Friday 26th January 2018
Planting on illegal deposits
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The published regulations on the illegal deposit of material on land and illegal reclamation of land, being proposed by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, can be a very good exercise contributing to the conservation of biodiversity. Yes they can. But will they?
A closer look at the English and Maltese versions, reveals the need of dotting a number of i’s and crossing a number of t’s.
The definition of ‘alien’ and ‘invasive alien species’, is conspicuous by its absence. Such definitions are neither found in the local empowering Acts referred to in the regulations. These are defined in the latest EU Regulation 1143 of 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. Notwithstanding that the Minister for the Environment has not yet published (despite promising) these regulations as part of local legislation, EU regulations are enforceable in toto from date of publication by the EU, November 4, 2014.
Article 8 (ii) of the proposed regulations deals with the expropriation of land. If the owner does not comply with the provisions, his land can be expropriated “to protect the land from further illegal deposit of material”. So far so good, but if the land is expropriated it should be clear that it would be afforested according to these regulations, something which is not expressed.
Schedule 1 outlines requirements and terms of references for the method statement for afforestation. Schedule 1 presumably has been drafted by the Ministry for the Environment, with the input from the Environment and Resource Authority, unless this is negated.
Article 1.1 (a) of the schedule explains that “the trees and shrubs used for the rehabilitation shall be indigenous species which are native to the area/site concerned and compatible and appropriate to the adjacent habitats”. But there is no indication from where the trees are to be obtained. Why?
The Convention of Biological Diversity (article 8) also adopted by an EU Decision, states that “members states to this Convention (Malta is a Member State) should… prevent the introduction, control and eliminate, those alien species which are a threat to biodiversity”.
The Convention for the Conservation of Wildlife and its Natural Habitat, the Bern Convention (Malta is a Member State) in one of its recommendations (14/1984) urges its Members States to take the necessary steps to control the introduction of alien species because of their negative social, ecological and economic impacts, something which cannot be easily known before it is too late.
Furthermore the Bern Convention resolution (57/1997) urges Members States not to let the intentional introduction of alien invasive species in their country. It emphasises that if indigenous species are imported, these specimens are regarded as invasive alien species.
Another Bern Convention Resolution (58/1997), regards the indigenous extinct, rare or indigenous species whose numbers needs to be strengthened. This resolution urges members states to regulate these activates even where the planting of trees is involved. It urges member states to draft regulations to control introduced species which are indigenous to the country, intended to be used for such aims. What a better place to include such obligation than in these regulations.
All these obligations are completely missing from the proposed regulations. Article 1.1 (a) in the Schedule should oblige that “All the trees and shrubs used for afforestation should be propagated from local stock so as not to pollute the gene pool of local species.”
The lack of understanding of scientific and technical terms in the Maltese version does not do any honour to the drafter.
Schedule article 1.1 (b) obliges that the choice of species are to be guided by policy documents and guidelines re non-native plants invaders, “together with the list laid down in the appendix to this schedule.” The documents which were published for public consultation do not have such an Appendix attached. Whether this is a lapsus or not, it cannot be negated that the public couldn’t comment on it.
Was it a lapsus to omit the definition of “alien invasive species” or was it a measure of convenience? Landscapers would not like it for sure!
The above-mentioned article obliges that: “If any alien invasive species are already growing on site, these must be uprooted and destroyed as part of the rehabilitation procedures.” This is a good measure, but the destruction of such alien invasive species should be destroyed according to and under the supervisor of ERA, so that these would not be dumped somewhere helping in the further dispersal of the invasive species itself.
Therefore a sub-article to this article 1.1 (b) is to be inserted accordingly: “The method of destruction of invasive alien species should be approved by ERA so that these are destroyed in a safe way and do not contribute in any way to help the dispersal of the invasive species.” That is, if it is desired to control invasive species as nationally and internationally obliged.
The lack of understanding of scientific and technical terms in the Maltese version does not do any honour to the drafter. These are mostly in the Schedule 1 drafted by the Ministry for the Environment and ERA, unless it was some ‘landscaper’! It is indeed unbelievable that the drafter does not make any difference between indigenous and endemic. It also hurts to see that the national biodiversity protectors refer to “weeds” as “ħaxix ħazin”. Weeds are part of biodiversity, forming part of an ecological habitat, which the government has to take in consideration in national obligations regarding biodiversity loss by 2020.
It is such a howler that makes me very sceptic about these regulations with regards to the implementation, enforcement and biodiversity conservation. Furthermore these badly need Maltese proof reading by a qualified person, not only to correct orthographic and grammatical mistakes, but also to correct the translation of technical words.
Can one perhaps regard all these as lapsus by the drafters? ERA should know better, I believe. Yes these regulations can be beneficial, only if ERA professionally intervenes. But will they?