Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Funds down the drain
Alfred E. Baldacchino
A few days ago we visited Seville. The old part, which was once dominated by the Moors, reminded us of Mdina with its defensive walls and gates. We admired the general city’s landscaping amidst the historical and ecological environment, all contributing to the social, ecological and economical fabric.
Walking through the old part along the winding streets, the small squares, alleys and quarters, we could not help but admire the number of city birds, such as goldfinch, serin, blackbird, sparrow, collared dove, and the odd robin. These avian visitors are attracted to the intertwining trees, which also attracted both locals and tourists, sitting on the shaded benches beneath, undetered and unafraid of any potential bird droppings.
In shady corners of the old historical city grew the Bear’s Breeches (ħannewija), while Ivy (liedna) grew lusciously hugging the surrounding walls of open spaces and also those of the fortification walls. The small patches of soil in the squares and open spaces were lined with box hedges of Myrtle (riħan) and Pomegranate (rummien). The smaller open spaces were also graced by other trees amongst which were Judas and Citrus trees. All these flora are Mediterranean indigenous species, found growing also in the Maltese Islands.
Outside the fortified city walls, on a larger scale we could admire lines of citrus trees growing in open spaces and also close to the façade of houses and fortifications. A replica of the landscaping within the old city could also be appreciated on a larger scale outside the city. There was NO lavish spread of turf which would have jarred with the environment, and would have heavily used the rare resource of water.
We also encountered some dead palm trees, devastated by the introduced Red Palm Weevil. Contrary to the local approach of cutting down dead palm trees 30 cm off the ground, the Seville palm trees were only decapitated and left for the ivy to climb up to the top, forming a living green column of natural habitat. Besides, others which were attacked and lost their fronds were treated and could be seen to be shooting anew. We could not help but compare the planning and management of the Seville Government to that of the Maltese Government with regards to the control of the Red Palm Weevil and the protection of the Palm Trees.
Along the Seville roads, busily frequented by buses and coaches we could see how the trees on the pavements were pruned. These caused no problem to the buses and double deckers stopping beneath, and were managed and sculptured as if they were candle trees or candelabras. So different from the ones in Malta pruned as lollipops or hat stands. Visibly the qualifications required for those pruning trees were more than just knowing how to switch on and wield a chain saw.
During the past ten years more than €75 million were made available from public funds for ‘landscaping’ in Malta. Unfortunately, because of the lack of social and ecological considerations, most of these went down the drain. And, where there was an established healthy landscaped area on the lines of Seville planning and environmental management, such as the Mdina ditch, this was completely destroyed and eliminated.
A few weeks ago there was a change of political guard in Malta, landscaping now featuring in the portfolio of the Minister responsible for Infrastructure and Transport, as opposed to Agriculture under the previous administration. Hopefully, the new political acumen will demand that social and ecological aspects are given due considerations and importance, at least on the same standing as commercial aspects, so that the previous waste of resources mainly for commercial purposes, and short sightedness will be a thing of the past.
While roaming the Parque de Maria Luisa at Plaza de España, lined with Ivy creeping on boundary walls sheltering Bear’s Breeches, and lined with Myrtle and Pomegranate box hedges around flower beds, we came across a very old tree with a three meter circumference trunk. From a distance we could read a word deeply engraved on its trunk – MALTA – reddish-brown in colour visibly showing on the light coloured bark. It was so embarrassing for us to associate with such ‘blissful ignorance’. Unfortunately, this is the result of the exposure and imprinting by the mismanagement and lack of appreciation of trees in Malta, something which public funds though substantially available have not yet managed to correct during the last decade.
Landscaping utilising local indigenous flora, can contribute socially, ecologically and also economically. These can all work hand in hand. We have so much to learn! The protection and appreciation of trees needs good planning and environmental management, so different from the present blinkered commercial interests. Such planning and environmental management is a requisite to good governance.