Dwejra: Tribunal dazzled by delight

July 8, 2019

 

Monday, 8th July 2019

Alfred Baldacchino

A recent decision by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has overturned a Planning Authority decision, ordering it to approve a permit for the extension of a restaurant, the installation of light and increasing the number of tables and chairs in an EU Natura 2000 site in Dwejra.

Without any doubt, this throws a lot of light on the official political disrespect, disinterest, exploitation and disregard for the environment as well as national and international legislation.

Dwejra is a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation with regard to biodiversity, in line with the Birds and Habitat Directives. It is part of the EU Natura 2000 network because of its importance to the EU.

The Malta Environment and Resources Authority is the responsible competent authority recognised by the EU. Competent national authorities are those entitled to give authorisation or consent to a plan or project in Natura 2000 sites.

 

Dwejra is the best remaining site on the islands for astronomical observations. Photo provided by the Physics Department and the Institute for Astronomy and Space Sciences

Dwejra is also designated as a ‘dark sky heritage area’ in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Article 6 of the EU Habitat Directive can be regarded as a key framework for giving effect to the principle of integration with regard to the management of the protected areas in a sustainable way and sets the limits of activities that can impact negatively on protected areas.

In an international context, Article 6 also helps to achieve the aims of relevant international nature conservation conventions such as the Berne Convention and the Biodiversity Convention (Malta is a party to both), while at the same time creating a more detailed framework for site conservation and protection than these conventions themselves do.

Where assessment is required by Article 6 (3) it takes the form of an assessment under Directive 85/337/EEC (on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment), where public consultation is necessary.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the possible longer-term implications of the Aarhus Convention, which emphasises the importance of public consultation in relation to environmental decision-making.

According to Habitat Directive’s article 6 (2) “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 the site’s conservation objectives”.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level

“In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of the Habitat Directive (para 4), the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.”

An EU Commission publication dated 2000, Managing Natura 2000 Sites – The provisions of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive 92/43/CEE, explains that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, (like Dwejra) the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbances of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this directive”.

The article also states that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, the deterioration… as well as disturbances…” of species and habitats for which the sites have been designated and should also be implemented if necessary outside the sites. (Article 6 (2)).

Disturbances include, among others, noise and source of light.

The intensity, duration and frequency of repetition of disturbance are, therefore, important parameters and can be regarded as a significant disturbance.

Even a plan or project that includes conservation management among its objectives may still require assessment.

Although the management plan for Dwejra has long been drawn up with the help of EU funds, and approved by the EU, it is still gathering dust on the ministry’s bookshelf.

There is still no administrative set-up for its implementation, enforcement, management, administration, education and no stakeholders are involved, as obliged by the management plan.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level. Can the ERA contest such a decision in court, especially when the Minister for the Environment has publicly stated that he does not agree with this permit? If not, does this decision mean the ERA is impotent as a competent authority responsible for EU obligations when confronted by such a tribunal?

Do the citizens have to refer the matter to the EU to achieve what the ERA should be on the front line defending on their behalf?

This is definitely another decision reached by hand-picked political academics,whose short-sighted decision embarrassed Malta with regard to its international obligations.

If such a tribunal is independent, then the responsibility has to be carried by those people involved in such a decision and who have completely ignored and defied the decision made by two national competent authorities and also the public with great political and environmental consequences.

It is high time the EU DG Environment investigates how Natura 2000 sites in Malta are being brought to disrepute.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

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

related articles:

Dwejra: Gone with the wind

A window pain for sure

Sifting solidified sand at Dwejra

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


Trees and invasive species

July 9, 2016

times of malta

Trees and invasives

Saturday, 9th July 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It was definitely good news to hear the new Environment Minister announce two new regulations for the protection of biodiversity during the last meeting of the Permanent Committee of the House of Representatives for the Environment and Development Planning (June 28).

trees

Trees growing as they should grow, not like those at the University Campus. Photo Times of Malta.

Good news to hear that two sets of regulations will soon be published: one on the promised and much awaited protection of trees and the other on the transposition of the new EU regulations on invasive species. Credit has to be given where due.

butchered tree 7

Endemic ‘landscaping’ in the Maltese Islands. And also on the University Campus. Photo A E Baldacchino.

One hopes the new regulations on tree protection will address the present mismanagement of trees, mostly paid out of public funds. And that they will also include provisions which will put an end to barbaric practices such as those which took place at the University campus, where close to 60 indigenous mature olive trees were butchered.

