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/

 


Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

March 2, 2017

univ-of-faith

Thursday, 2nd March, 2017

Universe of Faith talks to Alfred E. Baldacchino, an environmental expert who is highly concerned about the fact that in Malta, we keep repeating the same mistakes detrimental to human health, the environment and the economy.

Fountain grass, Penisetum at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

Fountain grass, Penisetum sp. at Dingli. Photo: Alfred E. Baldacchino

“In the 1970s the government introduced Acacias trees which are detrimental to some people suffering from asthma, allergies, sinusitis etc. This alien species was introduced in Malta after a donation to the government of the time. Today, landscapers are doing the same mistakes by introducing alien species in our roundabouts, streets and other urban areas. One such example is the fountain grass, Penisetum, which following its planting in major roads, has now escaped and is growing uncontrolled along streets, in fields and also in valleys, competing with indigenous flora.” He explained that while there are also indigenous plants which can cause allergies these grow in small quantities and not invasively like the alien species.

Alfred believes that landscaping our streets needs to be combined with respect for the local wildlife and ecosystem. “Australia and New Zealand spray each plane that lands to control the introduction of alien insects from being accidentally introduced in their country. They have learned their lesson hard after Europeans introduced foreign species which brought havoc to their indigenous biodiversity. England is spending billions to control the negative impacts of invasive species. What can we learn from them?”

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

Carob brownies. Carob can be used as an alternative to choclate, it is also used as syryp, powder in both human and animal nutrition

He insists that our approach needs to change and that things can be done more professionally. “We can use many of our indigenous flora, which are so easy to propagate. We have so many beautiful wildflowers. Israel uses indigenous trees, such as the carob, to landscape its streets. We can do the same. Indigenous flora should be propagated locally and not imported for commercial reasons. This would help economically, ecologically and socially. We have to put our priorities right. Environmental landscaping needs to move hand in hand socially and ecologically.”

He also warns about the dangers of importing olive trees which are suffering from a deadly disease causing great economical and ecological damages. “Do we have to go through such negative ecological and economical experience to make us aware of the actions that needed to be taken?” he asks.

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe Major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud www.maltawildplants.com

Honeywort, Qniepen, Cerinthe major. Photo: Stephen Mifsud http://www.maltawildplants.com

Alfred calls for the appreciation of our indigenous plants, those which have been adorning our country before the arrival of man, as well as implementing clear policies concerning alien invasive species which are destroying our ecosystems.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter On Care for Our Common Home also echoes this thinking when he said that some profits cause “terrible injustices, much greater than the economic benefit to be obtained,”. He also dedicates thirteen paragraphs (24, 32-42, 169, 190) of this letter on the value and protection of biodiversity.

Published: March 2017

Further Reading:
How can I become a “Green Catholic”?


The Caper at Couvre Porte

November 7, 2013

times

Thursday November 7th, 2013. 

The Caper at Couvre Porte

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

2013.10.22---Birgu-flag

Citta Vittoriosa flag

The Birgu Local Council deserves warm congratulations for the way they organised the Birgu Fest especially the candle­lit night which showed the splendour of the city: the overpowering majestic bastions, the Maltese workmanship, the architecture, the intricate sculptures, the winding streets, the renovated old buildings, and the growing public awareness of such a historical heritage.  Unfortunately this cannot be said for the way the Birgu environs are being landscaped.

2013.10.22---couvre-port-gate

Couvre Porte Gate

I entered through Couvre Porte, the  magnificent covered  gateway, admiring  the surroundings. I crossed the bridge  over the ditch, still in total darkness as to its future, at least from a public point of view. I wonder why no public consultations were ever held on such projects. Perhaps the present Minister would consider this before the works are done and public money spent and not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Once through the main entrance of Couvre Porte, I climbed the 10 cm or so high steps leading to the top of the bastions. I could almost re­live the moments of such a historical architectural heritage left to us by the Knights of St. John.

There, on the highest part of the bastions something caught my eye: it was a caper (kappara) growing on one of the cordons, so soon on the freshly restored bastions, with defiance and a sense of victory. In the dim light, I could see the silhouettes of other indigenous plants which had also set foot on the fortifications: indigenous species which colonised these islands before man set foot on them.

2013.10.22---kappar-mas-swar

The caper on the bastions

The indigenous plants on the bastions echoed Rużar Briffa’s Jum ir­-Rebħ “Jien Maltija! Miskin min ikasbarni, miskin min jidħak bija” (I am Maltese! Pity the one who disgraces me, pity the one who mocks me”).

