From a bird’s eye view

October 5, 2016

times of malta

Wednesday, 5th October, 2016

From a bird’s eye view  

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Kurt Sansone’s contribution (September 22), illustrated with bird photos taken by hunters, was a very pleasant surprise. It is of great satisfaction to me. Indeed, another bold step towards the better future of a country which has a reputation for the killing of birds. One cannot but congratulate and encourage these efforts.

marcus-camilleri-squacco-02-04-16

What I cannot understand is the amount of ‘fear’ shown about such photos, or rather about the photographers. Without any difficulty one can perhaps understand the criticism from that lone man-with-the-gun who is more accustomed to gunning down protected birds.

But disappointing is the deafening silence from the other side of the fence. Disappointing, because these hunters’ photos, and comments on the social media, contribute towards the positive appreciation, education, and scientific study of birds. Photos of living birds in their natural environment, unharmed, and most important, flying free. What more can one wish for?

I am not saying that obscenities like butchered storks, honey buzzards, and other protected birds should not be condemned without any reservations.

I remember during my active years campaigning for the better protection of birds – an aim I still cherish and still contributing to – when one September afternoon, I went bird-watching at Buskett, a bird sanctuary. It was overcast with a slight drizzle. Migrating birds of prey were approaching Buskett in large numbers, all trying to roost because the inclement weather did not allow them to continue with their journey to Africa.

But, within half an hour, 40 dead honey buzzards tumbled down into the woods below. One honey buzzard was seen circling down, wing detached from body – shot with a chained-pellet. Not a sight to easily forget.

During those bad times bird watchers ended with a fractured heads, smashed equipment, and broken ribs. This was years ago. Nothing compared to today’s photos by bird hunters from the same Buskett, mingling with bird watchers enjoying the miracles of nature.

honey-buzzard-aron-tanti

Such positive photographic appreciation is in line with the same aims for which a society was founded in the 1960s. Today, one can see watchers and hunters alike, all clicking to their hearts’ delight and taking pictures not lives. Everyone should be pleased and proud that past efforts are bearing fruit. One does not have to belong to any group to achieve this.

It is not important who the photographer is. The aim is more important than the image. As long as birds remain unharmed, it is not important who pulls the trigger. If it is a good photo, it is a good photo, whether it is from one side of the fence or from the other.

Such photographers should be encouraged, their work appreciated, and their efforts and knowledge in the field shared with others. Congratulations are due to those who are finding fulfillment, appreciation and interest in shooting birds with a camera. I wish them the best of luck and the best of opportunities to carry on shooting with a camera and sharing their photos, so that they can be appreciated by one and all.

The hunters’ photos, and comments on the social media, contribute towards the positive appreciation, education, and scientific study of birds

Without doubt another positive gigantic step towards bird protection. It might not please everyone, but it certainly suits and pleases birds and the photographers in question. Birds seem to be reciprocating by flying past sometimes closer than it was ever thought possible, unless there is a raving party to upset such a positive step. What a thrill, and what a dream come true.

Black-winged stilts - marcus camilleri

 

German sociologist and political scientist Robert Michels contends that once an organisation engages full-time employees, there arises differences between the general members and their leaders. The presence of specialised personnel creates a dominant elite, and though the role of this elite is to present the view and aspirations of the mass membership, who own the organisation, the gap between these two gets wider and wider.

In such circumstances the leaders tend to be more interested in keeping their position of prestige and influence that goes with their position. The interest of the members is no longer represented, and the organisation with a bureaucratic structure is operated in the interest of preservation of the bureaucracy, which accommodates the elite.

Can this be the basis for such ‘fears’ from the elite on both sides of the fence? Could be not. But it is high time that credit is given where credit is due, by conservationists on both sides of the fence. It may not be easy for some, but if it is in line with the official approved aims of conservation, then what is the problem?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/another-buskett-onslaught/

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Another Buskett onslaught

September 15, 2016

times-of-malta

Another Buskett onslaught

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is one of the few remaining rich ecological areas. It is a tree protection area. It is also a bird protection area: birds of prey migrating in both spring and autumn and for other migrating, wintering and resident species.

