Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

December 16, 2016

times

Friday, 16th December, 2016

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

Alfred E Baldacchino

Mid-October 2013, saw Xylella fastidiosa, the olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS) recorded in Italy: its first record for Europe. By April 2015 it had infected up to a million olive trees, many of them century-old, in the southern region of Apulia. This invasive disease is believed to have been introduced by ornamental plants from Costa Rica, where it is also causing havoc.

By July 2015 it quickly spread to Corsica, in municipalities of Nice, and Mandelieu-la-Napoule and by late October in Alpes-Maritimes in France. August 2016 saw it in Germany infecting oleander plants.

November 2016 found OQDS in the Spanish island of Mallorca, in a garden centre on three cherry trees and an oleander.

OQDS is regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world. It infects grapevines, peaches, citrus, oak, sycamore, and many other trees and ornamental plants, such as spurge, lavender and rosemary. No cure has yet been found for such disease, as the European Food Safety Organisation has warned.

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO) had since 1981 listed it on its A1 list of pests recommended for regulation as quarantine pests, regarding it as representing a very serious threat for the EPPO region

effect-of-x-f

Symptoms of OQDS, regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world.

Across Europe, 359 plant species have been identified as susceptible to Xylella. Many of these species show no symptoms of the disease, and provide a reservoir for reinfection of other plants, thus making Xylella difficult to control and making phytosanitary certificates  useless

This bacterium thrives in the water-conducting vessels (xylem) of plants. It invades these vessels and blocks the transport of water and other soluble mineral nutrients. This leads to the drying, scorching, wilting of the foliage, and eventually the collapse and death of the tree.

spittlebug

Spittlebugs – serves as carriers of OQDS

It spreads with the help of insects such as leafhoppers and spittlebugs, which feed on the plant xylem. These insects do not fly long distances, but can be helped by the wind, by other animals, and by vehicular transport.

Spain and France were deeply concerned when Xylella was recorded for the first time in 2013. Their production of olive oil and wine is under a great threat. The matter was also raised at European Union level.

Italy is heavily affected, considering that the only method to date to control such disease is by eradication of the infected million olive trees. These contribute to 40 per cent of the olive oil produced in Italy. Besides the economic loss, the social and ecological impacts are beyond any estimate.

effect-of-x-f-2

Olive trees which succumbed to OQDS. Not that we really need Xylella to reduce our olive trees to such a state. The sight of the 60 olive trees on Malta University campus were similarly aesthetically reduced and paid for by University funds. Perhaps the University’s educational pro-active vision wanted to show the people a picture of things to come if Xylella succeeds in being imported in Malta. The only difference would be that they will give up their  ghost for ever.  

Malta is blessed that it is an island surrounded by an expanse of sea that makes it impossible for these xylem-feeding insects to arrive naturally. But… it seems that we never learn.

butchered tree 7

Pruned olive trees which once enhanced the campus of the University of Malta. A mis-management exercise of the highest grade.

Palm trees were imported for landscaping purposes from areas known to be infected by the Asian red palm weevil. More than 5,000 palm trees have been lost to date. Timber introduced the African long-horned mulberry beetle, which besides killing most of the mulberry trees in the islands, now has turned its attention to the white mulberry, carob and fig tree.

Imported geraniums by garden centres have also helped to introduce the geranium bronze butterfly from South Africa. All of these have been introduced by trees and plants carrying a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin, to confirm that they were all disease free. How many imported tomato seedlings accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, introduced the South American tomato moth (Tuta absoluta)?

Trees and other plants mainly, for landscaping and ornamental purposes, are still being imported from countries which are infected with this OQDS.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible to ensure that such invasive species and other pathogens are not introduced in Malta, both through the Environment and Resource Authority, and also through its Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Department of Agriculture. Once there was a renowned experimental farm at Għammieri, which today is more concerned with domestic dogs, cats, and birds.

A very good animation video has been produced by the Plant Health Department. Very good. What is needed now is urgent action.

Environmental responsibilities are far from being helped by the Ministry of Landscaping. Doors are flung wide open for exotic species to be planted in ‘landscaping’ projects, paid out of public funds, administered through an €8 million yearly budget, according to a secret agreement which, despite the Commissioner for Data Protection’s ruling, is still being withheld.

If Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination

Those handful of pro-business politicians and their acolytes might ask if they are expected to stop the importation of exotic species. The question is whether such politicians are worried, not only for the young developing olive oil industry in Malta which is trying hard to acquire an EU/EC Declaration of Conformity (DOC) for CE Marking, but also for the wine and citrus industry. And naturally the islands ecosystem which if, God forbid, Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination.

Prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure at all. That would be the day when one can honestly boast of a sound environmental policy. From experience, political action in this regard will only be considered when the social, economic and environmental fabric have bit the dust, or as it is said, when all the horses have bolted.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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

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There is no respite for trees

June 18, 2016

times of malta

Saturday, June 18, 2016,

There is no respite for trees

Alfred E. Baldacchino
tree at Ta' Xbiex

The Ta’ Xbiex tree posted on facebook

The proposed uprooting of trees at the Ta’ Xbiex yacht marina provoked a flow of comments and criticism on the social media. This followed a decision to “condemn to death by Transport Malta with the blessing of Ta’ Xbiex local council and the hidden hand of the Gżira local council”. Incidentally, the Gżira local council also had a hidden hand in the butchering of the indigenous olive trees at the University campus.

It is now becoming more clear that one of the main items at the top of some local councils’ agendas is the destruction of urban trees in their territory. They certainly do not show any appreciation for such an important natural heritage, nor any respect for political commitments and (inter)national obligations.

The trees at Ta’ Xbiex intended for uprooting fall under the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and Landscaping. This ministry is becoming more and more notorious for the decimation of trees in the Maltese islands, both directly and indirectly. In fact, it would not be surprising to say that the Minister for Transport and Landscaping seems to be completely unaware of his party’s electoral manifesto.

manifest 2013Article 56 of the Labour electoral manifesto promises that the government will “continuously protect the existing trees in Maltese cities and villages and incentivise the planting of more trees, particularly indigenous trees”.

Section 9 commits the government, which “believes that Malta should be in the forefront in environmental standards. Not because there are obligations from the European directives but because this is what our children deserve.”

Despite such commitments, the devastation of urban trees has been going on even under the present administration.

To add insult to injury, the Minister for Transport and Landscaping is responsible for a public-private partnership agreement for which the Maltese public is now paying €8 million a year.

Penisetum - Vittoriosa - 2014.10 (5)What has one to show for all this public money spent in the last 14 years, that is €112 million? Invasive species spreading all over the islands, such as fountain grass, hottentot fig and siris tree, expanses of turf gulping scarce resources of water, most of which ends Penisetum - St. paul's Bay - 18.05.16up running down the adjacent streets, herbicides preventing Maltese wildflowers from propagating and offering an adequate habitat for pollinators such as bees and for insect larvae, mutilated and uprooted trees, annuals which are planted for a couple of weeks and then ploughed to be replaced by other annuals. All are endorsed and paid for by the said ministry.

Penisetum - Siri Tree - Vittoriosa - 20.10.13Considering the above promises, national and international obligations and subsequent damage to the local biodiversity, I asked for a copy of the agreement. Following a number of refusals by the Ministry for Transport and Landscaping, last January Penisetum - qormi 29.09.1119, the Commissioner for Data Protection “instructed the minister to forward a copy of such agreement”. But Joe Mizzi’s ministry is still objecting to handing it over.

One of the main items at the top of some local councils’ agendas is the destruction of urban trees in their territory

Penisetum - Mater Dei - 28.02.2014What is so scandalous in this agreement? What is the reason for objection when the Data Protection Commissioner “concluded that it does not contain any information having a commercial value”? It is an open secret that the original agreement was the result of a direct order and not made through a call for interest from various stakeholders. Why is the minister so keen to keep such an official public agreement Penisetum - Dingli - 07.12.14so close to his heart? Is there anything embarrassing in it? Is it possible that what is being paid from public funds is not exactly in line with what is stipulated in the agreement?

The protection of trees and the natural habitat is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, who is obliged to ensure that the number of national and international biodiversity obligations, including those of the Penisetum - Għamieri - 2014,12.18EU are honoured. Perhaps the new Environment Minister can give a helping hand to Mizzi and put his foot down on such destruction as he courageously and boldly did regarding the vote at the EU against the extended use of the herbicide glyphosate?

The introduction to the 2013 electoral manifesto, signed by Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, clearly states that: “For us Malta does not belong to this one or that one. It does not belong to any clique. Malta belongs neither to some politician nor to some political party. Those times are past.”

balzan 02,10,08Judging by the way trees are handled, it seems the ministry is still anchored to past times. One has only to look at all the disfigured urban trees, the spread of invasive species, the waste of resources, the spread of exotic species at the expense of indigenous trees to reach such a conclusion.

Besides, the Ministry for the Environment seems to think and believe that the public agreement that provides public funds for the above-mentioned environmental damage is its property.

zebbug entrance 09,08,13

€8 million are spent yearly from public funds for what is referred to as ‘landscaping’ purposes. It seems that it does not matter how these are spent, as long as they are spent. The above photos are some of the obscenities paid from such a vote, despite national, international and EU obligations. No wonder the Ministry responsible for Landscaping is constantly refusing to publish the official public agreement.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading on trees:

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/3505/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/god-and-landscaping/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/l-%c2%adispeci-invazivi-u-l%c2%ad-mepa/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/need-of-an-urban-tree-management-plan/