgħid, “Ġieli rajna fkieren tal-ilma ħelu li dawn jieklu kulma jsibu l-imrieżeb, l-iżrinġijiet, il-larvea ta’ ċertu insetti allura dan qed jonqos in-numru tagħhom. Insibu l-ħut tal-ilma ħelu li kull sena insibu min jiġu jitlaqhom hawnekk u dik qed tagħmel ħsara lill-biodiversità.”

B’hekk is-Sur Baldacchino appella sabiex il-pubbliku jinforma ruħu iktar sabiex dan il-wied meqjus bħala ġawhra f’pajjiżna jiġi preżervat bl-aħjar mod possibbli.

“Dan ix-xogħol biex jirnexxi irid ikollu ukoll l-għajnuna indiretta tal-pubbliku li l-pubbliku jagħraf li dan ix-xogħol qed isir għal ġib tiegħu.” Ikkonkluda jgħid.

Il-proġett li bħalissa għaddej fiċ-Chadwick Lakes mistenni jitlesta sentejn oħra.

 

Xi fawna invażiva li tinstab f’Wied il-Qlejgħa

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

artikli oħra dwar Wied il-Qlejgħa

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

Valley – check with likes

Wied il-Qlejgħa

 


Ambjentalist jgħid li l-virus qed jgħin l-ambjent

March 21, 2020

Is-Sibt, 21 ta’ Marzu, 2020

L-ambjentalista magħruf Alfred Baldacchino huwa tal-fehma li  l-coronavirus qed iwassal biex in-natura tieħu nifs mill-impatti negattivi li  l-bniedem kien qed iħalli fuqha.

Fi zmien fejn il-coronavirus qed tħalli impatt negattiv mill-aspett ta’ saħħa, ekonomija u ħajja soċjali madwar id-dinja ġew innutati diversi postijiet fejnc l–ambjent qed jitjieb.

In-nuqqas ta’ użu ta’ ajruplani u karozzi wassal biex l-arja tjiebet f’diversi pajjizi waqt li ċertu annimali bdew jiġu osservati f’postijiet fejn soltu ma kienux jidhru.

L-iktar eżempju riċenti kien dak ta’ Venezja fejn mhux biss  l-ilma fil-kanali iċċara imma ġew innutat wkoll ċinji u dniefel li daħlu f’din il-belt Taljana li soltu tkun mimlija dgħajjes u anke vapuri tal-passiġġieri.

Mistoqsi minn dan il-ġumal għar-reazjoni tiegħu dwar dan, Baldacchino beda biex innota li dan il-virus, li lanqas jidher bl-għajnejn, irnexxilu jagħmel dak li  l-bniedem la qatt ried u la qatt rna kellu rieda jifhem u jagħmel.

“Il-coronavirus poġġa lil kulħadd f’postu u waqqaf il-ġirja u l-kilba sfrenetika ta’ attivitajiet li kollha kien qed ikollhom impatt negattiv fuq l-ambjent u l-biodiversità”.

Huwa irrimarka li l-biodiversità, jew in-natura, diġà tidher li qed tieħu r-ruħ anki wara dan il-ftit żmien qasir u sostna li l-bniedem qed jara b’għajnejh li  l-ħajja li qed jgħix illum, imsejsa biss fuq poter u materjaliżmu, mhux biss qed teqred il-biodiversità imma anki lilu nnifsu.

“Kif dejjem għidt il-pjaneta, id-dinja ommna, ma għandha bżonn lil ħadd biex isalvaha. Huwa  l-bniedem li jrid isalva lilu nnifsu. Dan jidher ċar bil-biża’, u  l-paniku li mhux biss jinħass, imma jidher sewwa wkoll. Kulħadd magħluq ġewwa daru biex isalva lilu nnifsu”.