As I looked towards the Vittoriosa water front, the historic bastion rose as a background to a number of recently imported alien, toxic and some invasive trees. The never conquered Citta Vittoriosa, lied at the mercy of these introduced foreign species, some also invasive, politically approved and publicly funded. How could one accept the fact that there at the foot of the bastions exotic species had taken over the beds of the indigenous Maltese species, through the political apathy still accepting foreign colours to the indigenous splendour.

I slowly descended the steps, seemingly so much higher now, and mingled with the crowds till I found my way in front of the St. Lawrence Parish Church. Towering in front of the Church on my left was the Għolja tal­Ħelsien monument, a reminder of the last foreign power which had a foot in Malta. But even in the semi­darkness I could see the monument invaded with more than half a dozen exotic species, two or three invasive. Two palm trees on the monument seemed to have succumbed to the Red Palm Weevil, an introduced alien invasive species.  On my right along the waterfront leading to dock 1, I could see other exotic species, some invasive, introduced from around the world, including the now ubiquitous fountain grass. Could it be possible that the exit of the foreign powers opened the doors to the exotic alien flora and fauna to set foot on the Islands even growing on the very monument itself?

2013.10.22---għolja-tal-ħelsien

Three exotic alien species surround the fanfare of the departure of the last foreign soldier.

Landscapers equipped with a can of chemicals will no doubt be sent by their political master, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, to spray the indigenous caper and allies to oblivion, something in which I must admit, they are very good at. But these are wild species and do not fatten anybody’s pockets. I am sure that the indigenous species will rise again, and again, and again in protest with the same determination, as one or two have already done at the newly renovated Mdina bastions, made more to resemble Windsor Castle rising out of an expanse of turf, so artificial and unnatural to a Mediterranean fortification rising out of garigue vegetation. As long as the people and the EU pay, who cares? Who would be that Minister who,  during whose tenure, approved the introduction of the most exotic alien species, not excluding invasives, in the Maltese Islands at the expense of local indigenous species, in the name of landscaping? The wisdom of some politicians knows no bounds despite national and international obligations, and should I add electoral promises!

2013.10.22---inula-chritmoides

The Golden Samphire on the restored Vittoriosa bastions. It can easily replace the introduced exotic invasive species of Fountain Grass occupying the flower beds on the waterfront.

I walked heavily to where my car was parked close to St. Helena Bastions ­ another jewel of the Knights of St. John. Another gem of a historical heritage so conspicuous by its neglected and abandoned state.  If only the funds coming from the European Union and public funds lavishly spent on the importation, advice, planting and profits made on the exotic trees, went to the restoration of such other gem at Bormla (Cospicua) they would have been much better spent.

2013,10,22---fountain-grass

The now ubiquitous introduced alien invasvie Fountain Grass, in the shadow of alien trees, competing and taking over from indigenous flora.

It was a relief to drive back home. But not before driving through a breach in the Cottonera bastion lines leading from San Ġwann t’Għuxa to Għajn Dwieli. The mismanagement, lack of planning and financial driving force in landscaping with its negative social, historical and ecological impact had ruined the enjoyable candle­lit evening at the historical city of Birgu. The good thing about it was that the candle­lit environment had hidden the look of disappointment on my face: the lack of considerations for local biodiversity makes me feel ashamed that I am Maltese, when this is appreciated more by the foreigners than by the local politicians. When money grows on trees and it talks, there is nobody ready to listen.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


Red Palm Weevil invades eco-Gozo

June 1, 2013

times

Saturday,1 June, 2013

Weevil invades eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 

The red palm weevil first set foot in the Maltese Islands in 2007.  Despite the expanse of the natural adequate sea barrier preventing this weevil from crossing over to the Maltese Islands – it can only fly a distance of one kilometre – it did manage to get a free ride on infected palm trees imported from Egypt and Europe.

The bad news was relayed through a press release issued on 24 October 2007, by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment informing the public of the Red Palm Red-Palm-WeevilWeevil’s presence in Malta. It quickly established itself and from St. Paul’s Bay, where the infected trees were housed, it spread to Salini, Qawra, Mosta, Attard, Mtafra, Rabat, Siġġiewi, Żebbuġ, Luqa: in a short spell it spread all over the island of Malta.

The transportation of palm trees to Gozo was immediately withheld. The expanse of sea between the islands also served as a natural barrier preventing its dispersal.

