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!

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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

 


Environment Landscaping Conundrum

September 10, 2019

The environment landscaping problem

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

One of the environmental legacies from such ‘landscaping’ “secret contract” – the ubiquitous invasive fountain grass.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO) report of September 2017, “landscaping maintenance through a Public-Private Partnership” was a matter for which an agreement was entered into on October 31, 2002 between the government (Ministry of Finance) and the Environment Landscaping Consortium (ELC) “for managing government resources, which were made at its disposal to deliver the landscaping projects in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated in the agreement.”

This agreement “was not derived through competitive tendering procedures” but awarded “through direct negotiations with ELC following a call for an expression of interest.”

The government further opted to extend this contract twice, namely in 2007 and 2012 through two direct orders which “also deviate from the spirit of competition promoted by the Public Procurement Regulations where it is stipulated that material contacts are to be subject to a European Union wide call for tenders”.

According to the NAO, “the contractual rates negotiated are not favourable to the government” because of such procedures.

This contract expires at the end of 2019, having to date received from the government approximately €8 million per year (that is, €136 million in total).

The NAO report goes into detail about the contractual deficiencies of this agreement. Amongst these, the report outlined how the parties’ documents did not reconcile on various aspects of service delivery. It noted that the Project Management Committee was non-functioning and that there was non-receipt of a number of reports, particularly the quarterly management accounts, which “constitutes a contractual breach”.

The report noted the use of pesticides at Buskett Gardens’ orchards despite the restrictions within an EU Natura 2000 site, and also how documentation relating to a detailed survey of the sites could not be traced by the Planning Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority.

The NAO also outlined how work was carried out without any authorisation and that work on four projects, which had to be completed by 2017 and which were to be carried out by the contractor at no additional cost to the government, had not yet commenced.

There was mention of how the government had not kept abreast on the status of the contractual clause needing to be fulfilled whereby the government had agreed to finance an in-house training course for students following horticulture studies at MCAST. There was also mention of the government’s lack of knowledge of the contractor’s financial input, which was not conducive to a balanced partnership.

The report noted how the contract rates higher than other landscaping agreements signed by governmental entities and that the operational and financial information gaps were not appropriately safeguarding the government’s position as a partner within this agreement. It went on to note: “The contractor’s non-compliance remains evident on a number of issues.

In some cases, deviations from contractual clauses that date back to 2002 impact negatively on the government’s direct and broader interests.”

Bad planning, wrong use and waste of scarce water resources.                    Photo A E Baldacchino 2011.07.01.

The NAO report refers only to the financial and commercial aspects of this PPP contract. The national and EU obligations with regards to biodiversity are not entered into.

A copy of this public agreement was requested on June 23, 2015. This request was vehemently refused by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, as was the subsequent appeal dated August 13, 2015.A request was filed with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner on August 19, 2015. The Commissioner’s decision of January 19, 2016 considered “that the public interest is better served by providing the applicant with a copy of the requested document” and “that there are no impediments to release a copy of the agreement.”

 

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum

 

The Commissioner’s decision went on to say that, hence, “in the spirit of transparency and accountability as contemplated by the Act, the MTI [Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure] is instructed to accede to Mr Baldacchino’s request by not later than twenty-five (25) working days from the receipt of this decision”.

Following this ruling, an appeal was lodged by the said Ministry to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (14.09.2107) waived the appeal made by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, confirming the Commissioner of Information and Data Protection ruling (19.01.2016), and ordered that a copy of the agreement signed between the government and ELC on October 31, 2002 should be given to the applicant.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal in its ruling (27/2016) concluded, amongst other things, that “in the said agreement, there is no information of a commercial nature that cannot be made public and that in terms of article 35(2) of the said Act, it is in the public interest that such an agreement be made public.”

The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure was unhappy with this ruling. An email from the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government in October 2017 subsequently explained: “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed the Tribunal’s decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court”, arguing that the decision of the Commissioner for the Protection of Data should be declared “null and void”.

maintenance of public gardens –  pruning agony.

Judgement had to be reached by December 2017, but the sitting has been postponed and postponed again. The decision is still pending.

Considering the Freedom of Information Act (Chap. 496 of the Laws of Malta) and considering that, as a member of the European Union and also a signatory to the Aarhus Convention (Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), one would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But after four years from the initial request for a copy of this agreement, such a contract is still not publicly available.

One would have thought that the ELC – the government’s private partner – would be proud to inform everyone how they utilised the €136 million from public funds in relation to their contractual obligations.

The NAO’s report (page 55) concludes: “Contractual non-compliance prevailed in the face of government’s limited enforcement action. In such circumstances, the government’s position shifted from one where action could be initiated to dissolve this PPP Agreement, to one where prolonged weak enforcement implied tacit consent”.

 

The Fountain grass will long be remembered after the demise of the ELC.  It will be up top the social, financial and ecological expenses to control and manage such an EU listed invasive species used in local ‘landscaping’.

The Ministry for Finance has opted for the second position and continued to vote €8 million per annum. What will be the stand taken by the Ministry of Finance vis-à-vis the coming budget with regards to this ‘secret agreement’? Hopefully the Ministry for the Environment, who is now responsible for this ‘secret contract’, will put its foot down.

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

Related articles

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

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

 


Where have all the butterflies gone?

July 21, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Landscaping works contributing to further biodiversity loss

Jessica Arena

 

A few decades ago, butterflies of every shape and colour would take off in swarms as you walked under carob trees. Nowadays, the decline of butterflies is occurring at such a high rate that when naturalists spot a particularly uncommon species, they do not disclose its location; to protect the insects from harm.

While migratory butterflies can still be spotted with some frequency, local butterflies have all but disappeared from view. Landscaping works being carried out without consideration for local fauna and flora are having a devastating effect of the state of Maltese biodiversity, according to experts.

Jake Farrugia, an earth systems student and amateur lepidopterist, recounts how just earlier this month, while collecting fennel for his own larvae, he spotted a large number of swallowtail butterfly larvae nestled in the fennel bushes. Returning to the site a few days later, Mr Farrugia says that during landscaping works in Triq il-Buskett, Rabat, the native fennel bushes on the side of the road were all removed, taking the butterfly larvae with them.

“Plants growing under country walls and other walls are essential in providing micro habitats for all sorts of flora and fauna,” Mr Farrugia says.

“A butterfly looking to deposit eggs, such as the swallowtail, would have gladly chosen this spot since it is sheltered from the sun and wind as well as potential predators.”

The removal of fennel bushes and other local flora constitutes as habitat loss… We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Mr Farrugia says, adding that the desire to ’embellish’ public spaces is not allowing nature to adapt .

Alfred Baldacchino, an environmentalist and former assistant director at the Mepa Environmental Directorate, describes the conservation of biodiversity as pitiful.                   ,

“Despite the fact that the Environment and Resources Authority is responsible for biodiversity protection and conservation through the enforcement of EU legislation, they  are incompetent, ignorant of the situation and failing to take any proactive measures,” Mr Baldacchino says.

Biodiversity loss can be attributed to an intersecting number of external situations, the most pressing of which, according to Mr Baldacchino, is climate change. Rapid changes in temperature, the use of fossil fuels and pesticides are compounded upon flora and fauna, giving the environment very little time to adjust.

“ERA is incompetent and ignorant of the situation”

“This year alone we have seen temperatures in France soar to 45’C, several fires in Europe, the destruction of Miżieb,” says Mr Baldacchino.

“There is a complete lack of interest, lack of tangible effort, lack of any help at all from the Ministry responsible for climate change and the environment.”

According to Mr Baldacchino, the ERA and Ambjent Malta are not doing enough to mitigate  the   effects  of   climate change and prevent further biodiversity loss through adequate conservation plans.

“Mizieb is a case in point,” he says,”first there’s a disaster and afterwards we run a study about how it could have been prevented.”

When it comes to landscaping, Mr Baldacchino says the authorities and entities concerned demonstrate a pattern of disinterest and wilful ignorance with respect the havoc being wreaked on native flora.

“The Environmental Landscapes Consortium is the worst enemy of biodiversity,” Mr Baldacchino says. “Their only interest is.monetary profit. Despite the fact that they have been paid €8 million a year for the past 15 years from public funds, all they have to show for it is the destruction of biodiversity, use of chemicals and water-thirsty turfs which compete with local flora.”

There is a public perception of biodiversity that regards the majority of wayside flora as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (weeds) and that its removal causes only superficial damage. This position is something Mr Baldacchino calls “professional ignorance” as even school children are taught that flora is an integral part of the ecosystem.

Wayside flora are unique ecological niches and  often serve as breeding grounds for insects and other fauna, as well as being highly attractive to pollinators, such as bees and even butterflies.

The careless removal of these niches could spell doom not just for our butterflies but for the long term health of the environment itself, Mr Baldacchino stresses.

“When ELC act like they derive pleasure from removing every blade of grass that grows, we only have a recipe for disaster.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


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.

 


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


Once there were green leaves

July 31, 2012

maltastar

Tuesday, 31st July 2012

Once there were green leaves

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It is indeed of great satisfaction to see such a strong public awareness towards the appreciation of nature, also expressed towards the need for more protection and appreciation of trees. Such tree-appreciation includes the trees’ aesthetic, social, ecological, educational and intrinsic values. Unfortunately and regrettably, the greatest hurdle towards the achievement of such noble aims is the present policy being implemented by government.

With regret one sees and reads of hundreds of established trees being heavily pruned and deprived of any form of a tree and its majesty. The pruning and uprooting of trees, irrespective of the appropriate season, is being undertaken for a number of childish, amateurish reasons, such as that they are harmful to buildings, they attract birds which poo on the benches beneath, they are obscuring the view from people’s houses, they are dropping their leaves in front of people’s doors, and they are a pest. In most cases these are replaced with new exotic imported trees.  One must however, admit that there are instances where some trees need to be transplanted because of justifiable reasons, though not including any of the above.

Nobody responsible for landscaping in the islands, whether political or private, seems to officially appreciate the fact that trees contribute to control carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. They are also barriers to noise, and to the many obnoxious fumes and emissions with which our life is daily and increasingly exposed to. But a Lilliputian mentality unfortunately prevails, dominated by commercial gains. And what is more alarming and worrying, is that the destructive mentality is officially endorsed and publicly financed, sometimes even by European funds.