Buskett supports eight different habitat types of EU Community interest, whose conservation requires the designation of special areas of conservation (SAC). It also supports six different species of fauna (besides birds) and plant species of EU Community interest, whose conservation also demands the SAC designation.

At Buskett, there are 32 bird species recorded, all qualifying for special EU conservation measures with regard to their habitat to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. Because of this, Buskett is a special protection area (SPA).

Buskett is thus both an SPA and an SAC, making the place an EU Natura 2000 site. These are designed to afford protection to the most vulnerable species in Europe.

buskett

BUSKETT – an SPA, an SAC – and an EU NATURA 2000 site.

Within six years, at most, from the designation of a Natura 2000 site (from 2004, in our case), member states are obliged to establish priorities in the light of the importance of the sites for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type or a species for the coherence of Natura 2000 and in the light of the threats of degradation or destruction to which those sites are exposed.

 

Since EU accession in 2004, the environment has never been
so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today
 
The priority that has officially materialised so far is a rave party in the midst of this Natura 2000 site during a sensitive migration  for birds of prey. This despite the fact that EU funds were acquired for the rehabilitation of Buskett’s environment.

Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of its conservation objectives.

The competent national authority (the Environment and Resources Authority) has to agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and after having obtained the opinion of the public.

By December 2015, management plans for Malta’s Natura 2000 sites were ready and approved by the government after a public consultation exercise. However, Buskett is still under tremendous pressure and disturbance.

Highlighted negative impacts on this Natura 2000 site, according to the management plan, are noise and light pollution resulting in disturbance. Noise was attributed to large groups of people, unnecessary shouting and also the use of megaphones.

Light pollution was also referred to from a transient source, such as from a passing vehicle or from adjacent areas.

The management plan confirmed that “all these result in considerable disturbance to wildlife”.

The plan also recommends that the range, population size, roosting habitat and future prospects of migratory raptors are to be maintained; the future prospects of breeding and wintering passerines are to be improved.

buskett-kuccarda-bghadam-wrdpress-2

Buskett is a Special Protection Area (SPA) declared under the EU Bird Directive because of its importance for migratory birds of prey.

It further recommends that Buskett should receive full legal protection implemented according to national legislation and local polices. With regard to birds, one of the main objectives is to maintain its high ornithological value. These are all in line with obligations arising out of the EU environmental acquis, which have been transposed to local legislation.

The Minister for the Environment and his ERA seem to be yet oblivious to what has hit them. They failed terribly at their first hurdle, which seemingly was a bit too high for them. Now they seem to have been mesmerised by this rave party, which took place on September 7 in the midst of Buskett. This should never have been given a permit to be held –  unless, of course, it was held without any permit, which would still be of ERA’s concern.

 

2016-09-08-black-kitss-marcus-camilleri-wordpress-photo-3

One of the largest flocks of Black Kites congregating over Buskett EU Natura 2000 site on the 7th September 2016, waiting to roost in the trees, on the same day the rave party was held.

The minister and his ERA are intelligent enough, I believe, to see that such a rave party is diametrically opposed to the EU Natura 2000 obligations, especially in a sensitively bird of prey migratory period. Even genuine bird hunters and bird conservationists (who, in the recent past, have never seen eye to eye) have come out in force against such disturbances to this Natura 2000 site.

malta-taghna-lkoll“The Environment and Resources Authority… will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection and amelioration of the environment and resources while undertaking also the responsibility of the important role of an environmental regulator, which presently our country does not have.” So were the people promised in the Malta Tagħna Ikoll electoral manifesto in 2013.

But the people are still waiting for this promise to be realised and the responsibility of the environmental regulator (“which our country does not have”) to be effective.

Not only has Malta not become the “best in Europe”, as also promised, but, since accession to the EU in 2004, the environment has never been so much neglected, abused and exploited as it is today.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Honey Buzzard – Pernis apivoris  – il-kuċċarda
Black Kite – Milvus migrans – l-astun iswed
Marsh Harrier – Circus aeruginosus – il-bagħdan aħmar

 

photos-of-buskett

A photo of Buskett an EU Natura 2000 site, taken on 12th September 2016. For the attentino of ERA,  the promised environmental regulator.

