Funds down the drain


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.


Fortifications, Citrus Trees and Bear’s Breeches – safe from Maltese  landscapers and advisors

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.


Myrtle box hedges and Citrus trees with benches in their shade adorn open spaces for the families

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.


Bear’s Breeches and Ivy adorn Seville’s public gardens

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.


Citrus trees and Ivy gracing old fortifications in Seville old quarters.

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.


A trunk of a dead palm tree springing to live covered with ivy

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.


Driving through tree tops in a double-decker —                       no problem

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 lesson in urban tree pruning — with love for trees from Seville

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.


Professional pruning and landcaping one can never see in Malta


NO, NO, NO. This is not Seville. It is the ‘professional’ ‘expert pruning’ and ‘landscaping’ in Malta!

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.


Maltese ‘blissful ignorance’ in Seville. I really felt  the pain of a hanged dog after it was given a bad name.  

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.


Olé, olé Seville trees professionally  pruned  without a chainshaw


I could almost hear a Maltese politician  screaming his head off  to get the bloody trees removed  as adviced by some local historian and architect, so that they can see the stone-works. Then a commemorative plaque would eventually be erected to commemorate such destruction.  This thought brought scary visionary pictures of  what a Maltese bull can do in a Seville china-shop!      

 SEE ALSO…ly-inaugurate


9 Responses to Funds down the drain

  1. James A. Tyrrell says:

    Malta is the only country where trees are seen as an enemy!

  2. Ray Pisani says:

    Excellent article.
    This shows clearly how wrong decisions were made with gardens and trees vandalised in Malta in the name of embellishment during the last few years, where every plant or tree was viewed as an abomination to developers, contractors and ministers. Whilst all this cutting down of trees took place, established gardens like San Anton were left to rot. No new trees planted and the passageways
    are a danger to pedestrians and lethal for old people. Well said money down the drain. To see a green area or well kept garden you have to go abroad, to see how things are done there, where people
    and plant life co-exist and benefit from each other.

    • Thanks Ray for your comment. I believe that you are not completely correct regarding San Anton Gardens. Indigenous trees planted by the internationally renowned Maltese botanist Professor John Borg, were butchered, some completely eliminated. The rare and probably single specimen of Christ Thorn Tree was butchered almost out of existence. A row of Mastic trees were chain-sawed down to the ground. Both of these are protected by the Tree Protection Regulations administered by MEPA. All these were paid for from public funds!

      You may wish to see my post on:

      • Ray Pisani says:

        I did say left to rot, so the situation was even worse! I did think that there was less tree cover than before, but I have not been for a few years, and I thought that could have been the palm weevil’s fault. So who gave the orders? It must have been ELC
        right? I saw a Jacaranda tree cut from the middle trunk.
        In my books the removal of protected trees is a crime against Malta. I am sure you noticed that I am no specialist but I have an inborn liking for all plants and trees and how they adapt to their surroundings. The much maligned Ficus which is such a splendid evergreen and is one of the few trees which thrive here, is a favourite amongst bonsai enthusiasts, so if they can make them grow in miniature why cannot they be pruned and grown correctly? I hope that these areas with centuries old trees such as San Anton and Buskett are restored to their deserved status.
        I still remember watering at San Anton being done using the limestone channels and the manual work done by dedicated gardeners.

  3. Paul Bezzina says:

    It is a pity that decorative trees are cut down to a metre high and not allowed to flower like those we find going down from Mellieha to Ghadira, when those trees are in full bloom to the joy of the tourists who take hundreds of photos and to all maltese who daily use this road.

  4. Anna Zammit says:

    Thank you for posting this and saying it as it is! Let’s hope a for a better future for trees in Malta, and for common sense to prevail!

  5. vivien cassar says:

    i hear you have been invited with others to be on a committee regarding preservation of trees. surely a positive step forward if your suggestions are taken up of course. there are many committees but…………..

  6. Godfrey Camilleri says:

    Proset Alfred – very good article – keep up the fight – now you have a chance through the committee that you have been rightly selected to sit on.

  7. Emanuel Aquilina says:

    Well done Fred! What an excellent read!! Keep up the good work to sustain our “Green-Lungs”.

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