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/

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

 

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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/