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/buskett-%e2%80%93-a-special-area-of-conservation-in-the-eu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/il-buskett/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/the-eu-habitats-directive/

 

 

 


Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

March 1, 2016

interview

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, a noted environmental lobbyist and keen writer has been working hard on the envronmental protection front since the early 1970s. Following the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development The Malta Independent contacted Mr Baldacchino to see what the avid blogger and environmentalist had to say about the new proposal, the effects it will have on the flora and fauna of the area, and the role of NGOs.                 ___________________________________________________

Q. What flora will be affected by the development?

natura-2000-logo_2_fs.jpeg (800×600)Ta’ Ċenċ is an EU Natura 2000 site. This embraces a Special Area of Conservation with regards to flora and fauna (except birds) according to the Habitats Directive and also a Special Protection Area with regards to birds according to the Birds Directive.

Ta’ Ċenċ was accepted by the EU Commission after Malta forwarded a list of flora and fauna which were of importance to the EU according to the habitat types and species listed in the Habitats and Birds Directives. This was accepted by the EU Commission, and these NATURA 2000 Standard Data Forms (MT0000034) are referred to in the report on an appropriate assessment based on terrestrial ecological resources and on avifauna published by Ecoserve in December 2015.

These EU Directives do not only protect the species per se but also protect the habitats important for certain species within the delineated boundary. The site is important as one holistic ecosystem. These EU Directives oblige Member States to see that all activities, within the delineated boundary, are to be either aimed towards the management of the site or else they, and even those immediately outside, do not impact any habitats and any species of the Natura 2000 site.

endemic-sub endemic flowers

Photos courtesy of Stephen Mifsud

The proposed development, will have a negative impact on most of the flora, whether  common, vulnerable, endemic or endangered. These will be somehow affected both during and after works, and also during the increased human activities, mainly commercial, subsequent to the works not relevant to the management of the site. Some of the important flora found in this EU Natura 2000 are the sub endemic Maltese waterwort, the sub endemic Maltese toadflax, the endemic Maltese cliff orache, the endemic Maltese hyoseris, and the endemic Maltese rock centaury. These besides other important threatened vegetative communities such a those dominated by the endemic Maltese salt tree, and others including garigue and rock pools all of EU Community Importance.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015, besides highlighting the above, also states that: “More accurate prediction of environmental impact would necessitate extensive experimental work on the ecological responses of the species concerned and establishment of a mathematical model linking cause with effect.” A proper Environment Impact Assessment as obliged by the Directive, will have to be undertaken if the development is to proceed.

Q. What fauna will be affected by the development?

All the fauna will also be affected both during and also after the completion of the works. The proposed development will greatly affect and damage the ecological set-up and the conservation of this EU Natura 2000 Site.

short toed lark - michael sammut

Ta’ Ċenċ is the stronghold of the short-toed lark, which is a summer resident to the Maltese Islands where it nests.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 states that not only the sedentary fauna within this EU Natura 2000 will be affected, but also those which can visit and can leave the area. All the breeding birds in this EU Natura 2000 site will be affected, not only the sea birds colonies breeding on the cliffs but also those which breed or use the plateau for foraging, whether residents or migratory.

blue rock thrush - michael sammut

The blue rock thrush (the national bird of Malta) also breeds at Ta’ Ċenċ and besides the sea cliffs it uses the garigue plateau as its feeding grounds.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions 24 species of breeding or potential breeding birds recorded at Ta’ Ċenċ. These are either species of global conservation concern, or unfavourable conservation status whether concentrated or not in Europe. Eleven of these are all protected and either vulnerable or endangered and listed in the Maltese Red Data Book such as the corn bunting the short-toed lark, the blue rock thrush, and the barn owl, among others.  This is also confirmed in the Appropriate Assessment 2015.

Short-toed Lark nest at Ta' Ċenċ - Michael Sammut May 2015

The nest of the short-toed lark at Ta’ Ċenċ.  