José Herrera’s brief reference to invasive species shows he is in need of urgent help and exposure to the definition of invasive species. It would be to his benefit if he were to read, even if only the preamble, the EU regulations about invasive species which his ministry is about to transpose to local legislation.

Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of October 22, 2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, will definitely put Herrera in a better position to understand the obligations of this legal instrument on invasive species.

One hopes the new regulations on tree protection will address the present mismanagement of trees, mostly paid out of public funds.

The more so since these EU regulations contain many references to other EU and international conventions binding legislation on invasive species.

Such references will enable Herrera to understand the real legal and technical definition of invasive species in the field of the protection of biodiversity. He will then certainly realise how poor the definition he has been handed is, on which unfortunately he is basing the whole concept for the protection of trees.

Penisetum - Għamieri - 2014,12.18

Fountain grass – one of the recently introduced invasive species – growing profusely at the Għammieri car park. This does not have any impacts on any gene pool, but it is growing wild in an area which is under the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment.

It would be a great help to him if he arrived at his own conclusion on these international legal provisions, and being a legal person it should not be that difficult.

Herrera’s body language and brief speech on the advice given by his technocrats regarding such EU obligations put him in an embarrassing and uneasy position especially when referring to the scientific aspect of invasive species. He showed that he is not au courant with such important legal instruments.

It is quite evident that these have not yet been brought to his attention although one cannot understand how this can be done by technocrats who may not be aware of them.

Sempreviva-ta'-Għawdex---mhedda

Hottentot fig – one of the worst 100 invasive species in Europe. Yet planted and paid for by public funds for landscaping purposes. The photo shows how it is suffocating the endemic Maltese Everlasting (Sempreviva ta’ Għawdex) in Dwejra Gozo. It does not have anything to do with polluting the local gene pool of any indigenous species, yet it is one of the worst invaders.

Invasive species control is not only relevant to the pollution of the gene pool of indigenous species, as Herrera seems to have been advised. The negative social, economic and ecological impacts of imported invasive species such as fountain grass, siris tree, hotentot fig, tomato leafminer, and the red palm weevil (just to mention a few), do not have anything to do with the pollution of the gene pool.

Most of these invasive species have and some are still being used in this so-called ‘landscaping’ paid from public funds by one of his colleagues.

One invasive species mentioned is related to agriculture. The Plant Health Department, which is in his portfolio, can shed a lot of light on the negative impacts of invasive species.

2008.01.15---dead-palm-tree-at-Imtarfa

One of the 5000+ dead palm trees killed by the red-palm weevil, imported with palm trees to be used for landscaping purposes. Profits were made, but society and the environment are still paying the cost of such a short-sighted political decision.

Herrera’s speech also shows his need to widen his view on what is an invasive species. Admittedly, he is still green on this delicate subject matter, which makes such need more urgent. The definition he is projecting can only have come from technocrats who have never attended or been exposed to international meetings on the subject, be it that of the Bern Convention, or the Convention on Biological Diversity or of the European Union. If they had, Herrera would be in a more comfortable position.

The first decision taken by Herrera as an Environment Minister against the continued use of glyphosate was widely applauded. This he achieved because he wisely and attentively heard all stakeholders and took the decision himself. A decision which made him stand head and shoulder above all the other EU environment ministers, taking in consideration the social and ecological impacts of the further use of this pesticide.

It is an open secret that his technocrats’ advice was diametrically opposite before Herrera decided to listen to what others were saying. It now seems that the same blinkered scenario is leading Herrera on the same negative footsteps with regards to invasive species.

The above are some of the Government's publications, all adequate administrative and legal tools which can make any green dream come true. Yet they are mostly ignored and hardly enforced at all. Why? I hate to think that these were published just for the attention of the EU and its Member States. Or perhaps to take the public for a ride? But if not so, then why are they not taken into official decisions and enforced?

Code of Conduct on Invasive Alien Spaces. This booklet was financed by the Ministry of Finance, the Economy and Investment through the Fund for Hosting International Conferences in Malta (MFEI Circular 5/09).   Surely a must read for every Minister of the Environment, before taking any stand on invasive alien species. Incidentally the species behind bars in the picture is a hottentot fig flower.)

If the regulations covering the protection of trees are to address invasive species as explained and projected by the Minister, than these are bound to fail even before publication.

With regards to the other local regulations transposing the EU regulations, being regulations already approved and published by the EU, these are already in force in toto in all EU states. It would indeed be a great pity if Herrara’s new regulations contradict others.