One of the projects which today tops the list of this poor, destructive mentality is the works going on at the Mdina ditch. It only tops the list because a similar project, about six years ago which was initiated at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, was stopped in time by MEPA and Buskett was saved by the skin of its teeth, though some wounds still show.

Those who hail from Rabat and Mdina, and those who frequent this historical area have over the years benefited from the past professional landscapers with real love and understanding of the natural environment. Howard Gardens is a perfect example of a garden with short winding paths among the surrounding greenery, and also open spaces. The ditch was later planted with around 400 citrus trees, about a dozen Cyprus trees, adding to a dozen of old olive trees, and a majestic old Holm Oak. The latter guarded the left hand side entrance to Mdina, while and old Olive Tree stood on the right

Following such a government approved project paid by public and European funds, more than half the citrus trees, were uprooted when in bloom, and carted away. Only two Cyprus trees and two olive trees are now left. Even the old majestic Olive tree guarding Mdina Gate, was first fiercely pruned, and then uprooted and also carted away.  Such pruning and uprooting needed the endorsement of MEPA considering the age of the Olive tree. I very much doubt if MEPA has given its green light to uproot this protected tree. Yet the Lilliputian mentality backed by official authority had the last say.

(left) the remains of the once majestic, protected, old Olive Tree, waiting to be uprooted and carted away. (right) the moribund citrus tree, uprooted from a few meters away, which replaced the majestic protected old Olive Tree.

Initially it was said that the place was going to be transformed into a garden. The general public asked how one can plan to make a garden and in the process uproot scores of trees. Now it is being said that the place is going to be transformed into an open space for the family, as an advertisement board at the entrance of HowardGardens depicts. Most of the ditch area has already been covered in concrete, more concrete than tree-cover. And more and more areas, some previously covered with trees, will be used. Some of the citrus trees, all in bloom, were uprooted to be planted again a couple of metres away, in a regimental line-up.  It was also officially said that most of the area would be planted with turf, and there would also be water fountains! Considering the local climate, the eventual rise in temperature because of climate change, the heavy demand expected for water both by the general public and also by agriculture, one indeed shudders to think how government failed to foresee this and how such maintenance would negatively impact the island, both from a social, economical and ecological point of view.

One of the destructive actions which hurt me beyond any healing was the scraping and removing of Ivy (Liedna – an indigenous, Maltese wild species). This covered a substantial part of the boundary concrete wall along Howard Gardens, and the garden wall opposite the bastions. It was such a site to see, aesthetically pleasing, an adequate habitat for local rare fauna, especially some rare indigenous moths. Hailing from Rabat, I have seen this beautiful, majestic free nature’s gift, grow over the last 15 years or so. And yet, in about 15 hours or so it was gone, completely gone. The regulator (Government) and the operator (ELC) in their wisdom, which is neither accepted nor understood at all by nature lovers and biodiversity conservationists, decided to eliminate it completely. It would without any doubt have been an added asset to any project in the ditch, both if the area beneath is going to be turned into a garden, or if the area is going to become an open space for the family. What a pity, what a shame, what lack of ecological appreciation and awareness. It reminds me of 1970 when the ivy at Buskett was similarly and systematically removed and eliminated. The same mind is behind both destructions. No wonder that people have started to believe that government hates trees.

The indigenous Ivy adorning the boundary wall overlooking the Mdina ditch

Howard Gardens boundary wall cleared from Ivy

The accompanying photos shows nature’s gifts with all their beauty, which the private landscapers, paid by government were authorised to destroy. It also shows the greedy hands and the lack of biodiversity

The Mdina Ditch covered in rich greenery offering a natural habitat to both flora and fauna

Ivy and the natural habitat completely destroyed

appreciation.  The questions being asked are: When is the natural ecological beauty of these islands going to be positively appreciated? When shall environmental projects also take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect, and not be assessed just from the commercial point of view? When shall the people be heard and be able to contribute to the positive national development of our country?  When is government going to show real appreciation of trees. When shall we grow up? Unfortunately the destructive public-financed works at Mdina Ditch, besides others, show that despite EU membership, EU obligations and EU financial help, we still have a long, long way to go.

see also 

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

Alfred E. Baldacchino has a M.Sc. in Environmental Planning and Management


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

(If you cannot open link

highlight link, then right click, and then click on go to

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copy link and paste on google)


MASSACRE OF MDINA DITCH TREES – IS THE EU REALLY INVOLVED?

April 30, 2012

29th April, 2012

MASSACRE OF MDINA TREES –

IS THE EU REALLY INVOVLED?

Alfred E. Baldacchino 

A very interesting debate has developed on the site Save the Trees which can be accessed on: http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/267876579975675/?notif_t=group_activity

An outstanding feature on the above blog is that 99% of the bloggers who love trees and biodiversity are criticising the official persecution and  massacre of trees in the Maltese Islands.  But those who express such concern are taken to task by one particular blogger who clams that he works at ELC.

2012.04.26 - Up till a few days ago, these orange trees where in full bloom

Sometimes I can hardly believe what I read on this blog in defence of the mutilation of trees and biodiversity by ELC. It is to the tune of the official Government  policy on projects relating to biodiversity, despite the electoral promise of an environmental column. Such a blogger says they he is  writing in his own personal capacity, a right which he has and which he can exercise to create such a discussion. Yet details are given which the public is not aware of. This makes one think that ELC is finding it very convenient to let their alleged workers speak for them, and these cannot do otherwise but  laud all ELC’s works of wonder.  They would certainly be shown the back door if they were to write something which the ELC, or their Ministry, does not approve of. They would be charged with conflict of interest  if   they  criticise, even constructively,  the works of their Ministry. And they will surely get the axe if they make a faux pas, even if what they say  might have been suggested to them.

In criticising Ministerial projects, although the EU obliges public consultations on public projects, blogers are called names, accused of not knowing anything about trees and their ‘pruning’ and also accused of belittiling the ELC workers. This still happens, despite the fact that time and time again, all blogers have made it clear  that workers have to do what they are ordered to do and cannot be held accountable for executing the decisions taken by their employers or their Minister.  But this calling of names is something which is now very synonymous  with such quarters.

2012.04.26 - orange trees in full bloom awaiting the chainsaw and the bulldozer!

The ELC is responsible to the Minister of Resource, whom it shields.  The mania about creating gardens in such fashion, is something well known within this Ministry. A few years ago there was an attempt to transform Buskett into a garden!!

A wild Laurel tree at Buskett - an EU Natura 2000 site - mutilated by ELC with Ministerial approval, in the attempt to transform Buskett into a garden, before MEPA intervened and stopped the works.

Everyone knows of the massacre executed at Buskett by ELC with the blessing of their Minister. Now we have the transformation of the Mdina Ditch into a garden, with TURF and fountains as the Save the Tree site  have been informed by  an ELC alleged spokesman.

Uprooting trees to create  a garden….. very hard to believe. Substituting them with  TURF which takes gallons and gallons of water, such a rare resource in the Maltese Islands, especially in the hot summer months.  The paving of straight-line paths furthermore contributed  to the uprooting of  even more trees. This Ministry seems to have a mania with expanses of turf and dancing-water and fountains, like the dancing-water at St. George’s Square in Valletta. And believe it or not, all this  has been approved by a Ministry responsible for the local scarce resource of WATER, and also for Climate change!!  Unbelievable! I am sure that a  spokesman for this Ministry will come up with some crude explanation and possibly with  more calling of names. But one has to accept that some Ministries  are very good at this type of dialogue! It is their forte.

2012.04.06 - The beauty of the Mdina Ditch - a biodiversity haven. Is this going to be cleared away to make room for a garden? And is this going to be undertaken by EU funds as an insider from ELC has indicated?

The reference to EU funds by the ELC alleged-worker in the Save the Trees blog is interesting because it is coming from this semi-official  bloger in favour of this project leading the public to understand that this project is funded by the EU, saying that 85% of the total cost of the €6.2m project is being funded by the EU! This creates and incongruency with the press release issued by the Minister which  said that it was being done by the Minster’s (public) funds “The works are being carried out by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.” No mention of EU funds; and “The project, costing  €1,200,000, is due to be completed by the end of this year.”  See the attached link for the official press release: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120406/local/works-start-on-recreation-area-in-mdina-ditch.414277

When I visited the site, I failed to notice any reference to any EU involvement on the site. Now if there are any funds from the EU, one of the obligations is that the EU logo has to appear on all the publicity for the project. There are now two version with reference to the financial input to this project: the Ministerial publicity which refrains from mentioning any EU involvement; and EU funding according to a bloger with ELC connections.  Which is the correct version?  I am sure that the EU would be very interested in knowing  how its funds, if it has funded this project, are being ‘used’ and ‘managed’, what the public opinion vis-a-vis this project is, and how such project is impacting on biodiversity!

According to EU obligations, whether it has financed the project or not, the  public is entitled to a breakdown of the money which is going into this project, such as  how much the turf will cost, the quantity of water it will consume per annun and at what cost; how much will be the upkeep, how much did the planners and designers charge, and how much will the launching of the  project cost.

The lack of any biodiversity and social concept are evidently lacking to any informed visitor. This view is sustained by the comments supporting this project on the Save the Trees  blog: Orange trees are being uprooted because they interfere with the vision of the bastions, but fountains do not! And insects and birds aren’t going to commit suicide, if they do not find a tree, they go on another one, the  Rabat environs are full of trees. ( L-insetti u l-ghasafar mhux ser jaghmlu suwwicidju, jekk ma jsibux sigra, imorru fuq ohra, inhawi tar-Rabat huma mimlija sigar min daqsekk). Not surprising at all since this is the recurring approach used by the Ministry under whose responsibility this project falls!  No wonder that when the same Ministry was responsible for the EU measure to tackle biodiversity loss, it made a complete mess and failure out of it.

The official Ministerial publicity material attached to the bastins, (shown above) states that this project is a Rehabillitation of the ditch. In contrast, the bloger with ELC inside informations states that “The ditch outside Mdina’s bastions from Greek’s gate to Xara Palace including the area below the main gate, is being turned into a recreational space which will be open to the public”. There is a great difference between ‘rehabilitation of the ditch’ and changing its use to a recreational area, especially when the tennis court, the basketball pitch, and the football pitch, which formed part of the ditch to be rehabilitated have been removed.

