Propagating Maltese trees

September 19, 2017

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Are you interested in trees? Do you love trees? Do you want to know more on the Maltese indigenous trees which have been adorning our Country before man set foot on these islands? Do you want to start propagating these trees yourself and contribute to their conservation? Do you want to give a helping hand towards their protection?

If yes, then this is an opportunity not to be missed. Your benefit will also be the trees benefit.

See you there.

 

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EU funds endanger Buskett N2K site

May 13, 2017

Saturday, 13th May, 2017

Endangering Buskett 
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Buskett is a Tree Protection Area, with some trees protected for their antiquity, a scheduled woodland, an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, a Site of European Importance, a Special Area of Conservation, a Bird Protection Area, and above all an EU Natura 2000 site.

The remains of an Ash Tree, after being handled by a Landscaper, in the Natura 2000 Buskett.

Yet, to date Buskett has never been professionally managed, especially on the lines of EU obligations. Never. There is absolutely no will, no vision, and no professional commitment. To the extent that a past environment minister was made to believe that Buskett is a garden. There were plans to transform this important ecological habitat into a ‘quality garden’ on the lines eventually implemented at the Mdina Ditch.

One would have thought that this was just a political flash in the pan by a gullible politician who was taken in by those with commercial interests. But to this day, professional environmental responsibilities still have not reached the level of Cabinet’s political acumen.

The only type of management approved by the Authority for the Protection of the Environment is the chopping down of protected trees, such as this one in Buskett – A Natura 2000 site.

As an EU member, Malta had to have management plans implemented for all Natura 2000 sites by six years after accession. This deadline was not met.

Following public consultations, later approved by the government, and boasted about by the incumbent Minister for the Environment, management plans are not yet implemented, and it seems they will never be.

A recent visit to Buskett revealed the complete political failure, lack of professionalism and irresponsibility with regards to the management of this important EU Natura 2000 site.

Clearance of important natural habitat in a Natura 2000 site to restore of a rubble wall.

An extensive area of maquis was recklessly bulldozed and obliterated to enable the restoration of a rubble wall. While the restoration of rubble walls is necessary, and those in hand are being professionally built, this can never justify the massacre of flora and fauna: habitat and species of European importance.

The rich maquis habitat as it was before it was bulldozed with the blessing of the Ministry for the Environment.

I wandered around Buskett and I could see piles of earth and stones dumped on sensitive habitats: habitats important for rare and endangered species, all listed in the data sheets sent to the EU to justify the importance of such a Special Area of Conservation of European Interest.

A butchered Ash Tree where, a couple of weeks before, I was photographing its new seeds.

Piles of stones and earth dumped on sensitive habitat in this EU Natura 2000 site.

It is heartbreaking to see two protected and rare hawthorn trees that were chopped from ground level to make way for machinery, earth and stone dumping. A rare protected ash tree was heavily butchered.

Unfortunately European Union funds are being mismanaged, endangering an important sensitive habitat which according to EU legislation, the Minister for the Environment is obliged to protect on behalf of Malta and the EU.

According to the EU Habitats Directive (article 6.3), an appropriate assessment has to be drawn up for any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site, but which is likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Such an appropriate assessment is needed to highlight the implications for the site in view of its conservation objective.

The national competent authority for the EU Habitats Directive (the Environment and Resource Authority – ERA) shall eventually endorse the plan or project only after having ascertained that the conclusions of such assessment regarding the implications for the SAC will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC concerned. ERA is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the general public.

Two mature protected hawthorn trees in this Natura 2000 site, 2.5 metres high, were raised to the ground seemingly by the approval of the Ministry for the Environment and ERA 

Can the minister publish the appropriate assessment made (naturally if it has been done), which enabled the ERA board to approve such works in this important Natura 2000 site?

If not available, then ERA approved such works blindfolded, which is very irresponsible, or else the ministry is in complete darkness of its responsibility, and its personnel is on a wild unmonitored spree to obliterate a delicate natural habitat just to restore a rubble wall. Ironically, posters at Buskett advertise these works as an EU-funded Life Saving Project.

It seems that following the acquiring of EU funds, the most important thing is to nail a poster acknowledging EU. How these funds are spent, and whether they are in line with the obligations of the EU Environment Acquis, is not important, not even to the Ministry.

Considering the fact that the minister’s Environment and Resource Authority board is made up of the cream of the crop of Maltese academics, such officially approved ecological damage with EU funds is worse than one can image, both from a professional, an administrative and a political point of view.

60 mature olive trees were chopped down by the approval and financing of the University of Malta, following populist demands. So if it can be done on the University campus, why not on public land?

