Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

The news of the restoration of Wied il-Qlejgħa, alias Chadwick lakes, is good news. Not least because the ‘cleaning of valleys’ has been put to bed.

The largest dam at Wied il-Qlejgħa in all its glory

The measures highlighted in the media for such restoration are also something to look forward to, namely: restoration of dilapidated rubble walls; removal of the playing area; removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna; removal of accumulated sediment behind dams; restoration and utilisation of the Fiddien pumping station; and the planning of walking trails.

Dilapidated rubble walls – not an uncommon site after some heavy rainfall

Valleys in the Maltese islands are a sensitive ecological areas – much ignored, unappreciated and abused. These have been abandoned and mismanaged for years, making their restoration more delicate. They are dried river beds, once adorned with dwarf hippopotamus and endemic swan. Climate change reduced these rich fresh water habitats to what they are today.

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.


Dilapidated rubble walls is the first item that should be addressed, thus stopping soil erosion, one of the main culprits for the filling up of the dams.

The use of gabbjuni (big cages) to repair/replace rubble walls should not even be considered. A look at the 30-year-old gabbjuni installed along the valley, shows how barren they are. Not even the tenacious invasive cape sorell (l-ingliża) has managed to colonise any of them.

The play area in the midst of willow trees. Now who would have thought of this?

The removal of the playing area in the midst of the valley is a sine qua non. I wonder who was the architect who conceived this idea in the middle of one of the largest valley in the Maltese Islands!

Alien invasive eucalyptus trees dominate the valley. One might have to tread careful here because these can be protected by the latest tree protection regulations issued by ERA.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and  fauna is another step in the right direction.

No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour. It is not just bulldozing them on the lines of how the Ministry of Transport bulldozes trees. The invasive species of flora have to be gradually removed  in some areas, while being replaced by indigenous species.

Invasive species growing in Wied il-Qlejgħa include: she oak (less than a dozen), castor oil trees (less than 100), acacias and eucalyptus (more than a score and twenty of each species).

Their removal has to be professional so as not to contribute further to their dispersal. This applies mainly to the castor oil tree which has to be uprooted, and burned on site thus eliminating the possibility of giving it a free ride and opportunity to its seeds to germinate on new reclaimed grounds.

Furthermore, indigenous species which grow in the valley, such as poplar trees, willows, almond trees, lentisks, olive trees, chaste trees,  should not be mistaken for invasive species and removed. Not a far-fetched concern.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna is another step in the right direction. No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour

On the other hand, the notorious lately introduced red swamp crayfish also abounds in the valley, detrimental to any fresh aquatic life such as indigenous painted frog and its tadpole, dragonflies and water beetles larvae. The person who introduced such alien species, should be chained to a poplar tree until the last crayfish is collected.

The indigenous poplar tree – adorns its natural habitat. No it is not dead.

On the other hand indigenous trees adapted to such a riverine habitat include the poplar tree, already established in the valley, willow (two species also established), chaste tree (of which there is half a dozen) and rare species of ash and elm.

AmbjentMalta can start propagating them immediately so that they will be readily available for planting as standard trees as soon as a parcel of the valley has been restored.

There are also a number of indigenous flora, some  rare and scarce aquatic species, such as water cress, sanicle-leaved water crowfoot, and bulbous buttercup. Others not so rare are greater plantain, creeping cinquefoil, rushes and sedges.

Rare and scarce aquatic plants whose seeds aestivate in the sediment. (Photos by Stephen Mifsud).


Another delicate exercise is the removal of debris, and sediment accumulated behind the two main water dams. Presumably, one would think, this would be undertaken during the hot summer months when the cisterns are dry. This means that the top layer of the sediment will be full of seeds and ova of species frequenting the aquatic habitat. The collecting of approximately 15 cm of scraped surface sediment to be redeposited in the restored parts, would contribute to the survival of these rare species.

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

The valley bottom is constantly being abused by off-roading motorbikes as one can see from the erosion of footpaths and fresh tyre marks.

One of the shallow dams closest to Fiddien has also been damaged to make easier access.

Modern environment friendly public access gate

So the suggestions for walking trails is another positive approach, especially if these are somewhat raised from the ground, for the convenience of wild fauna.

Furthermore, public access gates can be installed along the way, as a measure for controlling bikes – motor or manual.

