Once there were green leaves


Tuesday, 31st July 2012

Once there were green leaves

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It is indeed of great satisfaction to see such a strong public awareness towards the appreciation of nature, also expressed towards the need for more protection and appreciation of trees. Such tree-appreciation includes the trees’ aesthetic, social, ecological, educational and intrinsic values. Unfortunately and regrettably, the greatest hurdle towards the achievement of such noble aims is the present policy being implemented by government.

With regret one sees and reads of hundreds of established trees being heavily pruned and deprived of any form of a tree and its majesty. The pruning and uprooting of trees, irrespective of the appropriate season, is being undertaken for a number of childish, amateurish reasons, such as that they are harmful to buildings, they attract birds which poo on the benches beneath, they are obscuring the view from people’s houses, they are dropping their leaves in front of people’s doors, and they are a pest. In most cases these are replaced with new exotic imported trees.  One must however, admit that there are instances where some trees need to be transplanted because of justifiable reasons, though not including any of the above.

Nobody responsible for landscaping in the islands, whether political or private, seems to officially appreciate the fact that trees contribute to control carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. They are also barriers to noise, and to the many obnoxious fumes and emissions with which our life is daily and increasingly exposed to. But a Lilliputian mentality unfortunately prevails, dominated by commercial gains. And what is more alarming and worrying, is that the destructive mentality is officially endorsed and publicly financed, sometimes even by European funds.

One of the projects which today tops the list of this poor, destructive mentality is the works going on at the Mdina ditch. It only tops the list because a similar project, about six years ago which was initiated at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, was stopped in time by MEPA and Buskett was saved by the skin of its teeth, though some wounds still show.

Those who hail from Rabat and Mdina, and those who frequent this historical area have over the years benefited from the past professional landscapers with real love and understanding of the natural environment. Howard Gardens is a perfect example of a garden with short winding paths among the surrounding greenery, and also open spaces. The ditch was later planted with around 400 citrus trees, about a dozen Cyprus trees, adding to a dozen of old olive trees, and a majestic old Holm Oak. The latter guarded the left hand side entrance to Mdina, while and old Olive Tree stood on the right

Following such a government approved project paid by public and European funds, more than half the citrus trees, were uprooted when in bloom, and carted away. Only two Cyprus trees and two olive trees are now left. Even the old majestic Olive tree guarding Mdina Gate, was first fiercely pruned, and then uprooted and also carted away.  Such pruning and uprooting needed the endorsement of MEPA considering the age of the Olive tree. I very much doubt if MEPA has given its green light to uproot this protected tree. Yet the Lilliputian mentality backed by official authority had the last say.

(left) the remains of the once majestic, protected, old Olive Tree, waiting to be uprooted and carted away. (right) the moribund citrus tree, uprooted from a few meters away, which replaced the majestic protected old Olive Tree.

Initially it was said that the place was going to be transformed into a garden. The general public asked how one can plan to make a garden and in the process uproot scores of trees. Now it is being said that the place is going to be transformed into an open space for the family, as an advertisement board at the entrance of HowardGardens depicts. Most of the ditch area has already been covered in concrete, more concrete than tree-cover. And more and more areas, some previously covered with trees, will be used. Some of the citrus trees, all in bloom, were uprooted to be planted again a couple of metres away, in a regimental line-up.  It was also officially said that most of the area would be planted with turf, and there would also be water fountains! Considering the local climate, the eventual rise in temperature because of climate change, the heavy demand expected for water both by the general public and also by agriculture, one indeed shudders to think how government failed to foresee this and how such maintenance would negatively impact the island, both from a social, economical and ecological point of view.

One of the destructive actions which hurt me beyond any healing was the scraping and removing of Ivy (Liedna – an indigenous, Maltese wild species). This covered a substantial part of the boundary concrete wall along Howard Gardens, and the garden wall opposite the bastions. It was such a site to see, aesthetically pleasing, an adequate habitat for local rare fauna, especially some rare indigenous moths. Hailing from Rabat, I have seen this beautiful, majestic free nature’s gift, grow over the last 15 years or so. And yet, in about 15 hours or so it was gone, completely gone. The regulator (Government) and the operator (ELC) in their wisdom, which is neither accepted nor understood at all by nature lovers and biodiversity conservationists, decided to eliminate it completely. It would without any doubt have been an added asset to any project in the ditch, both if the area beneath is going to be turned into a garden, or if the area is going to become an open space for the family. What a pity, what a shame, what lack of ecological appreciation and awareness. It reminds me of 1970 when the ivy at Buskett was similarly and systematically removed and eliminated. The same mind is behind both destructions. No wonder that people have started to believe that government hates trees.