It reminds me of the massacre of 60 established olive trees on the university campus, where no one batted an eye. We now have to suffer this ecological destruction in a Special Area of Conservation of national and European importance. Seems that academic qualifications today at best are of secondary importance when one sits on a political board.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications, approved not only by politicians but also by the top academic institution of this unfortunate country that seems to sit and tacitly approve?

This is a glaring declaration of total failure of the ministry’s obligations with regards to the protection of the environment. It seems that the latest environment ministers, one from either side of the local political hegemony, are competing among themselves as to who is the most committed to the destruction of biodiversity.

It would do no harm to remind, once again, the environmental promise contained in the 2013 electoral manifesto:

“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.”

A visit to Buskett where this EU Natura 2000 site is being endangered by EU funds, shows not only how an environmental regulator did never exist in the past, but also how the present one is working diametrically opposite to what has been promised and contrary to national and international obligations. Not only is it not functioning, but it is officially involved in such ecological damage.

Have we reached a stage where the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem has achieved virtual academic qualifications?

The minister has gone on record as saying that he has a “sound environmental policy”. Buskett Natura 2000 site, shows the lack of a will to protect biodiversity, as promised, all the result of such a “sound environmental policy”.

 

The result of the ‘sound environmental policy’ with which some are very proud.  Seeing all the above official ecological damage, this is the best diplomacy I could manage. And I am sure there are many others who feel the way I do.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former 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/

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/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/a-cash-cow-in-the-ditch/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/the-garden-at-mdina-ditch-officially-inaugurated/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/qerda-tal-biodiversita-fil-foss-tal-imdina-biex-isir-gnien-ta-kwalita/


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/


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/

 

 

 


L-GĦARGĦAR: is-sigra nazzjonali

November 16, 2015

book-cover-2

2015

L-GĦARGĦAR: is-sigra nazzjonali

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Is-siġra tal-għargħar darba kienet komuni ħafna fil-gżejjer Maltin. Din kienet tiksi wesgħat kbar f’Birkirkara u fl-inħawi ta’ madwarha. Hemm inħawi li huma maħsuba li kienu msemmijin għal din is-siġra, bħal San Ġwann tal-Għargħar u Ħal-Għarghur. Iżda hawn minn jgħid li l-Għargħur, kif jixhdu mappi qodma, hu mnissel mill-isem Girgor. Mhux dokumentat li din is-siġra kienet tikber fis-selvaġġ la f’Għawdex u lanqas f’Kemmuna, għalkemm illum jinstabu xi siġar żgħar li ġew imħawwla mill-bniedem f’dawn iż-­żewġ gżejjer.

1 - Siġra tal-għargħar li tinstab San Anton

 Waħda miż-żewġ siġriet tal-għargħar li jikbru f’San Anton

L-għargħar hija siġra mill-­familja taċ-ċipress. Din ma tinstabx biss fil-gżejjer Maltin, għax fl­-Ewropa tikber f’roqgħa żgħira fix­-xlokk ta’ Spanja viċin Kartagena, fir-­reġjun ta’ Mursja. Hemm indikazzjonijiet li fl-imgħoddi din is-sigra kienet aktar komuni fl-Ewropa u nqerdet għalkollox ħlief f’dik ir­-roqgħa fi Spanja u fil-gżejjer Maltin. Dan jirriżulta minn numru ta’ fossili ta’ din is-sigra li nstabu fi Franza.

Illum hija aktar komuni u mifruxa fil-Magreb, bħal fil-Marokk fuq il-kosta tal-Atlantiku, fl-Algerija u f’Tunes. Mhemmx provi li din is-sigra tikber fil-Libja għalkemm huwa rrappurtat li din tikber hemm ukoll.

Fil-gżejjer Maltin illum hija meqjusa bħala siġra rari ħafna u tikber fis-selvaġġ f’xi ħames postijiet, fosthom l-aktar magħrufa huma fil­-Maqluba, viċin il-Qrendi fejn hemm xi tliet siġriet, fl-inhawi tal­-Mellieħa, il-Mosta, u fl-Imġiebah viċin Selmun. F’uħud minn dawn l-inħawi tikber siġra waħda biss.

gharghar-3

Il-prinjoli tal-għargħar għadhom ma sarux.

Oħrajn kienu jikbru f’Wied Filep, li kien fergħa minn Wied il-Għasel. Dawn inqerdu minn barriera tal-­qawwi li ħadet il-blat kollu għaż-żrar. Hemm għargħar oħra li ġew imħawla mill-bniedem. Fost dawn insibu tnejn fil-ġonna ta’ San Anton u oħra fil-ġonna privati tal-President ta’ Malta.