Somebody is surely trying to take the people for a ride despite the fact that the Prime Minister has promised that he will come closer to the people to listen to what they  have to say…………    I understand that heeding it is another matter!


Bżonn ta’ aktar immanniġġar tas-Siġar Maltin

March 5, 2012

It-Tnejn, 5 ta’ Marzu, 2012

miktub minn Gaetano Micallef

Il-ġlieda ta’ raġel biex isalva s-siġar lokali

 Il-“massakru” tas-siġar lokali u l-importazzjoni ta’ ċertu speċi ta’ siġar u pjanti li magħhom qed iġibu ċertu nsetti qed jinkwetaw lill-ambjentalist ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO kif wieħed jista’ jara mill-blog tiegħu. GAETANO MICALLEF iltaqa’ miegħu biex jara għaliex mhux jara futur għas-siġar indiġeni u cioè dawk tal-lokal. Fil-blog tiegħek għidt li s-siġar lokali qed jiġu “immassakrati”. X’ridt tgħid biha? X’qed iwassal għal dak li qed tiddeskrivi bħala trattament inaċċettabbli tas-siġar? Skont il-prinċipji tal-UE hemm bżonn ta’ regolatur u operatur biex l-affarijiet jitmexxew sewwa. Jekk nieħdu l-qasam tal-enerġija għandek il-korporazzjoni Enemalta li hija l-operatur waqt li fil-qasam tal-ilma nsibu l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizz tal-Ilma li wkoll hija operatur. Imma t-tnejn li huma regolati mill-Awtorità Maltija għar-Riżorsi (MRA). Issa fil-qasam tal-‘landscaping’ insibu l-operatur, li huwa l-partner privat tal-Gvern, imma uffiċjalment m’hemmx indikazzjoni li hemm xi regolatur. Din tista’ twassal biex id-deċiżjonijiet u l-politika ta’ dan ix-xogħol titfassal mill-operatur innifsu. Ngħidu aħna, xi speċi ta’ siġar u arbuxelli jitħawwlu, minn fejn jinġiebu, jekk għandhomx jiġu impurtati, fejn jitħawlu, minn fejn jinqalgħu, jekk humiex skont il-liġi u jekk jonorawx l-obbligi internazzjonali li għandu l-pajjiż. Imma jidher li m’hemmx regolatur biex jgħid “ara, din l-ispeċi m’għandiex tintuża għax din għandha impatt negattiv fuq is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija”. L-operatur m’għandux direzzjoni u mhux regolat. Ara f’Għawdex ħaġa bħal din ma tiġrix. M’ilux kont hemm u staqsejt uffiċjal fil-ministeru għaliex kuntrarju għal Malta ma rajtx il-pjanti li jgħidulhom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma meta f’Malta dawn tarahom kważi kullimkien. Ir-risposta kienet li f’Għawdex huma jiddeċiedu liema pjanti jitħawlu u mhux il-kuntrattur. U billi jafu li kemm is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma huma pjanti invażivi ma jridux li dawn jidħlu Għawdex u jinfirxu kullimkien bi ħsara ekonomika, ekoloġika u soċjali. Tgħidli x’għandhom ħażin dawn il-pjanti? Dawn huma fost l-agħar pjanti invażivi fl-Ewropa. Pjanta invażiva hija dik li meta tiddaħħal minn barra taħrab u tinfirex mal-pajjiż fejn qatt ma kienet tikber qabel. Is-Swaba tal-Madonna hija pjanta Sud-Afrikana. Li pjanta minn barra tiddaħħal fil-pajjiż ma fiha xejn ħażin fiha nnifisha sakemm ma tkunx waħda li faċli taħrab bi ħsara kbira ekoloġika, soċjali u anke ekonomika għall-pajjiż. U meta din taħrab, tinfirex u tistabilixxi ruħha ma jkunx possibbli li tiġi kontrollata u meqruda. Ħares lejn il-Ħaxixa Ingliża jew il-Qarsu kif jafuh xi wħud. Din inġiebet xi 100 sena ilu mill-Afrika t’Isfel u tpoġġiet fil-Ġnien Botaniku fil-Floriana. Minn hemm infirxet u mliet Malta, Għawdex u Kemmuna. Saret invażiva għax illum qed tikber bla kontroll, ma tistax tiġi kontrollata u impossibbli li tiġi eliminata. Fil-fatt minn hawn Malta waslet anke Tuneż u Sqallija.

Imma mhux kull pjanta tista’ titqaċċat jew titneħħa?

Impossibbli. Kif tista’ telimina l-Ingliża minn hawn Malta li tikber kullimkien u tiksi kullimkien? Anke mas-swar u mal-irdumijiet. Jew is-Siġra tar-Riġnu jew is-Siġra tax-Xumakk? Meta tidħol speċi u ssir invażiva jkun impossibbli teliminaha. Fl-UE l-pjanta tas-Swaba tal-Madonna hija meqjusa fost l-iktar mija invażivi. U aħna nħawluha fit-toroq! Min qed jagħmel il-politika? Ir-regolatur? Anke jekk m’hawnx regolatur xorta waħda tibqa’ ir-responsabilità tal-Gvern li jara li l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu jiġu onorati. U għaliex dan l-interess u din l-għebusija tar-ras biex din il-pjanta u oħrajn invażivi bħala jibqgħu jiġu mħawla u mħallsa bi flus pubbliċi? Din jista’ jweġibha biss min qed jagħmel il-politika f’dan il-qasam. Sadanittant, is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija jħallsu għal din il-politika żbaljata. Id-deċiżjoni li jkun hemm sieħeb privat mal-Gvern, f’dan il-każ l-ELC, mhux idea ħażina. Imma ma jistax ikun hemm operatur bla regolatur iktar u iktar meta l-operatur għandu €7 miljun kull sena għal ħames snin, jingħata l-mixtliet tal-Gvern biex jopera minnhom, jingħata l-makkinarju bħall-bowsers tal-Gvern biex jaħdem bihom u anke ħaddiema li kienu jaħdmu mad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura f’dan il-qasam. F’din is-sħubija hemm riżorsi tajbin, kemm finanzjarji u umani, imma la hemm il-viżjoni u lanqas id-direzzjoni biex l-għan jintlaħaq. Il-Gvern huwa marbut mal-liġijiet lokali u anke b’dawk tal-UE u b’konvenzjonijiet internazzjonali rigward il-ħarsien u l-immaniġġjar tal-biodiversità imma kemm qed ikunu riflessi fix-xogħol li qed isir f’dan il-qasam ta’ tisbiħ tal-pajjiż? Dan narawh iktar ċar meta wieħed jara, fost orajn l-pubblikazzjonijiet uffiċjali tal-MEPA fejn jgħidu liema huma l-ispeċi invażivi li huma ta’ ħsara għall-ekoloġija lokali … fosthom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma. Imma minkejja dan kollu ara kemm flus pubbliċi għadhom jintefqu fl-importazzjoni ta’ siġar eżotiċi, uħud minnhom invażivi, jew li jġibu magħhom speċi invażi. Ma tara l-ebda sinjal ta’ tkabbir ta’ siġar indiġeni lokali. Mela għala noqgħodu nippubblikaw pjanijiet, strateġiji u miżuri oħra favur l-ambjent meta dawn qed jiġu kompletament injorati? Jekk wieħed iħares lejn l-irdumijiet viċin tal-Blue Grotto jara li magħhom tikber is-Swaba tal-Madonna b’kompetizzjoni għall-pjanti indiġeni, uħud endemiċi, li jikbru hemm. Veru li dawn is-Swaba tal-Madonna kienu qed jikbru hemm qabel ma bdew jitħawlu fit-toroq. Allura nkomplu nżidu l-opportunità għal din il-pjanta biex tkompli tinfirex u tikber f’ambjent naturali mhedded.

Is-Swaba tal-Madonna – pjanta li l-UE tqis li hija fostl-aktar 100 pjanta invaziva. Hawn Malta, flus pubblici jintuzaw biex din tkompli tithawwel fit-toroqf pubblici

Anke l-Pjuma qed tinfirex sewwa u rajtha f’għelieqi, tikber taħt il-bankini fit-toroq, fil-widien u anke fix-xagħri. Min sejjer iħallas biex din tiġi ikkontrollata skont l-obbligi legali tal-pajjiż? Min sejjer jirrispondi għall-ksur tal-liġijiet u l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu biex ma jħallix pjanti invażivi jkomplu jinfirxu fl-ambjent naturali?

Il-Pjuma – pjanta invażiva li qed tinferex sewwa b'impatt negattiv soċjali u ambjentali

Kull speċi invażiva hija ħażina għall-ambjent lokali?  Mhux kull pjanta importata hija ta’ theddida għall-ambjent. Erħilha li meta dawn jiġu impurtati, magħhom jdaħħlu wkoll speċi oħra anke jekk magħhom ikollhom iċ-ċertifikat tas-saħħa tal-pjanti. Hekk kellhom is-siġar tal-Palm li magħhom daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm. Għalhekk għandu jkun hemm regolatur professjonali biex lill-operatur jgħidlu xi speċi għandu juża fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż. Li kieku kien hemm regolatur xjentifiku u professjonali ma kienux jitħallew jiġu impurtati siġar tal-Palm mill-Ewropa u mill-Eġittu meta dawn kienu diġà mifnijin bil-Bumunqar l-Aħmar tal-Palm. Kieku ma kienux jitħallew jiġu mħawla ma’ Malta kollha s-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjumi. Imma jekk wieħed iħares biss lejn il-parti kummerċjali mingħajr ma jagħti każ tal-impatt negattiv soċjali u dak ekoloġiku li dawn jista’ jkollhom allura dak li jiġri. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar ir-responsabilita hija tal-Gvern imma bħalissa qisu l-Gvern qed jagħti ċekk iffirmat imma vojt u l-ammont jintela minn min jirċievi ċ-ċekk.