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 stresses that “Development within these two zones (the hotel area including the interpretation centre, and the villa area) is likely to generate environmental impact that may affect significant resources within Ta’ Ċenċ SAC and this assessment accordingly focuses on processes in these zones.”

Q. How valid are the impact assessments which have been performed and what could they have done better?

The assessment which has been published in 2015 is just an Appropriate Assessment. It is not a proper Environment Impact Assessment which is required before every development in an EU Natura 2000 site, as obliged by the Habitats Directive and as also indicated in the Appropriate Assessment.

The Appropriate Assessment also states that the proposed footprints of the Hotel area, the villa area and the interpretation centre “will obliterate plant assemblages and sedentary or slow moving fauna, and displace more vagile (free moving) fauna from the habitat”.

An earlier Environment Impact Assessment on Ta’ Ċenċ was by made by John Azzopardi in 2005. John Azzopardi is a past Assistant Secretary of the then Malta Ornithological Society with over 35 years experience in field ornithology, and also a past chairman of the International Council for Bird Preservation (Malta Section) – today Birdlife International. In his study John Azzopardi  elaborates “that nocturnal seabirds may be disoriented by artificial lighting whilst travelling from feeding grounds to nesting sites. Possible effects of artificial lighting on nocturnal seabirds, include abandonment of nest sites and burrows (with subsequent vulnerability of chick to starvation or depredation), collision with structures during flight, reduction of reproductive rate and of recruitment rate, interference with navigation and direction-finding and interference with the food sources of the birds.”

According to the EU Habitats Directive, each EU Natura 2000 site has to have a management plan not later than six years after accession, in our case, 2004. Malta did not reach this deadline and was given additional time up to December 2015. By that time, the management plans for all EU Natura 2000 sites were finalised by Epsilon-Adi Consortium, and discussed at public meetings. These had to be approved by Government and sent by MEPA to be approved by the EU Commission.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions these EU obligatory Management Plans for the EU Natura 2000 sites, but indicates that no reference was made to them despite that these are public. One can either conclude that these have not been sent to the EU, or else that they have not been approved by the EU Commisison. I just cannot image how such a development can be considered by MEPA, when it failed to consolidate and get EU approval for the management plans, now overdue as obliged by the EU Commission. But MEPA is MEPA – no real concern for biodiversity and no interest in EU environmental obligations despite being the official Competent Authority for environmental matters.

Q. What is the role of the NGOs in all of this, and do you think they are acting accordingly?

I believe that every NGO convinced and proud of its statuary aims for the protection of biodiversity, in whole or in part, have to make its stand publicly known on this unique important EU Natura 2000 site. To the time of writing, only Din l-Art Ħelwa has publicly declared its disagreement with this proposed development so damaging to this EU Natura 2000 site.

http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2016-02-29/local-news/Din-l-Art-Helwa-hits-out-at-Ta-Cenc-proposal-building-in-ODZ-land-unacceptable-6736154093

Sometimes environmental NGOs do surprise me by the stand they take or by their complete silence. The Malta Independent (25.02.16) carried a back page article with a declaration that “Proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits – BirdLife Malta”.

Having been the Hon. General Secretary of the MOS (now BirdLife Malta) from 1974 to 1986 when bird protection principles were established with great sacrifices by many, I find it very difficult to believe this. IF this is correct, this is a stab in the back to all those who have and are still contributing to biodiversity and bird protection in Malta, and an insult to all the personal sacrifices by  many who contributed or are contributing, in one way or other towards bird protection.

GuideOne has only to take in consideration the various official publication of BirdLife Malta on the area. Ta’ Ċenc is regarded as the stronghold of the breeding Short-toed Lark, and important for a number of potential breeding species referred to in the Appropriate Assessment 2015, all listed as vulnerable or endangered in the Malta Red Data Book.

An international seabird conference was hosted by BirdLife Malta on 22 November, 2015, and attended by an international delegation of marine scientists, government authorities, and the European Commission representatives, (incidentally, though not much publicised, held at the Hotel Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo). There it was agreed that “Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) represent the largest global network of important sites for biodiversity”.

