Watch: ‘Some trees survived the war, but not this Environment Minister’

June 6, 2018
Bertrand Borg

Alfred Baldacchino slams Malta’s tree removal and conservation policies

    Alfred Baldacchino is angry

Every other week, horrified citizens report that a grand old tree of some sort is being hacked down to make way for a road or garage – and the authorities who should be slapping down such behaviour instead excuse it away.

“Some trees survived the war, but not this environment minister,” the environmental management old hand, ecologist and author quips in this Times Talk interview.

Mr Baldacchino, a prolific environmental writer who served as the assistant director of MEPA’s Environmental Protection Directorate before retiring, has little time for the official line that trees can be removed as long as they are “not protected”.

“Who is going to protect a 300-year-old Carob tree? Or 100-year-old Holm Oaks? The minister says they’re not protected,” he says. “But who’s responsible for protecting them?”

Not that José Herrera is the only person he blames for the wanton destruction of Malta’s arboreal heritage: the Environment and Resources Authority is completely missing the mark, Mr Baldacchino argues.

“I have yet to hear ERA speak against this senseless destruction,” he says. “What is their role? Do they have a vision? Do they have an opinion? Are they afraid?”

Faced with mounting criticism about old trees being removed to make way for more paving and concrete, the Environment Ministry has promised to revise tree regulations introduced in 2011 and which made it far easier for authorities to clear trees in the name of progress.

Revised laws, the ministry told Times of Malta, would be presented to cabinet “in the coming weeks”.

Mr Baldacchino is not holding his breath.

“These revised laws have been in the pipeline ever since this government has been in power,” he says.

Watch the 10-minute Times Talk interview with Alfred Baldacchino in the video above.

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Tree protection laws ‘pruned for developers’

June 1, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ivan Martin

Robust laws protecting trees were “pruned” years ago and fresh efforts by this government to revive them left a lot to be desired, a veteran environmental expert told the Times of Malta.

“It is obvious trees are seen as an obstacle to development and roadworks. Why else would this administration be taking so long to reverse a decision, made by their predecessors, if not to continue facilitating construction,” the former deputy director at the environment protection directorate, Alfred Baldacchino, said.

Conservationists on Tuesday called for an investigation into the needless “massacre” of trees in various localities, saying the laws had to be bolstered.

A number of trees – some of them landmarks – were removed from urban areas over the past weeks, including 14 mulberry trees in Victoria, a Holm oak tree just outside the Upper Barrakka, in Valletta, and the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija.

Mr Baldacchino said the scaling back of the protective status enjoyed by various tree species had started as a result of pressure on successive administrations by the construction and roadworks lobbies.

He was among the officials responsible for drafting the Trees and Woodlands (Protection) Regulations back in 2001. This included a list of about 54 species that could not be removed.

Mr Baldacchino said that although the original law contained loopholes that allowed protected trees to be uprooted or chopped down if special permission was obtained, the authorities still came under pressure from “certain interests” to amend the law.

“Eventually, the government gave in and, in 2011, the law I had drafted was amended. I protested at the decision but, ultimately, this is what happened,” Mr Baldacchino recalled.

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27

The list of 54 protected types of trees was cut by half to 27 and some clauses were reworded. A section of the original law, protecting “all trees older than 50 years” irrespective of whether they were on the protected list or not, was removed entirely.

The government last February announced plans to review the laws protecting trees and woodlands, however, although a public consultation period closed in March, Mr Baldacchino pointed out there was still no word on when the reformed law would be enacted.

“This is what happens in this country, we drag our feet and, in the meantime, old trees are cut down to make way for slightly wider roads or someone else wanting to enlarge a garage,” Mr Baldacchino said.

The remains of the iconic carob tree in Villa Forte Garden, Lija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.

New regulations on the protection of trees would be submitted to the Cabinet in the coming weeks, he added.

Meanwhile, sources at the Environment and Resources Authority said complaints on the cutting down of trees had been received in recent weeks and a meeting on the matter was scheduled to be held in the next few days.