The indigenous Ivy adorning the boundary wall overlooking the Mdina ditch

Howard Gardens boundary wall cleared from Ivy

The accompanying photos shows nature’s gifts with all their beauty, which the private landscapers, paid by government were authorised to destroy. It also shows the greedy hands and the lack of biodiversity

The Mdina Ditch covered in rich greenery offering a natural habitat to both flora and fauna

Ivy and the natural habitat completely destroyed

appreciation.  The questions being asked are: When is the natural ecological beauty of these islands going to be positively appreciated? When shall environmental projects also take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect, and not be assessed just from the commercial point of view? When shall the people be heard and be able to contribute to the positive national development of our country?  When is government going to show real appreciation of trees. When shall we grow up? Unfortunately the destructive public-financed works at Mdina Ditch, besides others, show that despite EU membership, EU obligations and EU financial help, we still have a long, long way to go.

see also 




Alfred E. Baldacchino has a M.Sc. in Environmental Planning and Management

11 Responses to Once there were green leaves

  1. Godfrey Camilleri says:

    Proset Alfred, a very good article exposing unfathomable shame. Suggest send this article to Dr Laurence Gonzi for his comments.

    • Thanks Godfrey for you comments, and for your suggestion. You may wish to know that for seven (7) yes seven whole years I have tried and tried and tried and tired, to speak to the Prime Minister, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, about the pitiful state of the natural environment and other related matters, and the lost opportunities and damages being done. I have also written to him after the last election offering my help and my expertise. Unfortunately I regret to say that I have not succeeded and never got any feedback on such matters. Now, I have completely lost hope and feel very, very disappointed and let down.
      I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to speak to someone on national interests, especially one who does not want to hear, to see or to speak about the social, economic and ecological impacts of government decisions.
      Not that I will stop writing though. This has served me as a good catalyst. But thanks for your suggestion anyway, Godfrey.

  2. Fiona says:

    IT is so sad to see all this destruction….it took years for all those to arrive to the stage they were and which enhanced the walk around Mdina…now all gone :(…its really shameful

  3. James A. Tyrrell says:

    Malta is rapidly becoming a concrete jungle devoid of the colour green!

  4. Dr L F Cassar says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that we are, indeed, a tree-hating nation! Issues of planning (or the lack of it) aside, when will the architectural profession (not all of them, of course) realise that trees are living organisms, and not merely a ‘splash of green’ to be considered for aesthetic purposes? As with other aspects of the living world, it boils down to ethics and just how cultured one is!

  5. gaucivincent says:

    “I very much doubt if MEPA has given its green light to uproot this protected tree.”
    The implications of this statement requires a thorough investigation. For, if true, how could Government bypass the advice of the supposedly autonomous regulatory agency set up by Government itself for the protection of the Environment? A good example indeed to the private sector!

  6. Ray Pisani says:

    Great article!
    It is a shame that the Prime Minister refuses to meet with you.
    Evidently you are not one of the acolytes who fawns and simpers and sponges off the taxpayer. The ridiculosly ‘stupid’ decisions taken in recent years, the chocolate box musuem at Hagar Qim, the Piano project, Mdina rape, Arriva, Avroliner RJs, the systematic butchery of trees and fauna to mention but a few, and lastly I wish to add that I could not believe my eyes when I saw the new shelter for Karozzin Horses in Valletta. An ugly structure with no shade at all for 3 horses, who will fit if packed like sardines and of course no shade for the cab or driver. The same disdain shown for such a simple project towards animals has repeatedly been shown to us citizens of Malta by a government who has lost the plot and who is so out of touch with the citizens it is unbelievable.

  7. Peppi says:

    Congratulations on your article Alfred.
    Not only does it articulate extremely well the general picture of ‘State of oblivion’ but it also exposes the arrogant attitude of the ones that have been elected in their position to ‘supposedly’ guard and enrich the natural capital and natural resources which have been inherited from our ancestors.
    Rather than investing in a future of cooperative creations where we acknowledge nature’s bounty and diversity, we are still paying lip service while on the other hand destroy the little living gold that we have left.
    Yet, there is an ever rising number of people questioning the validity of such projects and moreover adjoining the dots as to who is really benefiting from them (however shortsighted term that may be)?

  8. Simon Galea says:

    Good article. Another point I would like to add is the issue of front gardens. Barren patios covered in tiles dull our roads when if these spaces truly serve their intention, that is of hosting a couple of tress, many of our streets will be transformed into landscaped areas.

  9. john falzon says:

    John Falzon comments:

    As Mr Baldacchino strongly illustrates in his article on the Mdina Ditch project, the management and planning function in this project is glaringly visible by its absence from an environmental point of view.

    One might occasionally have reservations regarding some strong emotive phrases sporadically used in (or if you prefer it better permeating) the article. But then we should be grateful that a competent genuine environmentalist gets angry to such an extent in the face of such insensitive destruction depicted in the article that he comes forward and publicly denounces it in writing. Others prefer to be more cautious and meekly and prudently stay put.

    I would expect that the competent authority responsible for the Mdina project should, as a first step, come out in public to explain to us people what has been convincingly denounced in the article.

    When ideas clash, we can perhaps end up on a higher plateau of knowledge and perhaps learn and steer away from a repetition of the same mistakes.

    One point we should be in agreement: that the environment is too important to be left solely in the hands of politicians. These hardly ever pay for their mistakes, be it in the management of the environment or elsewhere.

    Immunity and incompetence do seem to get on well together.

  10. vivien cassar says:

    didn’t the Mdina local council have anything to say?
    About front gardens covered in tiles – i also grieve about this. unfortunately it is too much effort for many to make to have a garden. it is so much easier with tiles!
    we hear how many trees are planted in one part of the island while others are chopped down. it seems as if the right hand doesn’t know what the left is up to.

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