February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man


  1. Steve Borg says:

    Tassew tilfu l-boxxla ghax huwa insult lejn il-poplu Malti li qacctu s-sigar li hawwel Borg fis-Snin Ghoxrin.

  2. James A. Tyrrell says:

    I would go for the third one myself.

    I can’t understand the logic behind chopping down beautiful old mature trees in order to replace them with imported trees. Unless of course the Government are returning a favour to some of their friends at public expense.

  3. Emanuel Aquilina says:

    I totally agree with the above except regarding the protection of the mastic tree. I have a parcel of land which can be considered garigue.Up to a few years ago there used to thrive carob trees, wild-thyme and a large variety of shrubs. But a few years ago I noticed a new tree flourishing; the mastic tree. It has invaded everywhere, even sprouting between cracks in the rocks. This tree is literally suffocating the carob trees and destroying the pleasant wild thyme. I tried to control this pest by sawing them off at soil level, but after a few months many new shoots emerge making my effort useless.
    I would appreciate if the mastic tree is struck off from being protected and give me some hints on how to control it!!

    Emanuel Aquilina

  4. ruth ripard says:

    thank you for your detailed report to which i would add that on emailing the head of the Environmental Landscape Consortium and asking what was done with the cut wood from trees allegedly ‘pruned’ he answered “it is sold for firewood, or given to local ministers for their fireplaces”… i deem this practice corrupt as trained arborologists are mean to be pruning these trees at the right time and in MINIMAL quantities (not the logs we see hacked off or whole old trees absolutely desecrated)… i would really like a strong body to replace our current weak minded authorities on this most important subject.

    • Ms Ripard,
      Thanks for your interest and appreciation.
      Your initiative to email the Environment Landscaping Consortium (ELC – Government’s Private Partner), has indeed proved a point. The way trees are heavily ‘pruned’ is to have logs to be “sold for firewood, or given to local ministers for their fireplaces”. In this way the ministers will have a finger in the pie being given free fire logs and so would not object to such butchering. And this clearly shows what I said in my main article that such an exercise is mainly carried out for commercial purposes without any social and ecological considerations. Thanks for exposing such a reason so professionally.
      What is worse is that the trees in question are pruned so heavily that there is quite a concern on whether they will still be able to sprout leaves again. When trees are uprooted for replanting, a number of leafless short branches are kept to help them survive. But when there is the primary aim to sell fire logs, then the survival of the tree becomes secondary. Money talks doesn’t it?
      Another grave concern is that it seems that the ‘regulator’ and the ‘operator’ are one and the same body. This is completely against any EU principle. How can the ‘operator’ be controlled when he is drafting policy himself. But notwithstanding this, it is Government who is finally accountable.
      This explains why all this massacre, butchering and amateur administration of tree management is occurring, without any regard to the social and ecological aspect.
      Not that if the present Ministry responsible were to formulate any policy it would make any difference, because at the moment I very much doubt if there is anybody who can distinguish between a tree and a parrot!

  5. salv stellini says:

    Is it not possible for one of the environmental associations to take the authorities responsible to court for, amongst other things, vandalism. ?

  6. Gita Furber de la Fuente says:



  7. Simon Galea says:

    Ghalfejn il-Gvern qed jimporta sigar indigeni meta dawn jista facilment jixtrihom minn Malta jew jimpjega tnejn min nies li xogholhom ikun propju ikabbru dawn is-sigar. Personalment kabbart numru ta’ sigra bhal cipress, harrub, znuber u rand b’success.
    Il-vantaggi li nkabbru s-sigar taghna huma li nevitaw il-periklu li ndahhlu xi marda ma s-sigar impurtati ( infakkar lil-qarrejja fil-Palm Weaveel), nzommu l-genetic pool taghna u niffrankaw il-flus mit-taxxi taghna.
    Minflok nurseries bhal ta’ Wied Incita spiccaw f’idejn il-privat u ahna nhallsu biz-zalza! Tghid min qabillu?

    • Sur Galea,
      Naqbel miegħek perfettament. Imma kif taf int fil-politika dak li jaqbel għall-poplu u għall-ambjent mhux bilfors jaqbel għal uħud, kemm politiċi kif ukoll individwi.
      Għalkemm nieħu ġost ngħid li llum il-poplu qed isir aktar matur u nformat, ħaġa li l-politiċi tehdilhom ftit aktar żmien biex isiru. Kif nismagħhom jgħidu imma, f’dan il-pajjiż kollox hu possibli, u għalhekk tiskantax li jsir xi miraklu!

      • Simon Galea says:

        L-onorevoli jifhem f’kollox u min jipprova jghati opinjoni jew jikkoregi l-hazin malajr jaqla xi titlu! Issa jista’ jkun botanista, hydrologist jew mitt haga ohra. Jew maghna jew kontra taghna!

  8. Liam says:

    I would choose the third pic since it really shows the stupidity of the whole department of agriculture. I would give it directly to the prime minister since he does nothing to stop this from happening, he actually makes further damage by planting non indiginous trees.

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