The Maltese Environment EU Commissioner, Karmenu Vella who addressed the conference by video link is reported as having said that: “Natura 2000 sites (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) are the centrepiece of European nature legislation, helping in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss.

IBA booklet2In July 2004, Birdlife Malta produced a booklet, printed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): Important Bird Areas of EU Importance in Malta. This is compiled by John J Borg and Joe Sultana, (the former one of the authors of the Appropriate Assessment 2015). Under the Important Bird Area of Ta’ Ċenċ, the authors list the following as threats for this IBA, now an EU Natura 2000 site: “A tourist complex is situated about 100 m from the cliffs with plans of extension. Uncontrolled recreation, mainly trekking and rock climbing, unsustainable exploitation (e.g. illegal bird shooting and trapping).”

RDBTaking the above, besides many others, in consideration, I find it very very difficult to believe Birdlife Malta statement regarding the non negative impact of development at Ta’ Ċenċ. Of course, one expects an official declaration by Birdlife Malta if this is not correct and is contrary to what Birdlife Malta have been working for, through popular and scientific literature, and publicly campaigning for bird protection since the birth of the society’s in 1962 when it was the Malta Ornithological Society –  MOS.

If such an official declaration is not forthcoming, then I have to regrettably believe it. However, I would then also expect a clarification by Birdlife International for this change of position regarding bird protection in Malta from their local partner, whom they support morally and financially.

I have to strongly disassociate myself from this declaration from Birdlife Malta that the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits, as reported in your paper, and hope that this is a very grave lapsus.

Do you think it is possible to have any sort of compromise with the developers where they can go ahead with development while safeguarding the natural surroundings?

Compromise is not a word in my vocabulary, especially when it comes to eliminating ecosystems, the more so when there are international obligations with regards to the protection of biodiversity of an EU Natura 2000 site. As stated in the Appropriate Assessment 2015 with regards to the obliteration of habitats: “No mitigation measures can be proposed for the actual area obliterated, since this impact is irreversible.”

Where biodiversity is concerned, there can be no compromises: in an EU Natura 2000 site, impacts are either wrong or not wrong. Compromises are reached only by those who have a pro-business vision willing and ready to accept the elimination of a living ecosystems, which after all also sustain us all. And such a compromise is reached only for commercial personal gain, naturally at the expense of society and the living environment.

scientific names

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 

 


From nature study to biodiversity

July 9, 2013

times

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From nature study to biodiversity

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

When we were young, we used to be taught nature study: by collecting tadpoles in jam jars and pinning butterflies on pieces of cork. Eventually, this changed to a wider vision of environmental studies. Following accession to international conventions and the European Union, a more sophisticated word is used: biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the amalgamation of the words biology and diversity. It means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part.

All living organisms (biotic) need adequate physical environment (abiotic) such as land, air, light and water to live and procreate. Biotic and abiotic form a delicate dynamic balance sustaining all life: the complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. Such diversity within and between species and ecosystems essentially is a synonym of ‘life on earth’.

biodiversity

Graphic image of biodiversity

Another principle related to biodiversity is its sustainable use: the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and the aspirations of present and future generations. It has ecological, economic and social dimensions.

The reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands are referred to as the ‘three pillars’ – if ‘pillars’ are anything to go by locally.

Human_Sustainability_Confluence_Diagram

The three pillars of sustainability

Such a concept of life on earth is not always accepted by some sections of the self-proclaimed most intelligent species on earth, – homo sapiens, maintaining that such an intelligent species cannot be subject to such a natural system. Such ‘sceptics’ are mostly found among commercial, political and even religious entities.

Senior citizens remember days when we used to drink out of any streamlet or cistern without any fear or health worries. There was no acute asthma or coughing problems that have become so common and are normal background sounds to any public gathering.

Summer was warm months; winter was cold months and there was never any thought of sudden climate change and its impact on living organisms.