Baldacchino zied li huwa fatt li biex il-biodiversità tirranġa u terga’ ssib il-bilanċ dinamiku li jippermetti l-ekosistema tkompli taħdem b’armonija ma tħaresx lejn  l-uċuh jew il-kuluri jew x’pożizzjoni għandha persuna fil-ħajja.

“U dan huwa l-prezz kbir u qares li  l-bniedem irid iħallas għan-nuqqas ta’ apprezzarnent tiegħu lejn l-ekosisterna li qed twieżnu.

Wieħed jittama li l-bniedem jitgħallem lezzjoni minn dan kollu u jibda’ jifhem li ma jistax jibqa’ għaddej b’arroganza qisu hu jikkmanda  l-ekosistema. Il-biedem huwa parti minn nisġa ekoloġika u dak li jagħmel huwa sejjer ikollu impatt fuq din in-nisġa li jkollha effett anki fuqu”.

Baldacchino żied li huwa jittama li din l-armonija tidħol f’kull deċiżjoni li  l-bniedern jieħu mhux biss biex il-biodiversità tkompli toktor imma anke biex il-bniedem stess ikun jista’ jkun parti minn din  l-armonija.

 aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 

 


A tree, a Minister and the EU

January 25, 2020

Alfred E Baldacchino

Sunday, 2 February, 2020

Civil society lodged an appeal in the Courts of Justice after the Planning Authority approved (with the help of Environment and Resources Authority)  the Attard Central Link project in July 2019. The development is being funded by national and EU funds.

The court decision is expected on February 14, but Infrastructure Malta, also in the portfolio of Ian Borg, defied everyone and decided to start with the works.

They are demolishing everything in their path: trees, biodiversity, cultivated fields, farmhouses… anything as long as they get things done their own way.

The excavations along the route have almost been completed, irrespective of the fact that the court’s decision has not been taken.

Would one be wrong in saying that this is putting the courts in an embarrassing position, having to decide on something which has almost been completed?

Is this the way that public and European funds are managed to get things done?

Does this ministry believe that there is no-one in government or from civil society who can object to such a dictatorial fashion of getting things done? Does this not give the impression that Infrastructure Malta believes it has more power than a prime minister?

Getting thing done by Infrastructure Malta: unprofessionally uprooting a protected tree

The environmental impact assessment regarding the works – an assessment which was challenged in court – gives an indication of the richness of the biodiversity that would be destroyed by the works.

A call was received on January 21, regarding a rare tree – an elderberry tree – which had been uprooted days previously. This tree is protected by Legal Notice 258 of 2018.

But for Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta this is just another piece of paper they can ignore in getting things done, like they did at Wied Qirda, with many rubble walls, and all those concreted country paths in valleys, naturally using national and EU funds.

Such barbaric ways of getting things done also reflects on the new prime minister

Considering the complete disregard the Ministry of Infrastructure has for the protection of biodiversity – and considering the impotence of ERA, especially when confronted by this ministry – accompanied by a friend of mine, we decided to save this tree: voluntarily, using our own time and expenses.

So, on January 22, we went on site equipped with two secateurs and took all the possible cuttings from the almost dead tree, thrown and tied by the side of an adjacent field not to interfere with Infrastructure works. It took us two and a half hours to take all cuttings, which once cleaned and processed, would easily contribute to approximately 2,000 cuttings ready for propagation.

.

All possible cuttings taken from Infrastructure Malta’s massacre of the protected elderberry tree

Using our own personal car, we filled it with this precious propagation stock and drove to Ambjent Malta, seeking their help to preserve this rare protected species. They willingly obliged, but more help was needed.

The root ball could not be transported in our private car, so we asked for help to transport it for propagation too.

Some telephone calls had to be made to the so-called ‘higher authorities’ to save this important protected tree.

But the effort did save some red faces too, and Ambjent Malta was accompanied to the place where the half-dead tree was lying. It was transported and professionally replanted by Ambjent Malta within a couple of minutes.

Job done. Following the timely, intervention of two volunteers, the protected tree is given a good chance to survive with the help of Ambjent Malta.