Huwa maħsub li dawn tkabbru minn żerriegħa li ttieħdet mis-siġar tal­-Maqluba. Siġar oħra nsibuhom il-­Mall u l-Argotti fil-Furjana, tnejn fil­-ġnien San Filep, biswit l-Argotti, tnejn iżgħar oħra fil-Ġnien tal-Milorda Sa Maison, tlieta oħra fil-Buskett, daqs nofs tużżana oħra fil-ġonna tal-Università f’tal-Qroqq, u waħda l-Marsa.

Is-siġra tal-għargħar tħaddar is-sena kollha u tiflaħ għan-nixfa. Hija tikber fil-makkja tal-Mediterran, għalkemm ġieli tikber fi xquq fil-blat u f’wesgħat bi blat b’pendil. Din tilħaq għoli ta’ madwar 15-il metru, fuq zokk kanella ħamrani, u togħla għall-ponta għalkemm mifruxa fil-­baxx.

gharghar-4

Il-weraq tas-siġra tal-għargħar.

Meta jkunu għadhom qed jifformaw iz-zkuk ewlenin li fuqhom is-siġra tal-għargħar tkun mibnija, dawn ikunu mgħottija bil-weraq. Il-weraq ta’ din is-siġra huma rqaq bħal tal-koniferi l­-oħra, twal bejn  1 mm sa 8 mm u wesgħin minn madwar 1 mm sa 1.5 mm. Huma għandhom leħħa fl-ikħal. L-aktar friegħi żgħar ikunu ċatti. Il-­weraq huma żgħar u ċatti u jikbru f’pari imsallbin fuq xulxin, aktar qrib xulxin lejn il-ponta tal-magħseb, qishom bukkett ta’ erba’ madwar il-­magħseb. Il­-friegħi ċatti u fini jkunu miksija b’dan il­-weraq li jkollhom qisa għatja ta’ qxur, l-­iżjed minn fejn jaqbdu mal­-magħseb.

gharghar-5

Il-prinjoli tas-siġra tal-għargħar miftuħa meta ż-żerriegħa tkun taret.

Għall-ħabta ta’ Novembru u Diċembru, xi minn daqqiet ukoll qabel, jibda jidher il-weraq speċjalizzat. Dan ikun weraq raġel jew weraq mara, iżda t-tnejn li huma jikbru fuq l-istess siġra. Ġo dan il-weraq speċjalizzat raġel ikun hemm l-għabra tad-dakra. Dawn ifarfru din l-għabra tad-dakkra għall-habta ta’ Settembru sa Diċembru, u b’hekk idakkru l-weraq speċjalizzati nisa li jifformaw il-frott li jissejjah prinjol. Kull frotta tas-siġra tal-għargħar tkun għaliha, waħda fit-tarf tal-ponot tal-friegħi. Din il-prinjol żgħir ikun tond u bejn 8 sa 12-il millimetru u jkun mibni minn erbat iqxur trijangulari tal-­injam. lż-żerriegħa li tkun ġo fih għandha par ġwienah wesgħin, qishom tal-karta, biex ikunu jistgħu jitferrxu bir-riħ bla tbatija.

Mis-siġra tal-għargħar toħroġ qisa gomma li bl-Ingliż tissejjah sandarac gum. Huwa għalhekk li wieħed mill-ismijiet tas-siġra bl’Ingliż huwa sandarac gum tree, għalkemm l-ismijiet l-aktar użati bl-­Ingliż huma arar tree jew alerce. Il­-kelma għargħar ġejja mill-­isem Għarbi tas-­siġra, araar.

Din il-gomma għandha numru ta’ użi fl-industrija. Jingħad ukoll li tintuża kontra t-taħsir tas-snin billi tingħorok fuqhom. Ġieli ntużat ukoll minflok il-balzmu tal-Kanada fil-tħejjija ta’ ħġieġ għall-mikroskopju.

L-injam tal­-għargħar bl-ingliż jissejjah citron wood u għalhekk xi mindaqqiet din is-siġra bl-Ingliż tissejjah ukoll citron wood tree. Il-kelma citron ġejja mit-Taljan citro jew aktarx cedro. Dan l-injam huwa mfittex ħafna għal xogħol fin fl-injam.

Ir-Rumani kienu jfittxu ħafna dan l-injam biex jużawh bħala materjal għall-bini.

Bħas-siġar koniferi oħra, l-għargħar tiflaħ ħafna għan-nixfa, kif ukoll kapaċi tikber qrib ix-xatt għax tiflaħ ukoll għal ammont ta’ melħ. Dan jagħmilha siġra adattata ħafna biex biha nħaddru wesgħat b’pendil fil-blat li għandna fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Minkejja li l-għargħar tinħaraq mill-ewwel, ma tinqeridx malajr għax wara l-ħruq dlonk terġa’ ttella’ friegħi oħra minn taħt l-art.