Some photographic evidence of recently destroyed trees 

The iconic 300 year old carob tree at Lija. According to comments by the Ministry for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, this tree was not protected. So it was chopped down to make way for a garage.


This historic tree Holm Oak indigenous Maltese tree, at the entrance of the Upper Barrakka gardens, adjacent to the Office of the Prime Minster, had withstood World War II, but did not withstand the decision of the Ministry for the Environment responsible for the protection of trees. It was chopped and destroyed during the silent hours of the night.

In a statement, the Ministry for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, said that “the tree had been sick and deteriorating fast, especially following strong winds in the past weeks” (sic.). (TOM, May 30, 2018).

A line of eight old Holm Oaks at Lija, including one 100 years old, were all chopped down after the Minster for the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, confirmed that these trees were not protected.



After my attention was drawn by the public to this cypress tree which was damaged by winds, I drew the attention of the Environment and Resource Authority, in the Ministry for the Environment, so that measures could be taken to save the tree. The now short standard reply from the Ministry of the Environment, responsible for the protection of trees, was: “Ġentilment ninfurmak li s-siġra taċ-Ċipress f’Santa Venera mhix protetta u għaldaqstant ma tirrikjedix permess.”  (We would like to kindly inform you that the Cypress tree in Santa Venera is not protected, and as such it does not need any permit).!!

A tamarix tree on the Sliema promenade disappeared during the night. No comments from the Ministry for the Environment responsible for the protection of trees, except that government workers were seem on the following morning clearing up the mess.

A spokesman for Environment Minister Josè Herrera said the government was addressing the situation from “a policy and implementation aspect”.


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Ktieb fuq Siġar Maltin

April 4, 2018
Baldacchino, A.E. (2018) Siġar Maltin – tagħrif, tnissil, ħarsien, għajdut.     Klabb Kotba Maltin. 226 pps +  xxv.

Trid tkun taf aktar fuq is-siġar Maltin li jlibbsu u jżejnu pajjiżna?  Trid issir tagħraf aktar kemm dawn jgħinnuna? Trid tgħin biex ikun hawn aktar għarfien u aktar apprezzament lejn dan il-wirt naturali? Naħseb li mela dan il-ktieb jinteressak. Dan għadu kif ġie ppublikat illum, L-Erbgħa, 4 ta’ April 2018. Aħseb għall-kopja kmieni. Iktibli jekk ikollok xi diffikultà biex issibu. Niżżik ħajr tal-għajnuna tiegħek biex flimkien inħarsu dak li ġejna mislufa.

  • Jagħti tagħrif wiesa’ fuq is-siġar u jidħol aktar fil-fond fuq xi speċi indiġeni Maltin.
  • Jiġbor tagħrif fuq il-ħajja tas-siġar u l-ambjent naturali tagħhom, kif dawn jistgħu jitnisslu u saħansitra jintużaw fit-tisbiħ tal-art.
  • Juri ritratt bil-kulur ta’ kull speċi msemmija, kif ukoll taz-zokk, tal-werqa, tal-fjura u taż-żerriegħa.
  • Jagħti tagħrif ukoll fuq kif dawn kienu jintużaw fil-mediċina tradizzjonali, kif jissemmew fil-mitoloġija u fil-Bibbja.
  • Jissemmew ukoll il-prinċipji tal-ħarsien, l-użu u l-immaniġġar tas-siġar u t-theddid minn speċi invażivi.
  • Ifiehem l-obbligi dwar il-ħarsien tas-siġar u l-ambjent naturali tagħhom – kemm dirett kif ukoll indirett – li Malta għandha bħala msieħba f’numru ta’ ftehimiet internazzjonali u anki dawk bħala Pajjiż Imsieħeb fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Il-ktieb jagħti wkoll ħarsa lejn il-liġijiet tal-ħarsien tas-siġar: mill-ewwel regolament li ġie ppubblikat fil-Gżejjer Maltin sa dawk li hemm fis-seħħ illum.