A parliamentary question dated 25 March 2009, revealed that 310 palm trees were uprooted in Malta. These consisted of 121 from public places and 189 from private gardens. This year, on the 5 May, another parliamentary question further revealed that during the first four months of 2013, a total of 248 palm trees infected by the Red Palm Weevil, were uprooted in Malta.

From 2008 to 2013, the total number of palm trees officially uprooted is 558: the result of the mismanagement of Maltese biodiversity, reflecting the hidden costs paid by society and the ecosystem.

I was under the impression (up to Sunday, 21 May 2013) that the Red Palm Weevil was prevented from invading Gozo, and palm trees there were safe. It was on these thoughts that I expressed myself during a comment on the Red Palm Weevil on the national TV station news bulletin. But my optimism was short lived.

No sooner had the news been transmitted than a Gozitan friend of mine phoned to inform me that the red palm weevil had officially established itself in Gozo since September 2012, despite the fact that trees landing at Imgarr Gozo are monitored.

On the morrow, another Gozitan friend contacted me to tell me that a relative of his had some palm trees on his land, which trees had also been attacked by the red palm weevil.

To add insult to injury, after reporting such infected trees, he was given a warning from the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Environment, that if the infected trees were not uprooted in a couple of days he would be heavily fined to the tune of €666.66!

Why has the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil been kept a secret to this day? Why were the Gozitans not informed of the invasion by this introduced weevil, so that they could take any precautionary measures they deemed necessary?

Before I am so rudely reminded, I do recall that since the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil, there was a general election!

2008.10.05---larvae-2

The larva of the Red Palm Weevil

Imported alien species all carry a hidden cost, no matter what politicians, entrepreneurs or public officials say or think.

And while landscapers cash on quick profits, and politicians gloat on the number of imported trees and flowers planted, and prime ministers tour ecological time bombs, the hidden cost is borne by society and the ecosystem.

Such burden is becoming heavier and heavier. Great Britain, an island, spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species. The EU, the largest importer of alien species, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. Brussels has belatedly realised that the free movement of goods with regards to living species, whether flora or fauna, is playing with a very expensive time bomb.

2008.10.05---larvae

The larva of the Red Palm Weevil at work

One hopes that Government will not follow the path of its predecessor, and will immediately intervene and take action.

The red palm weevil is just a living example. There are other invasive alien species, some which have already made their mark and issued invoices, such as the geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry long horned beetle, the Asian tiger mosquito, while others are still building on their populations before their impact is felt and seen, such as the number of land snails slowly but surely dispersing outwards from their nurseries.

2008.02.03---weevil-cocoons-

Cocoons of the Red Palm Weevil spun by the larvae, before they emerge as adult weevils

Social and ecological considerations are not even factored in the maximisation of profits of such businesses, which up to the ides of March 2013 had political backing.

The bottom line is that eco-Gozo, and Malta, despite obligatory phytosanitary certificates, political half-baked measures, colourful publications, and national and international legal obligations, have been invaded by an alien species despite persistent warnings. 

Gozo is such a small island that the red palm weevil won’t have any problem infesting each and every palm tree there.

Furthermore, it is not that difficult – if there is the will – to trace where new palm trees have been planted.

2008.02.03---ther-works-of-the-Red-Palm-Weevil-larva

The fatal works of the Red Palm Weevil

Along with habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and the domino effect of extinction of species, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond has included invasive species as one of the “Four Horsemen” of this ecological apocalypse.

2008.01.15---dead-palm-tree-at-Imtarfa

One of the 600 dead palm trees killed by the Red Palm Weevil at Mtarfa. Who’s paying for the damages?

Eco-Gozo and the Maltese ecosystem now have to pay through their noses for such self inflicted political mismanagement and for ignoring national and international obligations showing the complete failure of virtual eco-Gozo and the once environmental pillar.

Will this apocalypse horse gallop on unbridled, spurred by financial greed?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/


Seminar on the benefits and use of trees

February 22, 2013

Introduction to Maltese native trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On Tuesday 10th February 2013, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar Tree Group in collabortion with the Attard Local Coucil organised a seminar on The benefits and use of tree. 

The FAA Tree Group was established following the outcry against the wanton and  widespread destruction of urban trees both in Malta and Gozo by Government Ministries,  paid from public funds. The response for such a first activity of the FAA Tree Group was immediate:

  • there were more than 100 participants who not only followed the presentations with great interests, but also took notes;
  • asked a number of pertinent questions, and
  • also demanded more information and similar meetings on the better use and appreciation of Maltese indigenous trees.