Now if two individuals on their own voluntary initiative wanted to save a rare protected tree, why couldn’t Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta do this, considering the millions of public and EU funds they boast they have? They don’t simply because they do not care and do not want to.

Were ERA not so impotent when it comes to Infrastructure Malta, among others, it could easily have saved the tree.

The political, legal and administrative strength of ERA, one would assume, is much stronger than that of two private individuals. So why did they not take any action to save the tree in question? ERA would probably learn about all this destruction of biodiversity from the press.

Cabinet’s responsibility is collective. This means that such barbaric ways of getting things done also reflects on the new prime minister. Everybody who is not politically convinced that a circle is square is deeply concerned, because the way the Central Link Project is being managed – getting things done irrespective of everything, be it legal, be it administrative, be it the EU, or ignoring all stakeholders – makes a mockery of the new prime minister’s assurances and efforts to address the rule of law and the environment. How is this possible? Strange bedfellows, one would assume.

Good governance relies on the rule of law. There are many who really have the true, unselfish, good of the country at heart, and who are not imbibed with partisan politics. It is just political garbage that is getting things done without any professionalism and bereft of any good governance, using public and EU funds for such environmental destruction.

Getting things done because I say so can easily mean ‘I came, I saw, I destroyed’.

The European Union should make it a point that when it gives funds to any country, not least Malta, it should ensure that this is not used to destroy biodiversity in violation of its very own environment acquis.

Indeed, some do need to have wings clipped.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Mark Anthony Falzon is not appearing this week.

related articles:

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/the-architect-the-judge-the-house-and-the-illegal-driveway.686056

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/workers-at-wied-qirda-ignore-regulators-orders-to-stop.750328

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment Landscaping Conundrum

Environment hit by EU funds

“For our trees”

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

‘Destroying trees to make way for cars is a big mistake’


Kalendarju b’siġar Maltin

December 5, 2019

5 ta’ Diċembru 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Dan il-kalendarju għal 2020 b’siġar Maltin għadu kemm ġie ppubblikat minn Zahra Enterprises Ltd.

Dan il-kalendarju jiftaħ tieqa ġdida kull xahar fuq siġra Maltija li wieħed jista’ jara fil-gżejjer Maltin u Għawdxin.  Minbarra li juri x-xahar u d-data, għal xahar sħiħ juri siġra fl-aqwa tagħha, mlibbsa u mżejna bil-lwien. Wieħed jista’ wkoll jara din is-siġra fl-ambjent naturali ta’ pajjżna matul dan iż-żmien.

Għalhekk dan il-kalendarju huwa wkoll mezz edukattiv ta’ kif wieħed jista’ japprezza u jitgħallem dwar dan il-wirt ta’ pajjiżna.

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 www.zahra.com.mt

 

 


The environmental destruction of Malta

November 19, 2019

Tuesday, 19th November 2019

The environmental destruction of Malta

Alfred E. Baldacchino

How to destroy a valley with EU funds.

The recent destruction at Wied Qirda by Infrastructure Malta is no surprise at all. Environment destruction has become synonymous with the agency in the ministry of Ian Borg.

This long wave of destruction is endless. Thousands of public trees (even the ministry has lost count of numbers) and the destruction of national biodiversity seem to be part of their interpretation of their mission statement, “to ensure [public   infrastructure] can sustainably and dynamically support the country’s current and future economic, environmental and social development”.

Concreting a valley bottom at Wied l-Isqof by Infrastructure Malta

Destruction of trees by Infrastructure Malta at Wied l-Isqof.

The covering with concrete/tarmac of valley paths at Wied l-Isqof, Rabat, Wied Ħesri, il-Lunzjata limits of Rabat, Imselliet, Wied is-Sewda, Wied Qirda and a number of valleys in Gozo, among others, means all have suffered extensive environmental damage.