Siġar Maltin – tagħrif, tnissil, ħarsien, għidut huwa ta’ għajnuna għall-għalliema u dawk kollha li jixtiequ jkunu jafu aktar dwar is-siġar, jew biex jgħallmu aktar l-imħabba u l-għarfien tagħhom bħala parti mill-ħajja naturali li taqsam din l-art magħna.

għal aktar pubblikazzjonijiet fuq il-biodiversità Maltija ara:

Planting on illegal deposits

January 26, 2018

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?

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Happy Christmas & a Happy New year 2018

December 14, 2017

Nixtiequ l-Milied hieni u s-sena l-ġdida 2018 mimlija risq u barka lil dawk kollha li taw l-għajnuna tagħhom, b’xi mod jew ieħor, għall-ħarsien u l-apprezzament aħjar għall-ambjent naturali tagħna lkoll, kif ukoll li dawk li għadhom xettiċi dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ aktar responsabbiltà għal-ħarsien tal-ekosistema li aħna lkoll niddependu minnha.

J’Alla s-sena l-ġdida 2018 issibna naħdmu aktar flimkien id f’id għal dan il-għan biex inserħu moħħna li l-ispeċi tagħna l-bnedmin tkun tista’ tkompli toktor fuq din l-unika u mirakolużi pjaneta tagħna lkoll.


We would like to wish a very happy Christmas and a blessed and peaceful to new year 2018 to all those who gave their support, and helped in their own way for the protection and better appreciation of our natural environment, and also for those who are still a bit skeptic about such responsibility and the need for more responsibility to protect and conserve the ecosystem on which we all depend.

May the new year 2018  see everybody working more hand in hand towards efforts which will ensure the survival of our own species on this unique and wonderful planet Earth.

Masters in eco destruction

November 20, 2017

Monday, 20 September, 2017

Masters in eco destruction

Alfred E Baldacchino

One of the many activities at the Majjistral History and Nature Park: educational walk for schools.

The Majjistral Park has been struck, not by blows from prevailing north-westerly winds, but by the Minister for the Environment, who succumbed to pressure and increased the time for the decimation of biodiversity at the park, and diminished the park’s educational potential.

Added to this is the tacit approval and the clearing of all obstacles for off-roading in the park, despite it being illegal.

It was during Parliament’s Environment and Development Planning Committee that I first met Herrera. His outburst, completely unrelated to the subject under discussion, was of promises of invasive species and tree protection regulations, which never materialised, and I do not have any inkling that they ever will.

The first environmental hurdle sent the Ministry flat on its face and the second one nailed it for keeps. ERA, the Authority responsible for our environment, was silent and absent from the PA decision on the power station and from the decision related to environmental permits, because of divine intervention and conflicts of interest! I can almost understand this better today. The sound of silence reigns supreme at ERA and the Ministry when confronted with anti-environment decisions.

It was very evident from day one that under this tenure, the Maltese people and our environment had to fasten our seat belts for a very rough ride.

60 olive trees on the university campus were so ‘pruned’ because their leaves were dropping on car parked below.

And so it was to be. Months later 60 mature olive trees on the university campus were chopped down, because the leaves of the trees were falling on cars parked below! And down went the trees with the order from university and the blessing of ERA.

Another feather in the Minister’s cap – half a dozen old indigenous oak trees eliminated to widen the road, barely half a metre.

More recently, half a score of old indigenous majestic oak trees at Lija, some centenarians, were also chopped down with the blessing of Herr-ERA, without any consideration of any tree protection order.

Instead, the minister boasted that they were not protected, confirming his failure to do so. Down they went too with ministry blessing. Rubbing salt in the wound, the strip where they grew is still there, and the only invasive tree which grew in the area is still there too. Who can understand endemic political intelligence, backed by top cream University academics?