Imma fl-ELC ma hemm ħadd li jifhem fil-pjanti u s-siġar?Ma nistax nimmaġina li ma hemmx. Li kieku le, kif ġiet fdata b’din ir-responsabilità f’idejha? Naħseb li hemm min għandu ħafna esperjenza f’dan il-qasam u għalhekk niskanta kif isiru dawn l-affarijiet u jinġiebu pjanti invażi li mhumiex ta’ ġid għas-soċjetà u għall-ambjent ekoloġiku. U għalhekk ukoll ma nistax nifhem kif fil-mixtliet tal-Gvern ma jitkabbrux iktar siġar indiġeni bħal-Luq, il-Ballut, l-Għargħar, id-Deru, is-Safsafa l-Kbira, l-Għanżalor, il-Fraxxnu, il-Ħarrub, iż-Żagħrun, ir-Rummien, il-Lewż u ż-Żnuber. Minbarra li dawn inaqqsu t-theddida ta’ speċi oħra li jġibu magħhom dawk importati – bħal bebbux, pjanti, insetti u rettili – immaniġġjar bħal dan jiffranka ħafna flus milli jmorru barra minn Malta u minflok jintefqu hawn u jservu ta’ ġid għall-ambjent. Imma għidli kemm-il siġra indiġena minn dawn li semmejt tara biex jissebbaħ l-ambjent urban? Fil-passat il-mixtliet tal-Gvern, anke jekk mingħajr r-riżorsi finanzjarji li għandhom illum, kienu jagħmlu kollox u minkejja li kienu wkoll jiżirgħu u jħawlu siġar mhux adattati għal pajjiżna, bħall-Akaċja u l-Ewkalyptus, ma kinux jimpurtaw siġar bħal ma qed isir illum u għalhekk ma kienx ikun hemm periklu li jidħlu speċi barranin. Bil-politika li qed tiġi mħaddma llum, f’dawn l-aħħar snin daħlu ħafna speċi invażivi. Huwa ferm diffiċli li meta tiddaħħal pjanta stabbilita ma ddaħħalx magħha xi speċi oħra anke fil-ħamrija li jkollha. Meta ddaħħlu s-siġar tal-Palm uħud minnhom kienu twal xi żewġ sulari u kważi impossibbli li ma jkunx hemm speċi magħhom. Il-Bumunqar l-Aħmar jgħix l-Asja. Hemm l-ambjent tiegħu. Daħal fl-Eġittu mas-siġar tal-Palm u mill-Eġittu sab ruħu fl-Ewropa mas-siġar tal-Palm li ġew esportati hemm. Fl-Afrika ta’ Fuq dan il-Bumunqar huwa ‘pest’ għax qed jeqred ħafna siġar tat-tamal u kellu impatt negattiv fuq din l-industrija.

Ir-riżultat ta' deċiżjonijiet mhux professjonali – waħda mill 400 siġra tal-palm, maqtula mill-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm li ddaħħal mas-siġar importati.

Issa xi ħadd f’Malta kellu l-idea “inteliġenti” li jixtri s-siġar mill-Eġittu u anke minn Spanja u Sqallija li kienu impurtawhom mill-Eġittu u sal-lum inqerdu mal-400 palma li wħud minnhom kienu ta’ valur storiku. Sa issa dan il-Bumunqar għadu għaddej joqtol kull siġra tal-Palm li jiltaqa’ magħha u qed jintefqu ammont ta’ flus biex dan jipprova jitwaqqaf. F’Malta daħlet ukoll il-Ħanfusa s-Sewda tat-Tut. Is-siġar tat-Tut u ċ-Ċawsli li kien hemm fil-Fiddien kollha sofrew ħafna minn din il-ħanfusa. Kif ġralhom ħafna f’ġonna privati. Issa siġar tat-Tut m’hawnx ħafna f’pajjiżna u daret fuq is-siġar tat-Tin. Min qed iħallas għal dan? L-impatt qed inħallsuh jien u int. Daħal ukoll il-Farfett tas-Sardinell. Kulħadd jilmenta fuqu. Għandi erba’ qsari tas-Sardinell fit-terazzin biex nistudja dan il-farfett … kull sena joqtolhom. Biex wieħed ikompli jara n-nuqqas ta’ miżuri professjonali qed ikomplu jitħawlu s-Sardinell matul it-toroq biex dan il-farfett ikollu iktar pjanti fuqhiex ibid, jiekol, joktor u jinfirex! Diġà qed jinstab jittajjar fil-widien tagħna fejn għandna pjanta mill-istess familja tas-Sardinell li s’issa għadu ma misshomx. Nispera li issa ma narawx impjegati jbixxu kull Sardinella li jaraw bil-kimika biex joqtlu dan il-farfett! Daħlet ukoll is-susa tat-tadam. Qerdet ħbula wara ħbula ta’ tadam. Daħlet għax l-attivitajiet kummerċjali jieħdu preferenza fuq il-ħarsien soċjali u ekoloġiku. Imma hawn xi ħadd li jimpurtah u jieħu ħsieb li dawn l-affarijiet ma jiġrux?  Għandek ukoll numru kbir ta’ speċi ta’ bebbux tal-art li ddaħħal mal-pjanti impurtati. Sa issa għadu ma jinħasx imma meta jibda jinħass imbagħad naħseb li nibdew naraw kif se jintefqu l-flus biex jiġu ikkontrollati. Illum jitħawlu fjuri bħall-Pensieri, Qronfol Tork, Petunji u Sardinell li wara ftit ġimgħat jispiċċa żmienhom u jinħartu biex jerġgħu jitħawlu oħrajn. Ma nistax ngħid li mhumiex sbieħ imma meta fil-gżejjer tagħna għandna ’l fuq minn 1,000 pjanta selvaġġa kollha adattati għall-klima tagħna, li m’għandhomx bżonn ħafna ilma, allura għaliex ma nużawx dawn u nkunu qed inħarsu aħjar l-ambjent ekoloġiku u fl-istess ħin inħarsu l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Din bħall-kwistjoni tal-ilma. L-UE tobbliga li l-ilma tad-drenaġġ ma jistax jintefa l-baħar mhux imsaffi. X’ġara? Investejna f’impjanti biex jittrattaw dan l-ilma imma wara li jiġi msaffi jerġa’ jintrema l-baħar u mbagħad nerġgħu ntella ilma baħar iktar ikkonċentrat biex jerġa’ jissaffa mir-reverse osmosis ħalli jittieħed għax-xorb. L-istess qed jiġri fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż bil-pjanti. Jekk dan  immaniġġjar professjonali nixtieq lil xi ħadd jgħidli xi jfisser dilettantiżmu!

Jiġifieri bħala prinċipju taqbel li m’għandhom jidħlu ebda speċi barranin? Le, mhux qed ngħid hekk.  Hemm ftehim internazzjonali, li wkoll jagħmel parti mir-regolamenti tal-UE u li l-prinċipji tiegħu huma nklużi fil-liġijiet lokali, magħruf bħala l-“prinċipju ta’ prekawzjoni” li permess tiegħu jekk se tittieħed xi deċiżjoni u ma jkunx magħruf x’impatt din se tħalli fuq l-ambjent u s-soċjetà allura din m’għandix tittieħed. Nifhem li jekk se ssir triq u hemm siġra jew siġar fin-nofs ma tistax tħallihom hemm. Imma ma jfissirx li mingħajr ma jkun hemm konsultazzjoni, ix-xogħol isir mingħajr l-ebda pjan ta’ immaniġġjar. Jekk hemm proġett ta’ żvilupp suppost li jkun hemm il-permess tal-MEPA. U meta jkun hemm siġar bħal dawn ikun hemm kundizzjonijiet ta’ kif sejrin jinqalgħu, minn sejjer jaqlahom u fejn sejrin jerġgħu jitħawlu. Nuqqas ta’ tagħrif lill-pubbliku joħloq ukoll ċertu suspetti. Is-siġar taż-Żebbuġ li nqalgħu minn ħdejn il-Monument tal-Gwerra fil-Floriana ġew impurtati u mħawla ftit tas-snin ilu. U s-siġar fejn sar it-terminus tal-Arriva fil-Belt ukoll inqalgħu biex minflokhom tħawlu siġar oħra kbar impurtati bi prezz mhux irħis. L-aħħar darba li mort hemm kelli ċans naraw li tnejn minnhom diġà nixfu. Meta nara dawn ir-riżorsi qed jinħlew u kif bihom jista’ jsir ferm iktar ġid ma nistax ma ninkwetax għal din il-‘laisse faire’. Meta wieħed iħares lejn ir-regolamenti tal-2001 dwar il-ħarsien tas-siġar, li kienu jagħtu ħarsien anke lis-siġar li jikbru fl-urban u li kienu ġew ippubblikat bi sħab bejn il-Ministru tal-Ambjent u dak tal-Agrikoltura, u meta wieħed jikkumpara kif dawn ġew emendati fl-2010, fejn ġew ippubblikat mill-Ministeru tal-Ambjent biss u ma fihom l-ebda referenza għall-ħarsien tas-siġar li jikbru fl-urban, allura ma jistax ikun li dan il-‘laisse faire’ ma jinħasx iktar. Mhux talli s-siġar indiġeni ma jintużawx fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż imma minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ regolatur uffiċjali numru ta’ siġar rari u mħarsa wkoll qed isofru minn din il-mentalità. Il-Professur John Borg, li darba kien Supretendent tad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura, kien jara li siġar Maltin rari fil-pajjiż kienu jitħawlu jew jinżergħu fil-Ġonna ta’ San Anton. Fosthom kien hemm is-siġra rarissima magħrufa bħala s-Siġra tal-Kuruna, li aktarx hija l-unika waħda li għad baqa’, tikber f’San Anton, li l-aħħar li rajtha ftit ġimgħat ilu ġabuha qisha kurċifiss!

Ix-Xewk tal-Kuruna – l-aħħar siġra Maltija ta' din l-ispeċi rari u mħarsa strettament, li qed tikber fil-Ġonna ta' San Anton. Imbiċċra.

Barra minn hekk numru ta’ Siġar tad-Deru li kien hemm jikbru fuq ġewwa mal-ħajt ta’ dan il-ġnien tqaċċtu mill-qiegħ nett. Żabra li min jagħmel il-politika u huwa responsabbli fl-immaniġġjar tas-siġar imissu jistħi jidher quddiem in-nies. Dan biex ma nsemmiex dak li ġara l-Buskett li huwa sit tan-Natura 2000.

Id-Deru - kien jikber matul il-ħajt tal-ġnien f'San Anton. Imqaċċat mill-qiegħ.