Destroying old traditional rubble walls, replacing them with large franka stone blocks cladded with used building stones to give the impression that they are ħitan tax-xulliel is another contribution, while covering such new walls with concrete further renders them useless as an ecological habitat.

These can be seen at Buqana l/o Rabat, San Ġwann, Bir id-Deheb, Żejtun, everywhere where one can see a bulldozer paid for by the ministry with EU funds.

Such environmental destruction does not help any minister, especially one who is aspiring to climb the hierarchy in his political party.

Destruction of biodiversity at il-Lunzjata by Infrastructure Malta “in the name of farmers”.

Large franka blocks, cladded with used building stone, with a concrete top layer. Infrastructure Malta refer to these as ‘new rubble walls’.

Standard replies from Infrastructure Malta are nothing but puerile, devoid of any biodiversity protection and sustainability concepts. Who can believe IM today except those who are politically convinced that a circle is square? Even the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is not always consulted.

One cannot help but think that this is the dictatorial fashion in which IM are spending EU funds, ignoring any suggestions, criticism and appeals by stakeholders.

The Central Link Project is another case where stakeholders are going to court regarding the way decisions have been taken without adequate consultation.

It is only natural that one asks the European Union if it can stop such destruction of priceless biodiversity in our small island, which is being financed by their funds.

It would also be helpful if European Union representatives come to see the works being done and not only meet officials behind closed doors but also meet the stakeholders, who are  ignored and not consulted.

Those who feel responsible for the country and its natural environment cannot stand by and stare at such destruction

Butchered trees at Santa Lucia where a journalist was threatened – 04.08.2019. 

The usual lame excuse by the ministry, that such destruction in valleys and country paths is to accommodate farmers, is indeed hilarious. To the extent that such valley roads are being tarmacked in lieu of potholed secondary streets in towns and villages, unless of course IM believes that there are no such roads to address.

The desperate position of Infrastructure Malta reached culmination point when it stated Wied Qirda was being tarmacked in an area which has for the last two years been earmarked for expropriation.

Works by Infrastructure Malta at Wied l-Isqof concreting valley paths and dislodging rubble walls “in the interest of farmers”.

Are we expected to applaud such ‘good governance’: tarmacking a private valley path which has as yet to be expropriated?

The news that the ministry of Ian Borg will also take over Ta’ Qali to transform it into a national park makes many hold their breath.

The mentality, lack of vision on biodiversity and approach of destroying the natural environment by this ministry’s agency cannot but lead to another environmental disaster, funded by the EU.

About 8 indigenous Holm Oak trees eradicated from Balzan valley, near Lija Cemetery, to widen the road. Works done by Infrastructure Malta.

The importation of trees grown in different habitats overseas, even if they are indigenous, to be planted as new trees or to replace mature ones would only please the chosen ‘landscaper’ or his representative.

For the record, “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed a tribunal’s (The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal) decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court” for ordering the ministry to make available the public contract between government and ELC. Another official stand by this ministry against freedom of information on environmental matters.

One would be justified to ask what minister Borg is trying to achieve?

With his Infrastructure Malta at the helm of such destructive projects, he stands to lose not only his environmental credibility, if there is anything left to lose, but also his approach at handling, implementing and ensuring “sustainably and dynamically support the ongoing optimisation of the road network”.

Work is being executed by unprofessional personnel, who cannot see any light towards the need of the professional use, management and protection of biodiversity in a sustainable way, but blindfoldedly bulldoze over all stakeholders.

Those who feel responsible for the country and its natural environment, which has been loaned to us by future generations, cannot stand by and stare at such destruction.

Not everybody has a square-circled mentality in this country, and there are many conscientious people too in the party to which Minister Borg belongs.

Who would have thought that an old friend of mine with whom environmental matters were discussed would today be opposing such noble environmental principles?

It is important that future generations will know who was at the helm of such environmental destruction with the help of EU funds. Funds which could have been better used in a sustainable way for the benefit of society and the environment.

