The public landscaping mistakes experts say need fixing

October 18, 2019

Monday, 14th October, 2019

As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong

Jessica Arena

   photo: Times of Malta

Public landscaping practices in Malta have been plagued by poor practices which should not be repeated once a contract with the old consortium comes to an end, experts have said.

The public-private partnership deal between Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the government expires at the end of the year and a process for a new call for tenders is in the works.

In 2017, the National Audit Office published a report that found that the partnership with ELC should have long been dissolved due to a series of contract breaches on the part of the consortium.

The government has spent over €100 million since the start of the agreement in 2002, where neither the original partnership agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through a competitive tendering process.

The report, however, does not address the environmental critiques leveled at ELC, particularly when it comes to taking a more biodiversity-conscious approach to landscaping works.

Planting invasive species

“The consortium’s most insidious environmental impact has been the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous species during a number of landscaping projects,” marine biologist and environmentalist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta.

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In its early days, the consortium was responsible for the widespread planting of the hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a highly invasive species of South African succulent, he said.

Using water-guzzling turf

Additionally, ELC was often criticised for its use of water-guzzling turfs and the planting of non-local stocks of native species.

Millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used

Landscaper and garden expert Fernando Mifsud said: “Although aesthetically beautiful, lawns need a lot of water to keep them looking green and also need a lot of fertilisers and chemicals to keep them looking healthy.”

Such pesticides leach into the ground, killing the biodiversity in the soil. They are also washed in the water course through water runoff when it rains, therefore negatively affecting water creatures like frog populations, he said.

Removing local ‘weeds’

Additionally, the overuse of pesticides and the culling of local flora considered to be ‘weeds’ were also critiques leveled at the landscaping consortium.

Local flora is often culled from landscaping projects to maintain “neatness” – however, these species are closely linked to local fauna such as native butterfly or bird species, and their elimination contributes to the scarce propagation of local fauna.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino maintains that had the funds invested in the consortium in the past 15 years been utilised professionally, Malta would be covered with indigenous trees grown from local stock.

“From a biodiversity point of view, taking into consideration national and international obligation, millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used,” Mr Baldacchino said.

What should a new contract stipulate?

Mr Baldacchino, who has been petitioning the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for a copy of the public agreement since 2015, believes a new agreement should regard contractors solely as operators and a regulatory role should fall within the Environment Ministry.

“Contractors should not be allowed any monopoly on landscaping. Emphasis should be entrenched in the contract that all trees and shrubs used for landscaping purposes should be propagated from local stock, so that a new local industry can be established for centres providing indigenous plants,” Mr Baldacchino said.

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This will also ensure the local gene pool of the indigenous species is not polluted, thus contributing towards better protection of indigenous species also from diseases and invasive alien species, having more educational input for the benefit of the public, and contributing to a multiplier effect from the funds allocated for landscaping.

Prof. Deidun stressed that future operators should ensure that only native or indigenous species fully adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean Basin are planted in landscaping projects.

“Additionally, plants which represent year-round important food resources for pollinators (e.g. bees) should be favoured, despite their status as ‘weeds’ by the public,” he added.

Mr Mifsud also says there should be an obligation to focus on the planting of indigenous species that propagate better in the region.

“These trees and plants need less care and are resistant to drought and pests. Over the years, they have evolved and adapted to our climate. This would also reduce the maintenance cost on the long run,” Mr Mifsud said.

When contacted, ELC declined to comment.

other related articles on this blog

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

 

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Alien invasive species – animation film

May 5, 2015

Alien invasive species – animation film

4th May, 2015

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Invasive alien species are causing havoc the world over, not least in our island. Little attention is being given to them locally. The price being paid by society and the environment is on the increase with little help from the official entities who are responsible to control such invasive species before they establish themselves in our ecosystem. The commercial and financial gain of the importation of species and their derivatives takes priority over the negatives financial impact borne by society and the environment.

Great Britain spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species.  The EU, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. The official vision of the prevention and control of local invasive species seems to be heading that way too for Malta.

Il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm

The Red-palm weevil devastating palm trees on the island, introduced by infected palm trees imported from infected areas, to be used for landscaping, despite advice to the contrary.

The recent locally introduced invasive alien species and the damages caused are known by one and all. These include the Red Palm Weevil which has to date destroyed about 1400 palm trees including a great percentage of mature and historical trees; the African brown mulberry long horn beetle which has decimated the great percentage of old mulberry trees in Malta, and now seemingly turning its attention to the fig trees and possibly citrus trees; a new beetle which is killing carob trees and other indigenous trees; and the geranium bronze butterfly which as yet is only impacting cultivated geraniums and has not as yet attacked the indigenous wild species of related geranium species.

Il-Ħanfusa-tl-Qrun-Twil-tat-Tut

The Brown mulberry longhorn beetle (Phryneta leprosa) introduced with the importation unfumigated of timber

As yet the disease (Xylella fastidiosa bacteria) which is spreading in Italy and attacking and destroying olive trees has not been recorded in Malta, as far as one is aware.  Italy may have to destroy about one million olive trees to control such disease and is under pressure by the EU to do so. But what is being done  to prevent the introduction of this disease with the olive trees still being imported from Italy despite such imminent danger?

The general public has been informed by the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, that all imported olive trees have to have a phytosanitary certificate, and olive trees are being monitored. This naïve statement shows the poor awareness of the dangers of such destruction of local olive trees, citrus trees and vines, and the industry they support. No proactive measure are being implemented, let  alone considered. Then when the horses bolt, a study will be commissioned on how to close the stable doors.

The species which carried the above recently introduced alien invasive species were all accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. It seems that the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Agriculture is following the footsteps of his predecessor under whose ‘reign’ the above invasive species were introduced. Unfortunately he seems to be more interested in finding a loop hole to ensure the shooting of birds during their spring migration than taking professional steps to protect local agriculture and the ecosystem of the Maltese Islands.

According to the EU, the disease affecting the olive trees in Italy, can also attack citrus trees and vines by the insect-transmitted bacteria, which causes the trees to wither and for which there is no remedy. Would be very interesting to see the comments of the Parliamentary Secretary if, God forbid, such a disease would establish itself also in Malta. Money talks and the people and the environment pays.

Platform Stop invasieve exoten, from the Netherlands has produced the following animation film on invasive species which one hopes will help politicians understand the negative impacts and the financial, social and ecological damages these can do. This animation film can be seen by clicking the following link, which also gives other links on data on invasive alien species:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFaQLShW0Zc

aebaldacchino@gmail.com