Imma forsi għalhekk ma jeżistix regolatur… biex ħadd ma jkun f’pożizzjoni li jistħi. Huwa faċli li wieħed iwaħħal fil-ħaddiema biex taparsi jkun jidher li ħa passi. Imma l-ħaddiema jagħmlu dak li jgħidulhom. U bla regolatur x’tistenna? L-iktar ħaġa li tweġġgħani li dawn qed isiru bi flus pubbliċi u ħadd ma jidher li huwa responsabbli.

Forsi l-akbar ċertifikat ta' inkompetenza f'dan il-qasam huwa il-mod kif siġar f'Natura 200 tal-EU, il-Buskett, ġie mżeblaħ, anki dan bi flus il-poplu. Darba din kiet siġra rari u mħarsa strettament - is-sigra tal-Fraxxnu.

Sakemm ikollna dan ir-regolatur jiddispjaċini ngħid li s-siġar indiġeni f’pajjiżna m’għandhomx futur sabiħ. Jekk għandhom futur. Jekk ix-xogħol jitmexxa b’għan kummerċjali biss, u mingħajr ma jittieħdu kunsiderazzjonijiet tal-għan soċjali u ekoloġiku, wieħed ma jistax jistenna li s-siġar indiġeni ma jibqgħux sejrin lura u li ma jidħlux iktar speċi invażivi. U waqt li l-profitt kummerċjali jeħduh l-individwi, il-prezz iħallsu l-poplu u l-ambjent ekoloġiku.

Ara x'żabra dik? Certifikat għal dak il-politiku li huwa responsabbli biex dan ma jħallihx isir.

Żabra bla ebda professjonalita, bla kuxjenza u bla mistħija.

Għall-ġid tal-poplu u tal-ambjent! Dan qed ngħidu fuq dak li qalu, li qrajt u li smajt, fuq dak li rajt, u fuq ir-riżultati ta' dan kollu, dejjem bi flus pubbliċi.

NOTA: Ir-ritratti ma jidhrux fl-artiklu oriġinali li deher fl-Orizzont, imma dawn żidthom jien fuq il-blogg u kollha huma ritratti li ħadt jien.


GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man


The time for the green itch

November 5, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The time for the green itch

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Every five years or so there is an itch in the air – a political itch – that intensifies at the eleventh hour. The environment is not immune to this five-year itch. In fact, the last environmental itch centred around an environmental pillar. What a noble idea, I thought! But when the itch subsided, the mass media was inundated with criticism regarding official decisions and actions not exactly having the environmental-pillar base.

These included: the discharge of treated sewage water in the sea, declared as having “no economic value”; mismanagement of Natura 2000 sites, declaring part of Dwejra “to be just bare rocks”, building adjacent to a freshwater stream of EU importance; Buskett saved by the skin of its teeth from being turned into a public garden; planting and covering substantial areas with declared invasive imported species, despite international obligations and recommendations by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority; channelling scarce resource of rainwater along roads to the sea; compliance certificates issued to buildings that do not conform to the legal requirements that each should have a cistern of a capacity of at least three cubic metres for every five square metres of the floor surface of each room; over-extraction of the already precarious groundwater; disbanding the National Sustainable Development Commission; opposing an EU proposal for the listing of the bluefin tuna on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; permitting buildings that make it impossible for neighbours to tap solar energy; negative impact of black dust politically regarded as an alien phenomenon; “cleaning” valleys by bulldozing their ecosystems… Space does not permit me to go on.

The virtual environmental-pillar was knocked out flat by the commercially-driven economic-pillar. It was not strong enough to withstand the official onslaught by those who have a collective responsibility to defend it. The environmental pillar is now dead and buried under commercially-driven decisions, perhaps at Wied il-Qasab Nadur cemetery.

Now it is time for a new itch: the green itch time. A draft National Environment Policy has been published for public consultation. What a noble idea, I think! The draft in hand encompasses legal international environmental concepts and principles, the great majority of which are already transposed in national legislation. These are juxtaposed in a colourful mosaic but, unfortunately, like all mosaics, hairline cracks abound, which, with some political acumen, can easily develop into loopholes. Some are already evident.

Such an essential document does not even have definitions of important concepts like “sustainable development”, “environment” or “precautionary principle”. International environmental legal obligations all have such definitions but do the political players have the same definitions in mind?

Some important concepts have also been mishandled. Can an environment policy disregard biodiversity as a resource? I cannot image that such omission is meant to cover the government’s stand against the listing of the bluefin tuna, an endangered international natural resource! The draft NEP lists a number of measures, all of which can definitely contribute to the sustainable use of the environment, though one comment betrays an inferiority complex.

Besides, a number of measures cannot be implemented within this legislature. Considering that some could be sitting on different seats, not necessarily of a different colour, following a musical chairs festival, one cannot exclude the possibility that such a policy will not necessarily be handled with care. The more so when some colleagues in the corridors of power do ignore national environment legislation, published over the signature of the Prime Minister himself. And the competent authority responsible for environment legislation habitually stands and stares, licking its wounds and cursing its impotency to take action.

I do, however, admire the tenacity and drive of Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco but I cannot help feel that he is a lonely voice in a political wilderness, abandoned even by his environmental watchdog. A few days ago, another colourful environment document metamorphosed. This spelled guidelines for controlling alien species. A much-needed effort, though it retrospectively tackles negative economic, social and ecological impacts of introduced alien species and does not address the cause. They seem more like guidelines on how to control horses that have bolted after housing them in stables without doors.

This is why I have become very allergic to nicely-coloured printed documents that undoubtedly are attractive to the illiterate. Could be because I have not yet recovered from the decision to disband the National Sustainable Development Commission, flavoured by the now popular political dictum that one should not be judged by what one says but by what one does. These do not help at all to dispel any of my fears.

The eleventh hour is nigh. When the clock strikes one, will the environment policy slowly, silently, diplomatically, slide down in repose on the shelves of history, like the National Sustainable Development Commission did after all? National environmental legislation has been brushed aside; an environmental-pillar has been laid to rest; why not a policy? I am wishing, hoping and praying that I am wrong but I fear that Greenwich time will prove me right.


That business-as-usual stand

January 15, 2011

Saturday, 15th January 2011

That business-as-usual stand

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity was first discussed at length at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 giving birth to the Convention on Biological Diversity, today having 193 parties. The European Union, a party to theConvention, in a 2001 summit initiated ambitious commitments agreed upon by heads of state and of government to halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU by the end of 2010. This became one of the main targets for managing and conservingnatural resources and was later endorsed by the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.To achieve such targets and put biodiversity on course to recovery, the EU, in 2006, approved a detailed action plan, aiming primarily to clarify responsibilities concerning the implementation of legislation already in place. As a sign of further support, in 2007, the UN declared 2010 as the International Year for Biological Diversity. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “business as usual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgentlyneeded”. Such concept was elaborated in September 2010 at a high-level meeting of the UN with the participation of heads of state and of government.

The IYB’s main aim is to raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity with a view of engaging all stakeholders for protecting life on earth, to influence decision-makers and to raise biological diversity to the top of the political agenda. Everyone has to do one’s part. It is unacceptable not to take immediate and effective action. There cannot be a new vision excluding stakeholders. Only such a broad-based partnership, commitment, cooperation, coordination andcommunication can ensure life can continue to flourish on this planet for the benefit of species, naturally including humankind. This is the only way a commitment can be acquired to reinforce the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. An evaluation report has to be submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2011.

As a member state of the CBD, the UN and the EU, Malta is bound by all these commitments. What were Malta’scontributions towards halting biodiversity loss? Apart from the official periodic educational snippets, on the line of what environmental NGOs used to do more than 40 years ago, there is little one can highlight except for the occasional declaration of a protected area without any follow-up whatsoever. On the other hand, however, there is, unfortunately, quite a long list of decisions, actions or lack of them, which not only did not contribute to the prevention of biological loss but had a completely diametrically opposite effect. Considering the source of such negative impacts on biodiversity, this shows the importance of Mr Ban’s emphasis that “business asusual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgently needed”.

An off-the-cuff glance at some local “contributions” is a sine qua non. What comes to mind first is the number of alien invasive species that established themselves in the wild these last few years. Some have already managed to prove very costly not only economically but also ecologically and socially. Some of these introductions, albeit not all intentional but all due to lack of any foresight, include the red palm weevil, geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry longhorn beetle, the tomato leaf miner, the Levantine water frog and about a dozen molluscs(snails) spreading from around some garden centres. Others might not have yet made an impact but when they do it will be too late for any action.

Climate change increases additional costs to control IAS. Britain spends £1.7 billion a year and EU costs amount to about €12 billion. No official figures are available for Malta despite the fact that IAS’s negative impacts are becoming more widespread. And the importation of flora and fauna, the main carriers of IAS,  goes on without any hindrance at all,  except, perhaps, for a phytosanitary/veterinary certificate on which some IAS have travelled.

More of a concern is the fact that the authority responsible to control and eliminate such IAS hinted at the possible intoxication of a fresh water pool to eliminate an alien frog in eco- Gozo. Much the same like advice from Josef Fritzl on how to protect children from sex abuse!

Still very unfortunate were development permits (none related to the management of the areas) issued inside EU Natura 2000 sites. A quick recollection reveals Mistra, Baħrija, and Dwejra – again in eco-Gozo. And, naturally, Buskett, another Natura 2000 site, saved by the skin of its teeth from becoming a public garden where, possibly, pansies and geraniums would have joined the numbers of IAS at this site.The business-as-usual stand adopted by Malta in international fora on the listing of the bluefin tuna in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of  Wild Flora and Fauna and against adjusted quotas, both raised within the EU, is perhaps the cherry on the IYB’s cake.  Mr Ban’s emphasis that “business as usual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgently needed” seem specifically coined for the political fraternity.

The year 2010 has come and gone and with it a number of species of wild flora and fauna, which either gave up the ghost in the year of deliverance or else have been pushed to the brink of doing so. The target date has now been extended to 2020. By that time, today’s actors’ names will be engraved in stone – as a reminder of who was accountable for preventing biodiversity loss by 2010.