Whether Herrera choses to dance to his technocrats’ music, and bar all other views with regards to the obligations of international and EU obligations, is up to him. As Environment Minister, Herrera is responsible for the administration, monitoring, implementation and enforcement of these EU obligations on invasive species; even if these are ignored by one of his colleagues.

This is a collective responsibility shared with his Cabinet colleagues. And one cannot image any technocrat worth his mettle to even think that requests to honour EU obligations on invasive species regulations can be attributed to any fundamentalist.

It is assumed that Herrera can easily understand these legal obligations, when and if these are brought to his attention.

One regrets to say that EU Environmental Acquis with regards to protection, management, enforcement, communication, education and public awareness in the Maltese islands are at their lowest ebb since accession to the EU in 2004.

Herrera has a golden opportunity to address this, but not through half-baked, possibly contradicting regulations and comments not exactly in line with EU obligations being suggested by his technocrats.

One cannot put all the blame on Herrera. He should be given the time and opportunity to inform himself, hear carefully and more important, to listen.

Whether he desires to do so, to be able to reach his own reasoned political decision, is completely up to him. I just cannot understand why he is making it so difficult for himself.

The political duty and decision to inform himself better before concluding is solely Herrera’s, and not that of any of his technocrats. Once bitten twice shy as he is sure to know.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Further reading on trees and invasive species:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/there-is-no-respite-for-trees/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/butchered-olive-trees/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/trees-butchered-at-university/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/maltese-trees-conserving-and-landscaping/

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/u-l-qerda-tas-sigar-tkompli-bl-istess-ritmu/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/l%c2%ad-akacja-tal%c2%ad-harir-%c2%ad-sigra-invaziva/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-sigar-fil-bliet-u-fl-irhula-maltin/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%e2%80%93-a-european-concern/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-mdina-ditch-trees-is-the-eu-really-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/is-sigar-maltin-2/


Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

March 9, 2013

times

Saturday, March 9, 2013 by

Juan Ameen

Valley flora being slowly choked by invasive plant

A biodiversity expert has expressed concern that the flora of Wied Babu in Żurrieq, a protected Natura 2000 site, is slowly being choked by an invasive plant from the Americas.

Alfred Baldacchino said the biodiversity at Wied Babu was “under great negative impact” by Cardiosperum grandiflorum, also known as Showy Balloon Vine or Love in a Puff.

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

1. Cardiospermum grandiflorum spreading at Wied Babu

The plant has already had a negative impact on carob trees, Mediterranean Heather and brambles at the mouth of the valley and “is rapidly advancing towards a healthy stand of protected buckthorn, destroying everything in its wake”, Mr Baldacchino said.

He pointed out that the plant was also spreading at the other end of the valley – one of the richest environments for Maltese indigenous flora.

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and brmable

2. Cardiospermum grandiflorum suffocating carob trees and bramable

The plant originates from the tropical regions of the Americas, especially Brazil and eastern Argentina, and has been introduced outside its native range as an ornamental garden plant.

However, Mr Baldacchino said its overall negative impacts were devastating. He believes it was originally imported as a garden plant and then it “either escaped accidentally or somebody dispersed its seeds intentionally”.

The seeds are dispersed by water and air and the plant forms dense infestations out­competing indigenous vegetation. Its weight can also cause branches to break.

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

3. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

Such is the negative impact on indigenous species that it has been listed as a noxious weed in South Africa, Australia, the US and New Zealand, according to Mr Baldacchino.

Its invasiveness is so acute it has been added to the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation Alert list, he said.

Invasive alien species were spreading all over the world mainly because of transport and the ornamental garden industry, he pointed out, adding that some people claim the damage by these species was more acute than climate change.

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

4. Cardiospermum grandiflorum thicket at Wied Babu

A number of international conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and also the EU Environmental Acquis, tackle invasive species. The EU has an ad hoc committee that is studying the spread and drafting additional regulations for immediate control.

Malta is obliged to honour these provisions, which have been transposed into local legislation.

A number of publications such as the National Environment Policy and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority ‘s new guidelines for the management of invasive plants were published but no enforcement or monitoring was being done.

Mr Baldacchino said one of the measures was to stop the plant from expanding.

8. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

5. Cardiospermum grandiflorum deadly seeds

“This is not relatively difficult, though it needs manpower, and ongoing monitoring to uproot seedlings and established plants is urgently necessary,” he added.

Mr Baldacchino said he had received reports from the Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar Tree Group that the vine was also spreading up the trees along Birkirkara’s Valley Road.

He informed the Environment Ministry and the planning authority, which said they were studying the matter.