The seminar covered information on Maltese indigenous trees and the need for more appreciation especially by those who are entrusted to protect them; the benefits that trees give to society and the environment, and also their contribution to the economical aspect. The need to prevent the introduction of invasive species which can devastate the Maltese ecosystem, was also highlighted.

The partecipants were also addressed with regards to the use and benefits of trees in the urban environment and how this can be undertaken in a professional way.

A short presentation on tree protection regulations was also given.

Following the seminar, the demand for copies of the presentations were more than expected

As a first additional step towards the aim of more appreciation and protection of trees, the slides (used as the basis but without any animation, used during the presentaiton) can be viewed on the following link

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/presentation-seminar-on-the-benefits-and-use-of-trees/


Breeding birds of the Maltese Islands – a scientific and historical review

October 12, 2012

A new publication
Breeding Birds of the Maltese Islands - a scientific and historicl review


Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

May 23, 2012

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino
Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining momentum in leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to newly-established environmental NGOs, individual interventions, more private education and public awareness and, no doubt, Malta’s accession to the European Union.
Regrettably, the official side is still dragging its feet, finding it very difficult to understand and keep pace with this public awareness. This despite national and international legal obligations and good-intentioned environmental actions plans.
When Legal Notice 12 of 2001 was revoked by LN 200 of 2011, the Department of Agriculture was exempted from any legal responsibility with regard to urban tree-protection. Public trees in urban areas can now be pruned, uprooted, cut up in logs, butchered and destroyed without any official prior approval, according to one’s whims and fancies. Rather strange!
Many readers might remember, that when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping, street trees used to be pruned with dedication, care and feeling. I remember the ficus trees at Saqqajja, in Rabat, among others, so professionally pruned in a seemingly sculptured way with a crown extending from one end of the line to the other and with small branches forming a beautiful trellis. It gave the area a green soothing sight in contrast with the heavy congested traffic-zone.
At that time, the Department of Agriculture did not have as many resources as today’s “landscapers” have but they used to make miracles with as little public expenses as possible and with professional management.
Today, “landscaping” projects are farmed out; it seems to anyone who can handle a chainsaw. There is nothing wrong in farming out to professional entities that are au courant with national and international legislation. But these operators must be subjected to a regulator that decides what should be done and not be done, monitor expenses, prevent ecological negative impacts, incorporate such operations in formal and non-formal education and ensure that the operators are observing guidelines and decisions.
After all, this is a basic issue of governance: the regulator and the operator should not be one and the same entity. Notwithstanding, the absence of such regulator, the politician still has a responsibility to shoulder, more so when such works are paid from public funds.
The lack of regulatory measures has led to a farcical scenario where the public is completely in the dark about what farming out agreements providing for and how funds are being managed. Taking the Prime Minister on a tour to demonstrate the colourful flowers or to nurseries to view lace makers at work only fools the actors but not the people.
What the people want to hear is how public funds are being spent: how much is being spent overseas on the importation of trees, what is the cost of such trees, why are these not being grown in Malta, thus creating more jobs, more local expertise and benefiting from the multiplier effect besides preventing the introduction of invasive species.

This invasive species used in landscaping financed by Government and under the auspices of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, has already established itself in valleys, garigue and other wild habitats. This despite the fact the national and international obligation, including those of the EU, to prevent the introduction and to control invasive species. It also goes against the National Environment Policy published earlier this year, and the fact that it is listed as invasive by MEPA the Competent Authority on the Environment. The Ministry responsible for landscaping seems to be living in a republic of its own.
The photo was taken along one of the busiest roads in the Maltese Islands.

The standard reply given to these sorts of questions is that such data cannot be divulged because those involved in landscaping are private companies. And I was always under the impression that these were public private partnerships. US orator and politician, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once wrote that the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Seems that we still have a long way to go to reach the 18th century, despite being an EU member state.
It has now become customary that those who ask or comment in the national interest on the lack of governance, on professional tree management and on the lack of transparency on the use of public funds are looked upon as if they are enemies of the state. They are called names and are subjected to character assassination. It is so reminiscent of the 1980s.
Is there a real genuine desire for public consultations, suggestions and comments? The idea, of course, is not to point fingers at anybody.
In the history of landscaping in Malta, never have so few had a free hand and benefited at the expense of so many. It also seems that, in Malta, money does not only grow on trees but it talks too!
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

NOTE: The photo and its caption were not part of the original article in  The Times, but were added by the author on this post. Thelink to the original article is:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120523/opinion/Money-doesn-t-only-grow-on-trees-here-it-talks-too-.420947