Occasionally, I try to image the modern way of life in the biblical Garden of Eden. Not only would the self-declared most intelligent species swoop on the forbidden fruit, some with the sole intent of genetically modifying it to make it better and feed the people, but the slightest vision of a Eurodollar-clad serpent would create a stampede to approach and eventually take possession of the fruit, uproot the tree and replace it by an investment yielding  maximum financial profits.

The early 1970s saw a crescendo of local waves of publicwide communication, education and public awareness on specific species, initially birds and later trees. Such was the impact that it led some politicians, past and present, to conclude that there were those who thought the environment was just development, birds or trees. I have heard this more than once from different coloured quarters.

A couple of days ago,a group of ecoskola students were convened in Parliament, where they also addressed members of the House of Representatives. Their message relating to ‘caring for our future’ focused mainly on fostering further awareness on the importance of environmentally sustainable policy.

Some politicians, the world over, have managed to coin their own ‘political’ definition of technical words, not necessary in the context or in line with scientific jargon. The latest political definition of sustainability is sometimes development has the upper hand, while sometimes the environment does. If this definition was applied to a football league, it would perhaps be close to acceptance. But applying this to sustainable use of biodiversity qualifies it for the best political joke of the year. It simply means sustainable use of biodiversity is far from being understood and biodiversity is on the development chopping board.

Malta is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and also forms part of the European Union. Ignoring and failing to understand and implement such concepts of biodiversity can never place any country high up in EU rankings: it can only place it on top of the infraction list.

During the past decade, biodiversity has been the Cinderella of government, misunderstood and mismanaged even by the competent authority established for its very protection: Mepa.

A brief, backward look at Buskett, Dwejra and RamlaBay in ecoGozo, and Għajn Tuffieħa, all EU Natura 2000 sites, shows the disinterest and laissez-faire towards biodiversity.

Such lack of interest, the newly coined political definitions, the splash of fireworks to make us different, extinguish any hopeful light at the end of the tunnel for the better management, protection, enforcement and appreciation of Maltese biodiversity.

The national and international obligations for the protection of biodiversity go much further than just protecting birds or trees from development.

But if schoolchildren can understand and embrace the real meaning of biodiversity, why can’t politicians? After all politicians are intelligent and honourable men, unless they themselves disagree with such public perception.


The future

June 10, 2013

The future: our future; What future?

What are we doing to our planet earth?
Are you proud of it?
Is this what you are contributing to?
Are you planning such a future for mother earth?
NO?
What are you doing about it?
This short film should be seen by the entire world…

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


The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – book review

December 11, 2011

 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Natural History of the Maltese Islands

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Bonett, G. (2011) The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – as seen through a photographer’s lens. 384 pp. Malta, BDL Ltd.

 

 

 

When we were young we used to pursue everything that moved, whether it was a reptile, a butterfly, a bird, a frog or tadpole, a beetle, sometimes even a flower or wild plant. This was perhaps the result of the educational system of our times, when we, as young children, were encouraged to collect such species during our weekend holidays and to bring them to the nature-table in class. I can remember tadpoles in glass jars, looking at their adult stages in adjacent glass jars, a stage they never reached. I can also remember pinned butterflies uselessly giving their last desperate wing beats, before giving up the ghost. Times have changed and such a change has also brought with it a change of mentality.

I remember Guido Bonett in his younger days, following with caution such wildlife with photographic equipment and binoculars. Guido was quick to keep pace with the latest technological changes which provide sophisticated equipment to better enable him to follow such wildlife. Change has enabled Guido to capture, not the living specimen, but photos, even of delicate and split-second moments in the life of species, moments which can only be captured, recorded, and filed through photographic equipment. Guido shot, and shot to his heart’s delight, with professionalism, ethics, and with satisfaction that, in his pursue, not a single specimen was endangered, injured, maimed or disturbed. The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – as seen through a photographer’s lens is an introduction to nature photography in the Maltese Islands. Guido reveals the wonder of nature in the Maltese Islands: whether it is a spider capturing a fly, a bird bringing food to its nestlings, a chameleon hunting insects, two fighting snakes, a hovering dragonfly, mating insects, intricate petals of flowers, close up of a number of flora and fauna showing details which are not easily observed and appreciated with the naked eye, or just a living species in a moment of its daily life. Guido’s book about the wonders and richness of the biodiversity of the Maltese Islands encompasses 59 explanatory photos in the introductory parts, and then a collection of photos which includes flora (92) dragonflies (19) grasshoppers (17) mantids (8) true bugs (17) lacewings (5) butterflies and moths (68) flies (17) bees, wasps and ants (21) beetles (23) spiders and scorpions (22), amphibians and reptiles (44), birds (72) and other wildlife (19) photos.

