Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’

James Debono

PLANT invaders are being “deliberately introduced as ornamental plants”, The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s newly published guidelines on managing non-native plants states.

But the document fails to show the way on how these plants can be stopped from spreading. contends Alfred E. Baldacchino, a former assistant director Environment Protection Directorate.

The document refers directly to Carpobrotus edulis (Hottentot Fig), a plant used in the embellishment of roundabouts by the Environment Landscape Consortium, as a invasive species, “listed amongst 100 of the worst invaders in Europe.”

But the document focuses on how alien plants can be removed without harming the environment, rather than seeking to prevent their introduction in Malta. According to Baldacchino, landscaping is one of the main sources of invasive alien species, especially when internationally listed species like Carpobrutus edulis (Hottentot Fig), “is wantonly planted in open public areas and paid for by government, despite public concern, MEPA’s reports, and international obligations.”

Another plant used in landscaping which is spreading is the drought resistant Fountain Grass whose seeds are dispersed by wind. While describing MEPA’s document on controlling invasive species as “professional and useful” Baldacchino expressed disappointment that the document does not address the introduction of invasive species, but only their removal.

Seeds are primarily dispersed by wind, but can also disperse by water and vehicles

One shortcoming of the document, according to Baldacchino, is that it does not seek to address issues like the introduction of alien species in public landscaping projects.

Baldacchino notes that in a document containing 31,800 word, the word ‘landscaping’ is only mentioned once, and this  “as part of the name of a publication.”

A footnote to the document explains why the document does not address the issue of prevention. While stating that a primary management goal in a strategic approach to deal with biological invasions is prevention, this aspect is not addressed in the guidelines which focus on providing guidance on how to deal with major plant invaders that are already present in the Maltese islands.

“The element of prevention is however integrated in relevant provisions of domestic legislation,” states the document.

The Convention on Biological Diversity – of which Malta is a signatory – lays down a global framework for governments and other organisations to develop strategies to prevent the introduction of, and promote the management of impacts of  Invasive Alien Species.

“Malta has legal obligations under this Convention which is also transposed into EU Legislation. This is not completely addressed in the document,” said Baldacchino.

According to Baldacchino MEPA has “the potential, the resources, and the expertise” to produce a proactive document on how to honour its national and international legal obligations.

“But MEPA is so shy and impotent in enforcement, that it prefers to tackle the negative impacts at an economical, social and ecological expense, rather than to address the source. This MEPA document spells it all out”.

Baldacchino is now concerned that through such guidelines, it will be administratively easier for invasive alien species to be introduced than to be removed. “To eradicate these invasive plants one needs a permit from MEPA. But their introduction in the country is accorded red carpet treatment,” Baldacchino said.

The Hottentot fig

Carpobrotus edulis, an invasive plant known as the Cape or Hottentot Fig. is an aggressive species that climbs over other plant and kills, and is credited with wiping out 80% of Minorca’s endemic species, according to Natura 2000, the official newsletter of the European Commission’s directorate general for the environment. The plant reproduces through seeds and vcgetatively, by means of trailing stems and broken-off segments and can be dispersed by mammals, including rodents. Seeds that have not  germinated can remain viable in the soil for at least two yeas.

listed as one of the 100 of the Worst Invasive Species

The plant was successfully eliminated from the   Spanish island of Minorca through an EU-funded project. The plant, already popular in private homes, was used to embellish the Manuel Dimech Bridge project and the airport roundabouts by the Environment Landscapes Consortium.

Contacted last year, the ELC strongly denied that the plant posed any threat to Maltese biodiversity. insisting that when these plants are used in controlled landscapes they are never invasive. But biologist Alan Deidun disputed this claim, insisting that it is impossible to speak of “controlled environments” for plant species which can spread relatively easily.

Deidun claimed that despite being planted in roundabouts, the plant still manages to spread. carpeting whole swathes along cliff areas, especially in the southwest of the islands, which generally tend to harbour species of conservation importance.

The ELC nursery manager said the plant is very well adapted to the Maltese climate, being extremely wind and fire-resistant with the ability to take saline water.

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One Response to Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’

  1. Vincent Gauci says:

    I take it that no one wishes to be blamed for devastating the rich biodiversity of these Islands. So, all concerned should sit down and discuss how to solve this challenge. At the end of the day, it is the regulator (read MEPA) that should come out with a solution. The more we procrastinate the more difficult if not impossible it may become to eradicate invasive species that have taken a stonghold on these Islands. Who would contemplate to eradicate the yellow oxalis for example.

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