Mepa and EU obligations

July 30, 2010

Friday, 30th July 2010

Mepa and EU obligations
Alfred E. Baldacchino

It seems that Mepa now acknowledges my expertise in the field of nature protection (July 21). It was also gratuitous of them to refer to me as the former Mepa assistant director for nature protection. Prior to that I was involved with the Environment Protection Department since its inception and worked under various ministers, especially in connection with EU screening and transposition of the EU biodiversity acquis. Progress during such a period was smooth and fast, with constant ministerial help, understanding and direction, despite some difficulties and lack of resources.

It was a very rewarding and satisfactory time, which I still cherish. But when Mepa was conceived and took over the responsibility of the environment (not just biodiversity), the planning mentality contributed to the dismantlement and, to some extent, the throwing overboard of established procedures and structures. Time and space do not allow me to go into detail here but should the need arise…
More surprising was the fact that Mepa, despite not wanting to fall for childish tit-for-tat, took two newspaper columns, beating about the bush and going on a wild goose chase, only to endorse all the EU Habitats Directive’s obligations outlined in my contribution (July 13). The outstanding points of Mepa’s letter are not the eulogy of what it achieved but the glaring absence of what has not been taken in hand or not done in the spirit of the obligations. To list but a few:

Article 6 of the Habitats Directive outlines what should or should not be done in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). These, in brief, include conservation measures, management plans, steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and species. To use Mepa’s own words: “Obviously, projects and activities that are incompatible with the conservation of objectives of the site are prohibited.” Mepa could have explained how this was applied with regard to the permits issued for development in Baħrija, Mistra and Ramla l-Ħamra, all SACs. And it seems there are more to come!

Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive deals with invasive alien species. To the credit of the past, now extinct, Nature Protection Unit, the hottentot fig (Carpobrutus edulis) was declared an invasive alien species, as also declared by the European Union. This species has already invaded some coastal cliffs, all SACs. Yet, public funds are being spent to plant this invasive alien species all over Malta and Gozo.  And Mepa, the Competent Authority responsible for this directive, turns a blind eye to such activities.

Buskett, another SAC and also a Special Protection Area (SPA), has become full of invasive alien species. The ongoing disturbance, deterioration and loss of habitat, decrease and disappearance of indigenous species of flora and fauna, the chopping down of protected trees and bushes is so opposed to the obligations of the Habitats Directive. Mepa, in its eulogy of achievements, completely fails to mention any actions taken or being taken in this regard.
A high Mepa official publicly stated on the national TV station that if no solution is found to eliminate the introduced alien frog in Gozo, then the water will be poisoned to eliminate it. This pool also contains, besides others, the painted frog, which is a species of EU interest in need of strict protection listed in annex IV of the Habitats Directive. Such destructive action is completely against the obligations of the directive.

Monitoring and enforcement are other obligations of the Habitats Directive which need reporting on in the six-yearly report. But no mention of these was made in the Mepa achievement list. It is no secret that Mepa is allergic to enforcement measures. When the Environment Protection Department was taken over by the Planning Authority, the former had a fully fledged environment enforcement section. Today, this section has disappeared into oblivion.

A development-driven authority can never, by any stretch of the  imagination, take responsibility and be accountable for the protection, management, monitoring and enforcement of environmental matters. The more so since the deciding bodies within Mepa do not have any inkling of environment management, conservation and EU obligations.
As publicly discussed controversial permits show, technical reports are also often ignored. The ever-increasing public discontent on how the environment in general, particularly the natural environment, is  deteriorating, blatantly abused, exploited, mismanaged and disappearing, is a very strong verdict of Mepa’s failure. A number of environmental NGOs have also publicly asked for resignations within Mepa, considering that it is the Competent Authority responsible to safeguard the environment in the name of the public, who is the main stakeholder. Sometimes, I wonder if the greatest hurdle in the way of the protection of the environment is the Competent Authority itself.

If all this is regarded by Mepa as “Malta living up to the EU Habitats Directive” then divine intervention is the only solution! I am indeed utterly worried for Mario de Marco who has now been handed environmental responsibility.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.

Link to MEPA’s letter dated 21st July 2010.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100721/letters/malta-living-up-to-the-eu-habitats-directive

_________________________________________________________________
The author is a retired assistant director, Environment Protection Directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority


The EU Habitats Directive

July 13, 2010
  Tuesday, 13th July 2010 

  The EU Habitats Directive 

 Alfred E. Baldacchino 

    Few, if any, have never heard of the European Union’s Council Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known as the Habitats Directive of May 21, 1992. But fewer know what the aims and obligations of this EU Directive are.

 

The main aim of the Habitats Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity and to ensure the restoration or maintenance of natural habitats and species, that are important to the EU, at a favourable conservation status. Natural habitats and wild species of flora and fauna are under continuous threat from development and agricultural intensification. To pursue such an aim, EU member states are obliged to designate special areas of conservation (SACs) so that a coherent European ecological network known as Natura 2000 is created. These SACs support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats, native plants and animals. Once a site designated by a member state is accepted by the EU Commission, it forms part of the Natura 2000 network, for which the member state has to honour the obligations incorporated in the directive. The EU has accepted as SACs 35 sites proposed by Malta, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Pembroke area, coastal cliffs from Il-Qammieħ area to Rdum tan-Nofsinhar, Wied il-Miżieb (which includes Mistra Bay and Baħrija Valley) and Ta’ Ċenċ area and Ramla area. 

Natura 2000 also incorporates special protection areas (SPAs) which support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats and which are identified by member states according to the obligations of the EU Birds Directive. Malta has 

identified 13 SPAs which today form part of the Natura 2000 network, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Ta’ Ċenċ in Gozo and Filfla. 

  

Obligations which member states have towards such sites are: 

  

• the establishment of necessary conservation measures involving, if need be, the appropriate management plans specifically designed for the sites or integrated into other development plans; 

• appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the different natural habitat types listed in Annex I and of the species of flora and fauna listed in Annex II of the Habitats 

Directive, present in the sites; 

• appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as the disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated by the member state; 

• an appropriate assessment of any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to, the management of the 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 this directive (the Malta Environment and Planning Authority) shall 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. The national competent authority is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the public. 

• If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the SAC or SPA and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, the member state shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It has to inform the EU Commission of the compensatory measures adopted. 

• Where the site concerned hosts a priority species or a natural habitat type listed in the Habitats Directive, the only considerations which may be raised are those relating to human health or public safety, beneficial consequences of primary 

importance for the environment or further to an opinion from the EU Commission. 

• Undertake surveillance of habitats and species and ensuring strict protection of species of flora and fauna listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive. 

• Report to the EU Commission by the national competent authority on the implementation of the directive every six years, incorporating information on conservation measures taken, describing impacts on the conservation status of the species and natural habitats types listed in the directive, measures taken in Natura 2000 sites, besides the key findings of monitoring activities conducted to assess the conservation status of species and natural habitat types of community interest, as all outlined in the directive. The directive also places particular importance on informing the public and making such reports accessible to the public. 

• To improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, member states are to encourage the management of landscape features that are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species and so improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network of protection areas and beyond. 

• The Habitats Directive requires member states to monitor natural habitats and species of community interest. 

• Member states must also handle communication, education and public  awareness to ensure the effective implementation of this directive. Malta had to implement the Habitats Directives from the date of accession, that is May 1, 2004. It seems that a number of ministries are among the many that are not au courant with the Habitats Directive. And I would not be surprised in the least if 

the national competent authority itself is oblivious of such obligations, being so development-oriented and judging from the number of permits issued, including some in Natura 2000 sites.  

The public officer who will be detailed to write Malta’s first six-year report on the implementation of the Habitats Directive will find it easier to paint the sky green. Unfortunately, Mario de Marco, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, will have to endorse the “achievements” of his predecessor. 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


BUSKETT – a Special Area of Conservation in the EU

June 21, 2010

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Alfred E Baldacchino

Buskett is of great importance to the Maltese islands from a historical, ecological, economical, educational, and a scientific point of view. The name Buskett is derived from the Italian word Boschetto, which means a small wood.  A part of Buskett is called il-Bosk – the wood.  Buskett is the only locality for Aleppo Pine woodlands, besides having a variety of habitats ranging from maquis, forest remnants, different levels of garigue, and woods typical of watercourses. The English reference to Boschetto, Buskett Gardens, have misled many, not least some politicians lacking ecological background, to conclude that this a garden, as much a garden as San Anton Gardens.

One of Malta’s past colonisers who without doubt were the best that had environmental vision, were the Knights of St John. Without the rich heritage they left us, we would definitely be so much the poorer. Unfortunately, much of this historical heritage is abandoned, neglected and/or vandalised. Buskett is one of the heritage site left to us by the Knights of St John, and was further enhanced by the next colonisers – the British. Today Buskett is protected with a number of regulations. The first legal protection for Buskett was for avifauna and was published as far back as 1932. This was strengthened throughout the years and today Buskett is still protected under the current Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations.

In 1933 a number of trees in Buskett were protected by GN 269, as historical trees of antiquarian importance. In 1996 Buskett was scheduled under the Development Planning Act as an Area of Ecological Importance, a Site of Scientific Importance, an area of high landscape value and a scheduled woodland, by Government Notice 403 of 25 June 1996.  A site plan attached to this Government Notice showed the different levels of protection (level 1, 2, or 3) of Buskett and its surroundings.

During 2001 Buskett was also protected by the regulations for the protection of trees as a tree protected area. Buskett is also an Important Bird Area endorsed by BirdLife International.  Because of such endorsement the government declared as a Special Protection Area, in accordance with the Birds Directive. In 2003 the government proposed Buskett as a Site of Community Interest through Legal Notice 23 of 2003, with the main aim that Buskett be declared a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive to eventually form part of the EU Natura 2000. The Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Regulations 1997, also apply to Buskett. Now this is all very laudable, no doubt about it, but if these regulations are to be worth the paper they are written on, they have to be observed, they have to be implemented and they have to be enforced. There are a number of obligations arising out of European Union legislation, all transposed to local regulations, which have to be taken in consideration with regard to a number of activities.