One of the many photos from Guido's book: The expression of love by two Lesser emperor Dragonflies

This publication has a preface by Dr L.F. Cassar, and Dr E. Conrad, from the Institute of Earth Systems of the University of Malta, a foreword by Louis Agius, the President of the Malta Photographic Society, and an Appreciation by Nick Camilleri, Managing Director of Avantech Ltd one of the main sponsors, followed by Guido’s appreciation note. All the species mentioned in the book are listed in an alphabetical English and Scientific index, and a list of further reading is also included.

As the author emphasises in the introductory part of the book: “The man in the street and even other photographers will be overlooking, stepping on and trampling without a second thought” on this rich natural heritage, while “The nature photographer sees beauty in subjects which others might find revolting, and this is one of the factors that make macrophotogrphy so fascinating.” But even in his pursuits of photographic natural living subjects, the author emphises the ethics to “take photos not lives, and leave nothing behind but footprints.”

Many may know Guido as a naturalist and a conservationist at heart. Guido has built on this reputation: he is today one of the leading professional nature photographers, for which, in 2005, he has been awarded an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (ARPS), and in 2008 an Associateship of the Malta Photographic Society (AMPS). His knowledge and experience in the field, where, as a youngster he studied and met a number of species face to face, has enabled him to utilise this vast experience to produce professional natural history photographs, not just from a photographic point of view, but most important from a scientific aspect. His latest work, full of passion, besides the high photographic level, without any doubt contributes to the scientific, educational, and appreciation of the rich biodiversity of the Maltese Islands.

In the preamble of the book, Guido briefly explains the habitats of the Maltese Islands, where many of his subjects can be found. He gives advice on how to take better nature photographs, explains the photographic equipment necessary for such work, such as camera body, lenses, macro lenses, telephoto lenses, flash units, tripods, and monopods, tripod heads, cables releases and camera bags. Explanations are also included on how and when, or when not, to use a macro and/or a telephoto. Besides in the main part of the book, which is a collection of his nature photographs, he also gives the English and Scientific names of the subject, the status and some information on the species, indicating also whether it is an invasive species or indigenous one. Included under each photo, is a tip re its taking, a code number, information on shutter speed, aperture value, ISO value, focal length, and shooting mode used, such as aperture priority mode, shutter speed priority mode or manual mode used.

The great effort, dedication and sacrifice which went into the production of this book, both by Guido, the publisher, the sponsors, and the printer have all contributed to such a professional publication on the natural history of theMalteseIslands. This publication can definitely help to create a better positive appreciation of our unique natural heritage. It can help to further create and strengthen the national pride of our borrowed natural treasures. It can contribute to the better relationship between man and the ecosystem on which we are so much dependent. This book can also be useful to those who know all the species referred to in Guido’s book, because it shows the minute details which cannot be seen by the naked eye. Naturally, it is also a must for all those who are aware of the beauty and importance of biodiversity, because they can also get familiar with a number of species which can be appreciated with the naked eye and which most of the time, many go past without even realising it. One has to know what to expect to see before being able to look for it.

This book is a treasure in the hands of every citizen who loves theMalteseIslands. It shows the delicate, fragile, daily natural miracles of which we all form part, all of which have been lent to us by future generations. If only the educational entities of these islands understand the potential of this book, and direct that it is made use of, even by being used during the various prize giving ceremonies in schools, it will be a great service in the education of the young generation with regards to the better understanding and appreciation of our natural heritage.