I know that if Dr Daniel Micallef, one of the few politicians with environment at heart, could see this, I am sure he would send some people to hell.

The Fiddien box, which was restored during the time when Daniel Micallef was Minister for Education and Environment, has long been vandalised and the heavy water pump has seemingly disappeared – hopefully taken by the Water Services Corporation for safe keeping?

The plans for their restoration and educational use is also another positive step.

The second dam, needing some structural repairs, still contributes its best for the storage of water, before it passes it to Wied tal-Isperanza.

Once restoration works are completed, the valley has to be monitored and managed. Traffic management tops the list.

This will ensure that the number of vehicles frequently jamming the area on public holidays and Sundays will not bring such restoration to naught by their haphazard parking. So it would be beneficial to one and all if the road through the valley is made one way: from Imtarfa to Mosta.

The farming community can have an identification permit displayed on car windscreens, to allow them to use it both ways during working days.

The proof of this EU funded pudding is in the eating.

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż




Some trees of Malta

November 20, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sandro Lanfranco

 A new and updated book about Maltese trees could not have come at a more opportune moment.

Trees have been in the news almost every week and almost always for the wrong reasons. Over-development, upgrading of the road network and accident prevention, to name a few, have all been used as justification for the removal or  mutilation of old, mature trees in recent months. This general regard for trees as expendable ornaments of landscape reminds us we are still a very long way from appreciating them as an integral part of our environment, including our built environment.

This is why Alfred Baldacchino’s new book, Sigar Maltin – taghrif, tnissil, ħarsien, għajdut (Klabb Kotba Maltin), is so timely. It is an educational tool that, one hopes, will go some way towards raising awareness of what we have and of what we stand to lose.

It is not a comprehensive account of Malta’s trees, instead, the author chose 12 species and devoted a chapter to each, telling a story about every one tree, describing its natural history, horticulture, pests and diseases, cultural importance, historical background and conservation status.

The author includes an introductory chapter describing the Maltese environment and the biology of trees, a list of relevant legislation concerning trees, an extensive bibliography and a list of species with Maltese and English vernacular names accompanying the scientific  binomials. There is also a glossary defining both technical and unfamiliar non-technical terms.

The book is well-organised, written in refreshingly fluent Maltese and draws upon the author’s vast experience in this field. Descriptions of species are comprehensive and accompanied by a generous number of functional photographs. The author does not just describe the leaves, flowers and bark of each tree but also provides photos of seeds, fruits and other distinctive features, depending on the species. This is a very welcome addition as it is a feature missing from many  books  about Malta’s plant life.

The scientific aspect of Baldacchino’s writing is correct and updated, with only one or two very minor quibbles.

Appreciation of this book also revolves around an understanding of two key choices made by the author: species and language.

The species included are all native but are by no means all common. This is certainly a positive point as it introduces readers to trees that may have never seen.

Moreover, the author’s definition of a ‘tree’ is also quite inclusive and incorporates plants such as Spanish Broom and Lentisk that are probably better described as shrubs.

There is also no trace of alien trees in Baldacchino’s account. He is very much a ‘purist’ in this regard and these latecomer usurpers have no place in his book, in spite of their important ecological and cultural roles.

The author’s definition  of Maltin (Maltese) extends to species that have been recorded prior to 1500 and any species not present before that point are considered ‘alien’. Baldacchino, nonetheless, recognises that several trees, now considered native, were probably also introduced by humans in antiquity.

Baldacchino chooses the path less-travelled  and  writes  in Maltese. His reasons are twofold.

Firstly, while completely aware he is excluding much of his potential audience, he is reaching out to those who may be more comfortable reading in Maltese than in English, an unquantified cohort neglected by most local authors in this field.

Secondly, by writing in Maltese he is reinforcing and reviving a subset of vocabulary that is not in general use. The Maltese language has its own lexicon for trees but this is often supplanted by more general terms or by inclusion from other languages. Through his choice, the author is not only teaching about trees but is also teaching language.

The book will be an indispensable addition to the libraries of readers on natural history and melitensia in general. It will be appreciated by general readers as well as by students of the Maltese environment and those of the Maltese language.

One looks forward to seeing a version written in English for the benefit of a wider readership.

Sandro Lanfranco – Senior lecturer in biology at the University of Malta.