The best form of management and control was prevention, which “unfortunately is completely absent”.

Where these plants have set root, Mr Baldacchino said, the best control method was to weed them before they seeded to reduce the dispersal.

Consistent follow-up was required for sustainable management.

“This is quite a heavy economical, social and ecological price that we have to bear following neglect and inadequate attention to prevent such alien species from establishing themselves,” he said.

 

Further reading:

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/


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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Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’

October 2, 2011

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Roundabout plants described as ‘invaders’

James Debono

PLANT invaders are being “deliberately introduced as ornamental plants”, The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s newly published guidelines on managing non-native plants states.

But the document fails to show the way on how these plants can be stopped from spreading. contends Alfred E. Baldacchino, a former assistant director Environment Protection Directorate.

The document refers directly to Carpobrotus edulis (Hottentot Fig), a plant used in the embellishment of roundabouts by the Environment Landscape Consortium, as a invasive species, “listed amongst 100 of the worst invaders in Europe.”

But the document focuses on how alien plants can be removed without harming the environment, rather than seeking to prevent their introduction in Malta. According to Baldacchino, landscaping is one of the main sources of invasive alien species, especially when internationally listed species like Carpobrutus edulis (Hottentot Fig), “is wantonly planted in open public areas and paid for by government, despite public concern, MEPA’s reports, and international obligations.”

Another plant used in landscaping which is spreading is the drought resistant Fountain Grass whose seeds are dispersed by wind. While describing MEPA’s document on controlling invasive species as “professional and useful” Baldacchino expressed disappointment that the document does not address the introduction of invasive species, but only their removal.

Seeds are primarily dispersed by wind, but can also disperse by water and vehicles

One shortcoming of the document, according to Baldacchino, is that it does not seek to address issues like the introduction of alien species in public landscaping projects.

Baldacchino notes that in a document containing 31,800 word, the word ‘landscaping’ is only mentioned once, and this  “as part of the name of a publication.”

A footnote to the document explains why the document does not address the issue of prevention. While stating that a primary management goal in a strategic approach to deal with biological invasions is prevention, this aspect is not addressed in the guidelines which focus on providing guidance on how to deal with major plant invaders that are already present in the Maltese islands.

“The element of prevention is however integrated in relevant provisions of domestic legislation,” states the document.

The Convention on Biological Diversity – of which Malta is a signatory – lays down a global framework for governments and other organisations to develop strategies to prevent the introduction of, and promote the management of impacts of  Invasive Alien Species.

“Malta has legal obligations under this Convention which is also transposed into EU Legislation. This is not completely addressed in the document,” said Baldacchino.

According to Baldacchino MEPA has “the potential, the resources, and the expertise” to produce a proactive document on how to honour its national and international legal obligations.

“But MEPA is so shy and impotent in enforcement, that it prefers to tackle the negative impacts at an economical, social and ecological expense, rather than to address the source. This MEPA document spells it all out”.

Baldacchino is now concerned that through such guidelines, it will be administratively easier for invasive alien species to be introduced than to be removed. “To eradicate these invasive plants one needs a permit from MEPA. But their introduction in the country is accorded red carpet treatment,” Baldacchino said.

The Hottentot fig

Carpobrotus edulis, an invasive plant known as the Cape or Hottentot Fig. is an aggressive species that climbs over other plant and kills, and is credited with wiping out 80% of Minorca’s endemic species, according to Natura 2000, the official newsletter of the European Commission’s directorate general for the environment. The plant reproduces through seeds and vcgetatively, by means of trailing stems and broken-off segments and can be dispersed by mammals, including rodents. Seeds that have not  germinated can remain viable in the soil for at least two yeas.

listed as one of the 100 of the Worst Invasive Species

The plant was successfully eliminated from the   Spanish island of Minorca through an EU-funded project. The plant, already popular in private homes, was used to embellish the Manuel Dimech Bridge project and the airport roundabouts by the Environment Landscapes Consortium.

Contacted last year, the ELC strongly denied that the plant posed any threat to Maltese biodiversity. insisting that when these plants are used in controlled landscapes they are never invasive. But biologist Alan Deidun disputed this claim, insisting that it is impossible to speak of “controlled environments” for plant species which can spread relatively easily.

Deidun claimed that despite being planted in roundabouts, the plant still manages to spread. carpeting whole swathes along cliff areas, especially in the southwest of the islands, which generally tend to harbour species of conservation importance.

The ELC nursery manager said the plant is very well adapted to the Maltese climate, being extremely wind and fire-resistant with the ability to take saline water.