The legacy of environmental devastation, left by Infrastructure Malta, is there for one and all to see. Wied Qirda is another such legacy in their long list.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles:

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/the-architect-the-judge-the-house-and-the-illegal-driveway.686056

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/workers-at-wied-qirda-ignore-regulators-orders-to-stop.750328

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment Landscaping Conundrum

Environment hit by EU funds

“For our trees”

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

‘Destroying trees to make way for cars is a big mistake’

 


The public landscaping mistakes experts say need fixing

October 18, 2019

Monday, 14th October, 2019

As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong

Jessica Arena

   photo: Times of Malta

Public landscaping practices in Malta have been plagued by poor practices which should not be repeated once a contract with the old consortium comes to an end, experts have said.

The public-private partnership deal between Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the government expires at the end of the year and a process for a new call for tenders is in the works.

In 2017, the National Audit Office published a report that found that the partnership with ELC should have long been dissolved due to a series of contract breaches on the part of the consortium.

The government has spent over €100 million since the start of the agreement in 2002, where neither the original partnership agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through a competitive tendering process.

The report, however, does not address the environmental critiques leveled at ELC, particularly when it comes to taking a more biodiversity-conscious approach to landscaping works.

Planting invasive species

“The consortium’s most insidious environmental impact has been the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous species during a number of landscaping projects,” marine biologist and environmentalist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta.

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In its early days, the consortium was responsible for the widespread planting of the hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a highly invasive species of South African succulent, he said.

Using water-guzzling turf

Additionally, ELC was often criticised for its use of water-guzzling turfs and the planting of non-local stocks of native species.

Millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used

Landscaper and garden expert Fernando Mifsud said: “Although aesthetically beautiful, lawns need a lot of water to keep them looking green and also need a lot of fertilisers and chemicals to keep them looking healthy.”

Such pesticides leach into the ground, killing the biodiversity in the soil. They are also washed in the water course through water runoff when it rains, therefore negatively affecting water creatures like frog populations, he said.

Removing local ‘weeds’

Additionally, the overuse of pesticides and the culling of local flora considered to be ‘weeds’ were also critiques leveled at the landscaping consortium.

Local flora is often culled from landscaping projects to maintain “neatness” – however, these species are closely linked to local fauna such as native butterfly or bird species, and their elimination contributes to the scarce propagation of local fauna.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino maintains that had the funds invested in the consortium in the past 15 years been utilised professionally, Malta would be covered with indigenous trees grown from local stock.

“From a biodiversity point of view, taking into consideration national and international obligation, millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used,” Mr Baldacchino said.

What should a new contract stipulate?

Mr Baldacchino, who has been petitioning the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for a copy of the public agreement since 2015, believes a new agreement should regard contractors solely as operators and a regulatory role should fall within the Environment Ministry.

“Contractors should not be allowed any monopoly on landscaping. Emphasis should be entrenched in the contract that all trees and shrubs used for landscaping purposes should be propagated from local stock, so that a new local industry can be established for centres providing indigenous plants,” Mr Baldacchino said.

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This will also ensure the local gene pool of the indigenous species is not polluted, thus contributing towards better protection of indigenous species also from diseases and invasive alien species, having more educational input for the benefit of the public, and contributing to a multiplier effect from the funds allocated for landscaping.

Prof. Deidun stressed that future operators should ensure that only native or indigenous species fully adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean Basin are planted in landscaping projects.

“Additionally, plants which represent year-round important food resources for pollinators (e.g. bees) should be favoured, despite their status as ‘weeds’ by the public,” he added.

Mr Mifsud also says there should be an obligation to focus on the planting of indigenous species that propagate better in the region.

“These trees and plants need less care and are resistant to drought and pests. Over the years, they have evolved and adapted to our climate. This would also reduce the maintenance cost on the long run,” Mr Mifsud said.

When contacted, ELC declined to comment.

other related articles on this blog

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/