From an ecological point of view, this means that one cannot bulldoze into Buskett, chainsaw in hand, “pruning” trees, clearing undergrowth, “tidying” walls from creepers, and sweeping dead leaves from beneath wild growing trees. All these activities need to have “prior” clearance from the Competent Authority, and in some cases submit an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site, in view of the site’s conservation. Consent can be given to the operation or activity only after it has been ascertained that the plan or project will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and if appropriate, after having obtained and taken into account the opinion of the general public and representations made within such reasonable time as the Competent Authority may specify. I remember going to Buskett in my younger days to enjoy the natural  environment surrounded by healthy trees, birds, myriads of butterflies and moths and other invertebrates enriching this unique natural environment we have, and the background sound of water trickling as it flowed through  Buskett, watering Wied il-Luq. This despite the fact that in those days there were no strict regulations for the protection of species and their habitats. When I visit Buskett today, I leave heartbroken: no butterflies, no insects, dead or dying or sawn off trees, dried up springs, and a dying woodland, despite the fact that today there are regulations drafted on international standards, which we, as Maltese, are obliged to honour, not only for our own sake and sanity, but also because of our obligations to the European Union, of which Malta is a Member State. In a statement issued by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment, (TMIS, 24 February 2008) it was stated that the “work the ministry intended to do was blocked by MEPA, which claimed the projected work could damage the ecosystem.” It is not very often that MEPA official are praised by this Ministry, especially those in the Environment Protection Directorate, or what is left of it. I would also like to extend my congratulations to such dedicated MEPA officials for their efforts because I can fully understand the difficulties they faced to achieve this.  If it weren’t for such efforts to stop such mismanagement of this EU Special Area of Conservation, today Buskett would probably be competing with San Anton Gardens.  It would be a very good idea if the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment were to invite the Prime Minster for a walk around this  sensitive unique ecological gem we have in our country, and the beauty nature has bestowed our tiny island. They could see for themselves the Maltese flora and fauna and what a rich heritage we are responsible for. They would also be able to see first hand what has been done and what has not be done to manage such a Special Area of Conservation, which Malta has proposed to the European Union for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network; this small wood called Buskett can contribute in many different ways for the benefit of the Maltese. It would then be easier for them to understand the need and the importance of a National Biodiversity Strategy, with its action plans and management plans – an obligation arising out of international treaties to which Malta is party. Without such a National Biodiversity Strategy, Buskett, together with other natural important habitats, would be lost forever.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


IS-SIĠAR MALTIN

February 21, 2010

 

21 ta’ Frar, 2010

IS-SIĠAR MALTIN

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Nistħajjel xi ħadd jistaqsi: “imma x’jagħmel siġra siġra Maltija u oħra mhux Maltija? Is-siġar mhux kollha siġar?”

Il-gżejjer Maltin kellhom għatja ta’ siġar adattati kemm għall-klima kif ukoll għall-ambjenti naturali tagħhom għall-eluf ta’ snin qabel mal-bniedem medd riġlejh fuq dawn il-gżejjer. Insibu siġar li kienu, u wħud minnhom għadhom jikbru sa llum il-ġurnata, f’ambjent niexef u fqir fil-ħamrija; oħrajn jikbru f’ambjent bi blat bi rqajja’ ta’ ħamrija, waqt li oħrajn jikbru matul il-widien u qrib ta’ nixxigħat minħabba li dawn iħobbu l-ilma. Dawn, li kif għidna, uħud minnhom għadhom jikbru fil-gżejjer Maltin, huma s-siġar Maltin, jew kif huma magħrufa teknikament, siġar indiġeni Maltin. Dan ma jfisserx li dawn is-siġar Maltin jikbru biss fil-gżejjer Maltin, imma huma popolazzjoni ta’ siġar li għal eluf ta’ snin ma kellhomx u lanqas illum ma għandhomx kuntatt fiżiku ma’ siġar oħra bħalhom li jikbru barra mill-gżejjer Maltin. Siġar oħra bħalhom jikbru l-aktar fil-pajjiżi madwar il-Mediterran, imma minħabba li l-gżejjer Maltin huma mdawrin bil-baħar, mhux possibli li s-siġar Maltin jiddakkru jew idakkru, b’mod naturali, is-siġar bħalhom li jikbru fil-pajjiżi tal-Mediterran għax il-firxa tal-baħar tal-madwar hija kbira wisq.

Matul il-medda tas-snin, uħud minn dawn is-siġar Maltin, saru rari ħafna, waqt li oħrajn inqerdu għal kollox.  Ilum insibu madwar 60 speċi ta’ siġar Maltin li għadhom jikbru, jħaddru, u jsebbħu pajjizna, għalkemm ’l biċċa l-kbira huma kemmxejn rari u jikbru f’postijiet imwarrba.

IR-RIĦAN – waħda mis-siġar Maltin, li għadha tħaddar u twarrad f’xi rqajja tal-gżejjer Maltin, tgħamel ħilitha biex tkompli issebbaħhom minkejja l-imġieba negattiva tagħna.  U minkejja li huwa tant ħafif biex titnissel, xorta għad hemm min jagħżel li jdaħħalha f’pajjiżna billi jixtriha jew iġibha minn pajjiżi oħra, fil-riżultati negattivi kollha li jista’ jkollha.

Kif u għaliex inqerdu xi siġar Maltin

Meta l-bniedem rifes fuq dawn il-gżejjer, dan mill-ewwel kellu impatt fuq l-ambjent naturali Malti, anki fuq is-siġar. Dan beda jaqta’ s-siġar għall-injam biex jibni għatja fuq rasu; biex ikebbes in-nar, kemm biex isajjar kif ukoll kontra l-kesħa, u anki biex bl-injam jagħmel manek għall-għodda.  Il-bniedem ukoll ġab miegħu xi annimali domestiċi, fosthom il-mogħoż.  Dawn xejn ma għenu fit-tnissil tas-siġar Maltin, għaliex kull nebbieta ta’ kull siġra kienu jqaxxruha mill-qiegħ biex jiekluha. Il-qerda tas-siġar ħadet xejra oħra meta l-bniedem beda jaħdem l-art biex ikabbar l-uċuh tar-raba’. U numru ta’ siġar Maltin, tbiċċru, tqaċċtu, u nqalgħu biex għamlu wisa’ għall-għelieqi.

Il-ħakma tal-gżejjer mill-barrani matul is-snin, l-aktar dawk Rumani u dawk Għarbin wkoll kompliet tneżża lil dawn il-gżejjer mill-għatja ta’ siġar Maltin.  Dan kien isir ukoll għall-għanijiet ta’ gwerer, u l-injam tagħhom saħansitra għen biex inbnew xi xwieni. Anki llum il-ġurnata għadna naraw l-imġieba negattiva u n-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-bniedem lejn is-siġar.  Wieħed ma jieħux gost jgħid, imma n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni dwar dan il-wirt, tkompli tgħin biex is-siġar Maltin ikomplu jonqsu bil-mod il-mod.  U kif ngħidu aħna, tieħu mingħajr ma trodd, is-swar tħott.

Illum naraw theddida oħra ġdida għas-siġar Maltin.  Din ġejja mill-importazzjoni, jew id-dħul fil-pajjiż ta’ siġar minn kull rokna tad-dinja: mill-Asja, mill-Amerika, mill-Awstralja, u mill-Afrika t’Isfel, mingħajr l-iċken ħsieb ta’ l-impatt negattiv li dawn jista’ jkollhom mhux biss fuq is-siġar Maltin imma anki fuq l-annimali u l-pjanti slavaġġ, jiġifieri fuq l-ekosistema Maltija.  Dan biex ma nsemmux ukoll l-impatt ekonomiku, dak storiku, dak tas-saħħa tal-bniedem, dak estetiku, dak agrikolu, u impatti oħra.  Sfortunatament, wieħed mill-għanijiet ewlenin għad-dħul ta’ dawn is-siġar barranin huwa biss għan ta’ qliegħ ta’ flus.

Hawn ukoll min jaħseb li biex tgħin lis-siġar u l-ekosistema tal-gżejjer Maltin huwa billi jinxtraw jew jinġiebu siġar bħal dawk Maltin, minn pajjiżi oħra, mingħajr ma jqis l-impatt negattiv li dawn jista’ jkollhom fuq is-siġar Maltin stess, bħal ma sfortunatament diġa rajna. Hawnhekk ma jistax ma jingħadx li dan huwa kollu riżultat tan-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tas-sistem ekoloġika, nuqqas ta’ għarfien tal-obligazzjonijiet internazzjonali f’dan il-qasam, kollu frott tan-nuqqas ta’ rieda u n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Il-Buskett

January 26, 2010

 Il-Ħadd, 24 ta’ Jannar 2010

Il-Buskett – Alfred E. baldacchino

IL-BUSKETT huwa ta’ importanza kbira għall-gżejjer Maltin, mill-aspett storiku, ekoloġiku, ekonomiku, edukattiv, studju xjentifiku u anki rikreattiv. L-isem Buskett tfisser bosk żgħir (Boscetto), u mhux ġnien bħalma jaħsbu xi wħud. Il-Buskett huwa l-uniku post fil-gżejjer Maltin fejn hemm masġar naturali taż-żnuber, minbarra li hemm numru ta’ ambjenti naturali differenti,bħal ngħidu aħna, makkja, fdal ta’ foresti naturali, livelli differenti ta’ xagħri, u anki masġar ta’ siġar tan-nixxigħat.

Il-Kavallieri, li mingħajr dubju kellhom l-aħjar viżjoni ambjentali minn dawk kollha li ħakmu lil Malta, mill-ewwel għarfu l-importanza ta’ dan il-post. Mingħajr il-kontribut tagħhom ma kienx ikollna dan il-wirt sinjur. L-Ingliżi li ġew wara l-kavallieri wkoll taw sehemhom fil-ħarsien ta’ dan ilpost uniku. Illum, sfortuntament, kif wieħed jista’ jara jekk imur sa hemm, il-Buskett għandu telqa fuqu li tħammar wiċċ kull minn huwa kburi li huwa Malti: bini storiku mġarraf, l-ambjent naturali stuprat, xi kultant anki bi flus pubbliċi, u nuqqas ta’ sensittività minn min huwa responsabbli għal dan l-ambjent naturali uniku. Inħossni nistħi ngħid bħala Malti, li l-ħakkiema barranin ħadu ħsieb dan il-post aktar mill-mexxejja Maltin.

