No future for Maltese trees

June 23, 2020

Monday, 22nd June, 2020

No future for Maltese trees

Alfred E Baldacchino

The feeling that indigenous Maltese trees and biodiversity have no future is increasing from day to day, despite national and international obligations.

There are four ministers who are involved with trees and biodiversity: Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg; Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, and Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia.

A 100 year old indigenous Holm Oak chopped by the Ministry. Could easily have been saved, but it is not an electricity pole.

The minister under whose watch biodiversity loss is increasing by leaps and bounds is without doubt Borg. To add insult to injury the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure is importing a number of ‘indigenous’ trees, only for political numerical reasons: planted, some in pots, or distributed to local councils.

No biodiversity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases and the contamination of the local gene pool; just a waste of resources which could be used for the benefit of a new local industry propagating indigenous trees.

The tarmacking and concreting of valley paths, the cosmetic rubble walls, built with EU funds, further add to biodiversity loss.

If there was a reward for a politician who contributed so much to biodiversity loss, the transport minister would win it hands down. History will surely document this.

Ian Borg’s rubble walls: more concrete, iron netting and no ecological niches, so diametric opposite to Legal Notice 169 of 2004. And they are still not covered by a top concrete layering.

The 15-year-old notorious ELC, pocketing €8 million per year, introducing invasive species all over, ignoring the EU Environment Acquis, mutilating a number of street trees, is now under the auspices of the Minister for Tourism. This ministry’s vision on biodiversity is also based on the importation of more trees.

Agriculture Minister Refalo is responsible for the phytosanitary of trees and other flora. There is never a word to protect indigenous trees from risks by importation of so many foreign imports.

No biodivesity vision of any sort, no concern for the possibility of viruses and diseases

Environment Minister Farrugia has the utmost responsibility regarding protection and management of trees and biodiversity.

The protected Elderberry tree left for dying at the Central Link Project, Attard, by Ian Borg’s Ministry, irrispective of ERA conditions or not.

His Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) is the focal point and competent authority of the European Union with regard to biodiversity.

On paper, ERA is very professional and publishes regulations and guidelines on biodiversity to honour EU obligations, and declares Natura 2000 sites, though left unmanaged, such as Buskett. In practice it is almost non-existent. Nobody takes any notice of these. The tree protection regulations and guidelines, and the way trees are being decimated all over the islands, by ERA’s permits or not, are there for one and all to see..

The Environment Ministry dishes out €30,000 to local councils to plant trees. Not a bad idea, but not when lists of imported exotics, some invasive trees are given to choose from, and conditions imposed to plant some in pots, as if to accommodate somebody.

During summer months these can be seen either parched dry, or on the verge of kissing their roots goodbye. In Attard the potted trees have been changed once or more.  The roots and soil in the pots become so hot that it would be a miracle if trees survive.

Ambjent Malta, once in the portfolio of the Environment Ministry, was short-lived.  These had the foresight to start a nursery to propagate Maltese biodiversity. But the change of hands at Castille saw that this was disbanded. The only remnant is the livery on vehicles they used. Ambjent Malta was also supposed to manage Natura 2000 sites.

If the government has the will to honour its electoral manifesto and the European Union Environment Acquis, it would not have fragmented such responsibilities in a way to make nobody accountable.

There is no will, no intention, no desire, no vision, no plan, no sensitivity to rise to such a national socioecological responsibility. Only the dictatorial urge to destroy, for political commercial purposes, some with EU funds.

Financial resources, managed by the environment minister, can contribute to a professional set up to see to the conservation of local biodiversity.

We need to do away with the present scenario where ministers compete with one another on who imports most trees, destroying Maltese indigenous ones in the process.

What future does all this offer to Maltese indigenous trees? No wonder that many are concluding that the government has a road map to make Malta the Easter Island in the Mediterranean!

Alfred Baldacchino, former MEPA Assistant director


related articles: 

A tree, a Minister and the EU

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment hit by EU funds

The environmental destruction of Malta

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


A tree, a Minister and the EU

January 25, 2020

Alfred E Baldacchino

Sunday, 2 February, 2020

Civil society lodged an appeal in the Courts of Justice after the Planning Authority approved (with the help of Environment and Resources Authority)  the Attard Central Link project in July 2019. The development is being funded by national and EU funds.

The court decision is expected on February 14, but Infrastructure Malta, also in the portfolio of Ian Borg, defied everyone and decided to start with the works.

They are demolishing everything in their path: trees, biodiversity, cultivated fields, farmhouses… anything as long as they get things done their own way.

The excavations along the route have almost been completed, irrespective of the fact that the court’s decision has not been taken.

Would one be wrong in saying that this is putting the courts in an embarrassing position, having to decide on something which has almost been completed?

Is this the way that public and European funds are managed to get things done?