Fis-16 ta’ Jannar tal-1992 l­-għargħar ġiet iddikjarata s-siġra nazzjonali. Ġiet imħarsa bil-liġi b’Avviż Legali Numru 49 tal-1993. Hija wkoll meqjusa bħala siġra mhedda u b’firxa żgħira fil-gżejjer Maltin, imniżżla wkoll fil-ktieb l-aħmar tal-gżejjer Maltin (Red Data Book) bħala siġra mhedda u li għandha firxa żgħira fil-Mediterran.

L-għargħar hija waħda mis-siġar imniżżla fi skeda I tar-regolamenti tal-ħarsien tas-siġar u l-imsaġar li ġew ippubblikati f’Avviżi Legali 200 tal-24 ta’ Mejju, 2011.

Minħabba li s-­siġra tal­-għargħar mhix komuni, u hekk l-­ambjent naturali tagħha ma għandux stat ta’ ħarsien tajjeb, kif ukoll il-­firxa tagħha hija dejqa, dan it-­tip ta’ ambjent huwa meqjus bħala ambjent ta’ priorità mill­-Unjoni Ewropea. Dan wassal biex fejn hemm siġar tal­-għargħar jikbru fis-selvaġġ fil-­gżejjer Maltin, dawn ġew dikjarati bħala Żoni Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni.

Hija mnissla wkoll fil-lista tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa li jinkludu pjanti rari, mhedda, u endemiċi tal-Ewropa. Hija tidher ukoll bħala siġra mhedda, fil-lista ppublikata fl-1997 mill-Għaqda Internazzjonali tal-Ħarsien tan-Natura (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

L-għargħar hija siġra li tista’ ssebbah ’il-pajjiina, kemm bi msaġar li hija tista’ tinseġ, kif ukoll bil­-preżenza tagħha fl-irħula u l-ibliet tagħna. Hija siġra maħluqa għall-klima Mediterranja, kif ukoll għall-karatteristiċi tal-ambjent Malti.

Minn mindu ġiet magħrufa bħala s­-siġra nazzjonali, bdiet titħawwel f’numru ta’ postijiet oħra, l-­aktar fl­-iskejjel, u llum hija mferrxa mhux ħażin. Numru minn din is-siġra ġew imħawwla f’Wied Għollieqa. Wieħed jieħu gost jara li qed tintuża aktar u titħawwel aktar biex issebbaħ ’il-pajjiżna. Hija ħafna faċli li titnissel minn żerriegħa meħuda minn siġar Maltin kif jafu sewwa t-tfal tal-iskola, anki dawk primarji, li jkabbruha kull sena.

Tetraclinis-articulata---FD-152

Iż-żerriegħa tal-għargħar li tkun moħbija fil-prinjoli.

L-għargħar mhix siġra diffiċli biex titnissel, Iż-żerriegħa tinstab fil-prinjoli żgħar li għandhom jiġu miġbura matul Settembru sa kmieni f’Ottubru. Meta ż-­żerriegħa tinħareġ mill­-prinjol għandha titqiegħed fix-xemx għal xi ġimgħatejn. Iż-żerriegħa għandha tinżera f’Marzu f’ħamrija li tkun imqalba tajjeb biex fiha tiġbor l-arja. Iż-żerriegħa tħobb postijiet niexfa. Metodu li jgħin fit-tnissil tas-siġra tal-għargħar hija li l-borża li fiha tkun miżrugha titqiegħed kemmxejn fuq ġenbha biex b’hekk tgħin ħalli l-ilma joskula ’l barra.

Sfortunatament, dawk li jaraw biss qligħ kummerċjali, jimpurtaw din is-siġra minn barra minn Malta, kif wieħed jista’ jara’ fit-triq Diċembru 13. Minbarra li dawn is-siġar jistgħu jdaħħlu magħhom mard u speċi oħra barranin li jagħmlu ħsara lill-ambejnt Malti, kif fil-fatt ġara meta ġew importati xi siġar oħra, siġar tal-għarghar importati jniġġsu l-għaġna ġenetika tal-popolazzjoni tas-siġra tal-għargħar Maltija.

Hemm ħafna aktar bżonn ta’ tagħrif u edukazzjoni biex l-apprezzament tas-siġar jiżdied.

Isem Malti: Għargħar

Isem Ingliż: Sandarac Gum Tree

Isem xjentifiku: Tetraclinis articulata

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.


Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

One of the issues presently being discussed by political parties in the run up to the general election is the environment. The discussion centers round whether the environment should still form part of MEPA or be given more importance and autonomy than it has now (if it really has any).

The Nationalist Party, which in 2002 masterminded the merger (some still refer to it as a ‘hijack’) of the Environment with the Planning Authority, had also promised that the environment would be one of its main three pillars. In its latest electoral manifesto it is now promising a new Nature Agency to be responsible for the protection of biodiversity and the managing and conservation of protected areas, parks and natural reserves.

The Labour Party is promising that it will separate again the Environment Directorate from the Planning Directorate and include it with the Malta Resource Authority.

Alternative Democratic too is not happy with the present MEPA setup and is also suggesting that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should both be accountable to the Malta Resource Authority, with the Environment Directorate having a more leading role than the other one.

All three parties basically are in agreement that as far as the environment is concerned MEPA has not delivered following the merger of  Environment and Planning.

Having, in the past, worked both with the former Environment Department since its inception, under the responsibility of five different Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary (indeed those were the days), and later when Environment was ‘merged’ with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, I am more than convinced that such a ‘merger’ is more like a square peg in a round hole.

Given the Government’s ‘environmental pillar’ promise  and the justifications given for such a merger, one would have expected that the environment would be second to none and it would be an example on how to manage and administer the environment. But Environmental issues are today fragmented: biodiversity, water resources, climate change, air pollution, etc. Each political incumbent guards his little patch without any coordination, irrespective of national economical, social or ecological repercussions. On a  positive side a number of nicely coloured reports and guidelines have been published. On paper everything is nice and rosy. BUT some of these are simply being ignored by government itself. Tangible actions taken include: the endangering of Natura 2000 sites, such as Buskett, Dwejra, and Mistra; and Nadur Cemetery, to mention just a few. Refusal by the Environment arm of MEPA was recommended for such developments but all boasted or still boast a MEPA permit! Trees forming ecological niches have been, and still are,  uprooted to create “gardens”! The scarce resource of water, instead of being harvested as legally and conscientiously obliged, is being channeled to the sea,  while important  legal regulations for harvesting water have recently been revoked. There is not one single qualified environmentalist with voting powers on the MEPA 15-­member Board. The cherry on the cake was the disbanding of the National Commission for Sustainable Development. This is the vision and the attention the environment is being given today.

Most of what had been established and built over the years by the previous  Environment Department was literally dismantled when the environment became a directorate within MEPA.  I did point all this to the Prime Minister at one of the public discussions at Castile, but I was bluntly told that the merger of the Environment and Planning was a Cabinet decision.

Those environment entities and individuals who have or are involved in the communication, conservation and public awareness of the environment cannot be blamed for being disillusioned, angry, exploited, and emarginated, while being called names for their constructive  criticism and comments in the national interest. I cannot help feel that MEPA, despite national and interntional obligations,  is more a Maltese Exploiter of Public Assets: that is  the important national resources, whether biological (fauna and flora) or physical (land, water, air). It is high time that MEPA is professionally pruned down to size, though not as brutally as government prunes urban trees;  some of the middle management embraces some of the best qualified personnel on the island.  One of the necessary measures for the environment to flourish in the national interest is to graft the environment within the Malta Resource Authority.

Following the last election, MEPA has undergone the promised reform. In 2008  I did question whether such reform will  result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing! No, it did not change the colour of the sheep’s clothing, but it did change the sheep into a lamb, and tethered it in the lion’s den.

Sadly, today the environment is like a ship without a rudder, and without a captain, exposed to brutal elements and high seas, wandering where the wind blows…  and the wind is always blowing from the direction of the development- orientated Planning Directorate. Undoubtedly there is no place for the  in MEPA. It has made a mess of it.

All such thoughts were expressed in one of my articles in the Times dated 22 April 2008, which is attached below.

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured.

A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour.

Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a member state of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the competent authority for the EU
environmental acquis.

The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly competent authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the competent authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other
international infringements.

This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU. Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10): “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority
empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates”.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: the two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a competent authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two. If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer.

This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the competent authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay.
Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the competent authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s
international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep into its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral
pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards
and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”.
Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

B Agius (9 hours,  39 minutes ago)
It is not enough to have professional people as top brass in any Government institution if they can also perform functions outside the public service as consultants and/or in their own private practice.To the extent this is allowed to happen in Malta it will always contribute to a Public Service open to corruption or at least conflict of interest. Any Government job should be paid
highly enough for the Government to expect, by law, that those on its books don’t do anything else! This should also apply to all elected politicians.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080422/opinion/mepa-the-missing-link.205125