L-ewwel ħarsien legali ngħata lill-Buskett fl-1933. Permezz tal-Avviż tal-Gvern 269 tal-1933 numru ta’ siġar fil-Buskett kienu mħarsa minħabba l-valur ta’ antikità tagħhom. Fl-1996 il-Buskett kien skedat taħt l-Att tal-Iżvilupp u l-Ippjanar bħala Arja ta’ Importanza Ekoloġika, Sit ta’ Importanza Xjentifika, Wesgħa ta’ valur għoli ta’ landscaping, u kien skedat bħala Masġar (Bosk), kif jidher fl- Avviż Legali 403 tal-1996. Il-Buskett u numru ta’ siġar indiġeni wkoll huma mħarsa b’Avviż Legali 12 tal-2001.

Fl-2003 il-gvern Malti ppropona l-Buskett bħala Sit ta’ Interess għall-Komunità Ewropea, kif jixhed Avviż tal-Gvern 257 tal-2003, bil-għan li l-Buskett ikun aċċettat mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea bħala Żona Specjali ta’ Konservazzjoni (Special Area of Conservation – SAC) kif titlob id-Direttiva tal-Ambjenti Naturali (EU Habitats Directive). Avviż Legali 257 tal-2003 jagħti lista ta’ speċi u ambjenti naturali li jridu jkunu mħarsa skont id-Direttiva tal-Habitats tal-Unjoni Ewropea, u wkoll jiġbor fih dawk ir-regolamenti Maltin kollha li jħarsu l-ispeċi u l-ambjenti naturali, fosthom il-Buskett. Dan l-Avviż Legali huwa ffirmat mill-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino. Il-Buskett illum huwa parti mix-xibka ta’ Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea, u dan iġorr miegħu numru ta’ obbligi legali. Dan kollu sar meta l-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino kien Ministru tal-Ambjent, u naħseb li dan jaf bl-obbligi li hemm biex jeduka, u jqajjem kuxjenza pubblika, qabel kull politika partiġġjana jew xi avvanz personali, kif korrettement qal hu nnifsu.

Barra minn hekk ir-regolamenti tal-1997 dwar il-ħitan tas-sejjieħ u strutturi rurali oħra, ukoll japplikaw għan-numru ta’ strutturi u ħitan tas-sejjieħ fil-Buskett. Mingħajr dubju dawn kollha huma miżuri ta’ ħarsien li jirregolaw kif għandu jsir kull tip ta’ xogħol f’dawn l-inħawi li llum jifformaw parti minn Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Bħala sit Natura 2000 kull tip ta’ xogħol irid ikun skont il-permessi u kondizzjonijiet maħruġa taħt dawn ir-regolamenti. Dawn iridu jkunu osservati u inforzati.

Dan ifisser li fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-biodiversità, wieħed ma jistax jidħol b’inġenji bħal gaffef u jtajjar kull ma jaħseb li mhux importanti għalih, jiżbor bis-serrieq mekkaniku kull fergħa li jħoss li mhix f’postha, litteralment jikness qiegħ il-wied mill-weraq niexef, jaħsad il-veġetazzjoni ta’ taħt is-siġar, iqaxxar il-ħitan mil-liedna biex tidher il-ġebla. Dawn kollha jridu permessi minn qabel biex jistgħu jsiru. Barra minn hekk, min ried jagħmel dan ix-xogħol ried jissottometti stima marbuta ma’ dan it-tip ta’ xogħol (appropriate assessment) tal-impatti minn kull aspett fuq is-sit, kemm dawk storiċi kif ukoll dawk ekoloġiċi, u dan wara li jisma’ l-opinjoni pubblika fuq dan ix-xogħol li jkun jixtieq jagħmel. Wara li jġib il-permessi meħtieġa mingħand l-Awtorità Kompetenti f’dan il-qasam – jiġifieri l-MEPA – irid joqgħod għall-kundizzjoni li din tagħmel. Wieħed jistenna li min kien responsabbli mill-ħarisen tal-ambjent u anki responsabbli mill-MEPA jimxi ma’ dawn l-obbligi kelma b’kelma, anki jekk biex jagħti eżempju tal-għarfien tal-obbligi li l-pajjiż għandu fl-oqsma internazzjonali u l-kondizjnijiet mitluba mill-MEPA. Imma…

Meta beda x-xogħol fuq il-Buskett fl-2005, kien hemm reazzjoni qawwija ħafna mill-pubbliku u anki fil-gazzetti kontra dan ix-xogħol. In-NatureTrust, fit-23 ta’ Lulju tal-2005 fil-gazzetta The Times ħarġet stqarrija fejn uriet id-diżappunt tagħha għax-xogħol insensittiv għall-ekoloġija tal-Buskett, li kompla minkejja l-protesti tagħhom fejn saħansitra staqsew jekk dan kellux il-permessi meħtieġa skont il-liġi, u fejn ukoll taw indikazzjoni li kien qed jintuża l-erbiċida biex toqtol ilveġetazzjoni ta’ taħt is-siġar. Fl-istess ħarġa ta’ The Times il-Birdlife ġibdu l-attenzjoni li kien qed isir żbir ta’ siġar u tqaxxir tal-liedna minn mal-ħitan u kien qed ikun hemm ħsara irreparabbli lillambjent tal-masġar. Kien hemm akkużi oħra mill-għaqdiet ambjentali dwar il-qerda ta’ nebbiet ta’ numru ta’ siġar, kemm tal-Ballut, kif ukoll tad-Deru, kollha siġar imħarsa bil-liġi. Dan kollu f’sit li huwa parti minn Natura 2000 tal-Unjoni Ewropea fejn xejn minn dan ma jista’ jsir.

James Debono fil-Malta Today tas-17 ta’ Lulju 2005 kiteb li l-konsorzju, li minnu kien responsabbli l-Ministru Pullicino, kien qed jimmaniġġja l-Buskett bħallikieku dan kien xi roundabout. Kelliema għan-NatureTrust, fl-istess ħarġa tal-MaltaToday, qalet “kif nistgħu nkomplu nedukaw lill-pubbliku u t-tfal tal-iskola li jżuru l-Buskett, meta ma hemm l-ebda ħarsien tal-post mill-awtoritajiet infushom?”

Fil-Malta Today ukoll tas-17 ta’ Lulju 2005, Saviour Balzan kiteb li l-premju tax-xahar imur għallkonsorzju li għamel mandra (mess) fil-Buskett u qal li l-Ministru Ġorġ Pullicino għandu joħroġhom minn hemm MINNUFIH. Saviour Balzan donnu kien profeta għax il-konsorzju ngħata premju kmieni din is-sena.

Wara l-kummenti, suġġerimenti u pariri tiegħi dwar din il-ħsara, meta kont għadni fis-servizz pubbliku, kont ġejt infurmat li l-Buskett ma baqax aktar taħt ir-responsabbiltà tiegħi. Kważi tliet snin wara li beda xogħol fil-Buskett fl-2005, u jien kont ili li rtirajt kważi sena, il-Ministru Pullicino ħareġ stqarrija li dehret fl-Independent on Sunday fl-24 ta’ Frar 2008, fejn qal li “ix-xogħol li l- Ministeru kellu ħsieb jagħmel (fil-Buskett) kien imwaqqaf mill-MEPA li sostniet li x-xogħol proġettat seta’ jagħmel ħsara lill-ekosistema.” Dan ifisser li x-xogħol li sar u dak li kien hemm maħsub li jsir ma kellux il-permessi meħtieġa, kemm mingħand id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent kif ukoll mingħand dak tal-Ippjanar tal-MEPA.

Fis-6 ta’ Ġunju tal-2008, (wara aktar minn sena rtirat) kont mitlub mill-Ministeru biex nagħmel rapport fuq il-Buskett fejn fih ikun hemm emfasi dwar il-miżuri li huma meħtieġa fil-Buskett. Dan wassaltu b’idejja fil-31 ta’ Awwissu 2008. Għaddew kważi sena u nofs, u xorta waħda għadu ma sar xejn. Sinċerament ma nafx xi jrid il-Ministru: forsi stenna li se ngħidlu biex iħawwel il-pensjeri u s-sardinell madwar is-siġar fil-Buskett! Li għamilt, għamiltu biex insalva l-biodiversità mhedda Maltija, u biex Malta ma tiffaċċax problemi mill-Unjoni Ewropea dwar ksur tad-Direttiva tal-Habitats. Dawn jista’ jkollhom konsegwenzi finanzjarji, ekonomiċi, u politiċi koroh fuq il-pajjiż. Dan għarfitu wkoll il-MEPA għax ma ħarġitx il-permessi għax-xogħol li ried jagħmel il-Ministru Pullicino u waqqfet il-ħerba li kienet qiegħda ssir, minkejja li jien ma bqajtx responsabbli mill-Buskett u ma kontx għadni fis-servizz pubbliku.

Il-prinċipji tiegħi dwar il-ħarsien tal-wirt naturali minn dejjem kienu, għadhom, u jibqgħu l-istess, u huma bħal dawk li hemm fid-Direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea, minkejja kull attentat li hemm jew li jista’ jkun hemm minn xi ħadd biex jgħatti xturu u jipprova joskurani.

Kif tixhed l-istqarrija tal-Ministru Pullicino, fit-TORĊA tal-Ħadd 10 ta’ Jannar 2010, ma nistax nemmen u ma nistax nifhem għaliex qed iħares daqshekk lura fiż-żmien. Irrifjuta u għadu qed jirrifjuta kull parir, u kull għajnuna minn dawk li jridu u li huma lesti li jgħinuh. Iżda naqbel miegħu perfettament meta f’din l-is-tqarrija qal li “… nistenna li kulħadd jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà tal-pożizzjonijiet li jieħu.”

F’kull qasam l-akbar responsabbiltà hija ta’ dawk li kienu fdati mill-poplu biex jieħdu ħsieb lambjent naturali Malti, li aħna ssellifna mingħand uliedna, u mingħand ulied uliedna. Il-Buskett qed jibki għall-pjan ta’ azzjoni professjonali u skont l-obbligi legali li l-pajjiż għandu. U m’hemm xejn xi jżomm lill-Ministru li jagħmel dan fl-interess tal-pajjiż mingħajr ħela ta’ enerġija u kritika partiġġjana.

Il-pariri tiegħi fuq il-Buskett ilhom għandu s-snin, u l-għajnuna tiegħi professjonali għall-ħarsien tal-wirt naturali Malti ntiha lil kull min jixtieqha, hu min hu.