Does this ministry believe that there is no-one in government or from civil society who can object to such a dictatorial fashion of getting things done? Does this not give the impression that Infrastructure Malta believes it has more power than a prime minister?

Getting thing done by Infrastructure Malta: unprofessionally uprooting a protected tree

The environmental impact assessment regarding the works – an assessment which was challenged in court – gives an indication of the richness of the biodiversity that would be destroyed by the works.

A call was received on January 21, regarding a rare tree – an elderberry tree – which had been uprooted days previously. This tree is protected by Legal Notice 258 of 2018.

But for Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta this is just another piece of paper they can ignore in getting things done, like they did at Wied Qirda, with many rubble walls, and all those concreted country paths in valleys, naturally using national and EU funds.

Such barbaric ways of getting things done also reflects on the new prime minister

Considering the complete disregard the Ministry of Infrastructure has for the protection of biodiversity – and considering the impotence of ERA, especially when confronted by this ministry – accompanied by a friend of mine, we decided to save this tree: voluntarily, using our own time and expenses.

So, on January 22, we went on site equipped with two secateurs and took all the possible cuttings from the almost dead tree, thrown and tied by the side of an adjacent field not to interfere with Infrastructure works. It took us two and a half hours to take all cuttings, which once cleaned and processed, would easily contribute to approximately 2,000 cuttings ready for propagation.


All possible cuttings taken from Infrastructure Malta’s massacre of the protected elderberry tree

Using our own personal car, we filled it with this precious propagation stock and drove to Ambjent Malta, seeking their help to preserve this rare protected species. They willingly obliged, but more help was needed.

The root ball could not be transported in our private car, so we asked for help to transport it for propagation too.

Some telephone calls had to be made to the so-called ‘higher authorities’ to save this important protected tree.

But the effort did save some red faces too, and Ambjent Malta was accompanied to the place where the half-dead tree was lying. It was transported and professionally replanted by Ambjent Malta within a couple of minutes.

Job done. Following the timely, intervention of two volunteers, the protected tree is given a good chance to survive with the help of Ambjent Malta.

Now if two individuals on their own voluntary initiative wanted to save a rare protected tree, why couldn’t Ian Borg’s Infrastructure Malta do this, considering the millions of public and EU funds they boast they have? They don’t simply because they do not care and do not want to.

Were ERA not so impotent when it comes to Infrastructure Malta, among others, it could easily have saved the tree.

The political, legal and administrative strength of ERA, one would assume, is much stronger than that of two private individuals. So why did they not take any action to save the tree in question? ERA would probably learn about all this destruction of biodiversity from the press.

Cabinet’s responsibility is collective. This means that such barbaric ways of getting things done also reflects on the new prime minister. Everybody who is not politically convinced that a circle is square is deeply concerned, because the way the Central Link Project is being managed – getting things done irrespective of everything, be it legal, be it administrative, be it the EU, or ignoring all stakeholders – makes a mockery of the new prime minister’s assurances and efforts to address the rule of law and the environment. How is this possible? Strange bedfellows, one would assume.

Good governance relies on the rule of law. There are many who really have the true, unselfish, good of the country at heart, and who are not imbibed with partisan politics. It is just political garbage that is getting things done without any professionalism and bereft of any good governance, using public and EU funds for such environmental destruction.

Getting things done because I say so can easily mean ‘I came, I saw, I destroyed’.

The European Union should make it a point that when it gives funds to any country, not least Malta, it should ensure that this is not used to destroy biodiversity in violation of its very own environment acquis.

Indeed, some do need to have wings clipped.

Mark Anthony Falzon is not appearing this week.

related articles:

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment Landscaping Conundrum

Environment hit by EU funds

“For our trees”

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

‘Destroying trees to make way for cars is a big mistake’

Kummenti fuq il-Baġit mill-aspett tal-ambjent

November 5, 2018
il-Ħadd, 4 ta’ Novembru 2018

Tħawwil ta’ siġra għal kull wild

… kliem li aktar juri l-falliment tal-Minsteru tal-Ambjent

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Dwar l-ambjent u l-baġit li ġie ppreżentat smajna ħafna. L-argumenti ma jonqsux. IT-TORĊA tkellmet mal-ekoloġista Alfred E. Baldacchino, dwar il-ħsibijiet tiegħu rigward il-miżuri li ttieħdu fil-baġit dwar l-ambjent. Alfred E. Baldacchino jgħidilna li:  

Filwaqt li taqsima 5.0 ‘Ninvestu fl-Ambjent’ fiha daħla bi kliem sabiħ u ta’ tifhir, bħal: Il-Gvern jinsab konvint li investiment fl-ambjent se jfisser ukoll tkabbir u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kull wieħed u waħda minna, imma ftit li xejn hemm indikazzjoni ta’ miżuri jew għajnuna finanzjarja għall-ambjent, fil-milja kollha tiegħu, “biex dan il-qasam daqstant importanti u sensittiv jingħata l-attenzjoni li jixraqlu.”