The University saw no harm in chopping 60 old olive trees on its campus, so why should they worry about chopping down half a score of old oaks on public land?

Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, has a Cabinet-approved management plan sitting somewhere on the ministry’s shelves. (photo: Times of Malta)

The strange environmental (or anti-environmental) mentality within this ministry is also evident at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, which has a Cabinet-approved management plan sitting somewhere on the ministry’s shelves. Works are being undertaken by the ministry’s employees with funds from the EU, in a LIFE Saving Buskett project.

environmental massacre taking place makes one wonder if the University is academically competent to prepare professional, scientific non-partisan qualified citizens

A stretch of maquis in this Natura 2000 site was bulldozed to accommodate machinery to build rubble walls. Two rare, strictly protected trees were chopped down to enable machinery manoeuvring. Adjacent trees were ‘pruned’ not to scratch machinery. Terrain was dumped on rare species of flora: thanks to EU funds and ERA.

Two mature hawthorn strictly protected tress in Buskett a Natura 2000 site chopped down to make way for vehicles! And not a whisper from the Ministry for the Environment.

From my understanding, University professional personnel are monitoring such works at Buskett. If true, what kind of qualifications is the University dishing out?  Undoubtedly “one will find something more in woods than in books. The trees and stones teach what one never learns from the masters” (Bernard De Clairvaux).

University professors abound on the board of ERA, including the rector of the University himself. The environmental massacre taking place under the watch of this ministry makes one wonder if the University is academically competent to prepare professional, scientific non-partisan qualified citizens.

Their tacit stand (or direct or indirect involvement) on environmental matter can only lead one to start asking if they are hand in glove in such official environment loss. And one cannot help but ask if partisan politics are having their toll on university academics too?

The invasive fountain grass used in landscaping by the Government’s landscaper, has invaded valleys, fields, roads, and urban areas without any action from the Ministry for the Environment.

Herrera’s ministry is more renowned for chopping and killing trees and biodiversity than anything else, despite the fact that it should be “planting a tree in the name of every new-born or adopted child in Malta”, as the electorate had been assured and promised.

Besides, this ministry, tacitly or not, has never taken any stand on the control of invasive species planted by its now official landscaper, contrary to national and international obligations, and with negative impacts on the social and biological detriment of our islands.

His vote in the EU on the complete ban of glyphosate, which is decimating pollinators, is now awaited.

Herrera knows that these decisions are diametrically opposite to his government’s electoral promise where all the people were assured that “environmental protection will be given priority and strength in all major decisions of the government”.

Why can’t we have a real ministry for the environment? Why cannot we have an environmental minister on the side of biodiversity protection and conservation, in the national interest?

My country, its people and our environment come first and foremost, above any blinkered partisan mentality. This is what prevents me from keeping silent. What is wrong in yearning for my country to excel socially, ecologically, spiritually, ethically, and financially?

Is it anti-good governance to hope that the less fortunate, educationally, financially and socially, are not exploited for the benefit of a selected few? Is there anything wrong to expect that such aims and social justice are encouraged, and help given to those involved trying to achieve such noble aims? Shouldn’t these aims be upheld by all those who have true Maltese blood running in their veins?

Unfortunately it seems that it is becoming unsafe to even dare have such a dream. Some are being labelled ‘traitors’, and may also be exposed to danger of life and limb, as has indeed happened.

Has local partisan politics eroded, for sectarian benefits, even our strong character which has seen us Maltese win over every evil since we set foot on these islands? Have we reached a state where “it is dangerous to be right when the established authorities are wrong”, as the French enlightenment writer Voltaire said.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

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Propagating Maltese trees

September 19, 2017

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Are you interested in trees? Do you love trees? Do you want to know more on the Maltese indigenous trees which have been adorning our Country before man set foot on these islands? Do you want to start propagating these trees yourself and contribute to their conservation? Do you want to give a helping hand towards their protection?

If yes, then this is an opportunity not to be missed. Your benefit will also be the trees benefit.

See you there.