“5.4 Aktar siġar”

L-unika miżura li tispikka dwar l-ambjent fid-diskors tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi hija li: “Biex inkomplu nsebbħu l-ambjent, mis-sena d-dieħla l-Gvern se jkun qed jiżra’ siġra f’isem kull tifel u tifla li jitwieldu f’pajjiżna. Dan ifisser li kull sena se jkunu qegħdin jitħawlu madwar 4,000 xitel ta’ siġar.“

Għalija dan huwa kliem li aktar juri l-falliment tal-Minsteru tal-Ambjent milli xi ħaġa oħra.  U bil-viżjoni li bħalissa tirrenja fil-Minsteru tal-Ambjent, din tista’ tkun aktar ta’ ħsara milli ta’ ġid mill-aspett ta’ biodiversità.

5.3 Twaqqif ta’ Ambjent Malta

“Din is-sena qegħdin isiru preparamenti biex titwaqqaf Ambjent Malta bl- iskop li tindokra u tieħu ħsieb il-wirt naturali tagħna.” Pass tajjeb li jista’ jkollu riżultati pożittivi, dejjem jekk titmexxa fuq passi professjonali. Imma biex wieħed ikun jista’ jiffoka fuq “l-implimentazzjoni tal-immaniġġjar ta’ siti Natura 2000 filwaqt li se nkunu qegħdin nagħmlu l-kampanja tagħna aktar aċċessibbli għaċ-ċittadin” u “Permezz ta’ hekk se nkunu wkoll qegħdin nippromwovu infrastruttura ħadra għaż-żoni urbani tagħna.” hemm bżonn ta’ riżorsi, mhux biss finanzjarji imma anki kapitali.

Kif intqal ukoll l-Ambjent Malta sejra tkun responsabbli wkoll għat-‘tindif tal-widien’ u għat-tisbieħ tal-art jew kif inhu magħruf il-‘landscaping’.

Kont qed nistenna xi kumment x’se jsir bit-€8 miljun li qed jintefqu kull sena u li ftit li xejn qed ikun hemm riżultati professjonali u permanenti. Aktar u aktar issa li hemm l-Ambjent  Malta li qed tieħu ħsieb dan ix-xogħol. U aktar u aktar meta dawn it-€8 miljuni  qed jiqu amministrati fuq ftehim li mhux accessibli għall-poplu.

Meta wieħed iħares lejn it-tabelli li hemm mehmuża mad-diskors, isib li filwaqt li kien hemm xi żieda fl-ammont lill-Ministeru tal-Ambjent, ir-raġunijiet mogħtija għal dawn huma għall-“allowances” u għall-“Waste Management Strategy”. L-ebda referenza għall-Ambjent Malta.

Anki fil-qasam tal-infiq kapitali kien hemm tnaqqis ta’ madwar €4 miljun. U ma nafx kif dan kollu jista’ jwassal “biex dan il-qasam daqstant importanti u sensittiv jingħata l-attenzjoni li jixraqlu.”

5.5 Enerġija u Ilma

Ħsieb li nnotajt huwa li “Il-Gvern bħalissa qed jaħdem ukoll fuq il-Pjan Nazzjonali tal-Enerġija u l-Klima għall-perjodu 2020-2030” li wieħed jassumi li dan jinkludi wkoll lir-riżorsi tal-ilma ta’ dawn il-gżejjer. Veru daqsxejn tard wara l-isforzi kbar li saru minn għaqdiet u individwi f’dan il-qasam, l-aktar fuq il-ħela u t-teħid tal-ilma tal-pjan bla kontrol. Imma anki hawnhekk l-emfasi qegħda fuq is-settur domestiku. U dak industrijali, agrikolu, u ambjentali?

Huwa minnu li taqsima “5.7 Ilma”, titkellem fuq miżura li sejra “tipprovdi seba’ miljun metru kubu ta’ ilma ġdid, u b’hekk se tikkontribwixxi biex jinkisbu  riżultati sostenibbli tal-użu tal-ilma, parti kbira billi titnaqqas l-estrazzjoni tal-ilma ta’ taħt l-art” li huwa ħsieb tajjeb.

Inħoss li ma hemmx miżuri biżżejjed fil-qasam ambjentali ħolistiku.  Ngħidu aħna mizuri ambjentali edukattivi, ekoloġiċi, u anki fil-qasam tas-saħħa ambjentali, u nistaqsi lili nnifsi: dan huwa nuqqas ta’ provisjoni tal-Minsteru tal-Ambjent, jew inkella nuqqas ta’ amministrazzjoni li qed iċċaħħad lill-Minsteru tal-Ambjent biex jaħdem “biex dan il-qasam daqstant importanti u sensittiv jingħata l-attenzjoni li jixraqlu?”